SIR FRANCIS DRAKE by Harry Kelsey

SIR FRANCIS DRAKE

The Queen's Pirate
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A scholarly debut exposing the celebrated 16th-century English seaman, explorer, and early favorite of Queen Elizabeth’s for what he truly was: a ruthless pirate, a greedy robber-merchant, and a religious bigot and hypocrite who posed as a devout Christian. Kelsey (History/Univ. of California, Riverside) spent years exploring the great libraries of Europe and the US, only to discover that this hero of the English Renaissance was really not a very nice guy. A poor youth, Drake learned piracy from John Hawkins and his family, and he rose in the world largely on the strength of his reputation as a merciless raider of poorly defended Spanish merchant ships. He was also well known as a disloyal friend who abandoned comrades under fire, executed a close friend on flimsy evidence, deprived relatives of payment and inheritances, profited from the slave trade, and supported the earl of Essex’s bloody pacification of Ireland. He lived most of his life off the spoils of his one great achievement, a three-year circumnavigation of the world. Kelsey shows how Drake transformed piracy into an act of patriotism by currying favor—and sharing booty—with the queen and her nobles in exchange for a title. During the religious wars with Spain, Drake plundered and destroyed churches, monasteries, and convents and killed clergy in Spanish settlements. Poorly educated, crude, profane, and ambitious to amass great wealth by taking it from others, Drake was actually a poor warrior, and Kelsey maintains that he usually performed badly in massed combat actions. After he disappeared during the great naval battle with the Spanish Armada, he was never given high command again and finally lost favor with Elizabeth. Kelsey’s enormous research range and great detailing of Drake’s life restore reality and truth to the history of the times. A great achievement in the fields of biography and history. Kevles, David J. THE BALTIMORE CASE: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character Norton (448 pp.) $29.95 Sept. 1998 ISBN: 0-393-04103-4 An engrossing account, expanded from a New Yorker piece, of how a dispute over an obscure immunology paper snowballed, becoming a federal witch hunt into scientific fraud. At the heart of the imbroglio, according to Caltech science historian Kevles (In the Name of Eugenics, 1985), was a postdoctoral fellow named Margot O’Toole, who could not get a reagent to work as described in a 1986 paper co-authored by her boss, Thereza Imanishi-Kari. Convinced that Imanishi-Kari was in error, O’Toole pushed Tufts and M.I.T. faculty to investigate the research. She kept escalating the attack, eventually charging fraud and implicating the paper’s eminent co-author, Nobel laureate David Baltimore. Two independent fraud-busters, Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, teamed with Congressman John Dingell to make a federal case out of it. In grotesque detail, Kevles shows how biased investigations by Congress and the National Institutes of Health combined with leaked documents and an unskeptical press to convict the principals “in the court of public opinion” despite a stunning lack of good evidence. Imanishi-Kari lost her tenure-track job; Baltimore, condemned for “arrogance” in defending her, was forced to resign as president of Rockefeller University. O’Toole was lionized as a courageous whistleblower, with no one noticing the paranoia in such statements as, “They’re all lying.” Though Kevles early declares his belief in Imanishi-Kari’s innocence, he objectively presents all sides of the dispute. His research is exhaustive, his clean style mostly free of judgmental phrases; instead, he allows the principals to hang or prove themselves with their own statements. The science behind the dispute is never thoroughly made clear, but the legal and social drama is sharp, right to the denouement in which a 1996 appeal decision officially exonerates Imanishi-Kari, and by extension Baltimore. Combining scholarly meticulousness with journalistic flair, the book is a page-turner that speaks to the dangers of government power and media one-sidedness. (photos, diagrams, not seen) Kerber, Linda KNO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BE LADIES: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship Hill & Wang (352 pp.) $25.00 Sept. 1998 ISBN: 0-8090-7383-8 A brilliant gender analysis from one of the leading historians of early America. Kerber (History/Univ. of Iowa; Women of the Republic, not reviewed, etc.) examines the legal understandings of gender and citizenship from a new perspective; while others have focused heavily on the privileges of citizenship, Kerber posits that it is actually women’s exclusion from the obligations of citizenship that have perpetuated an inherently sexist legal system. Kerber arranges her chapters according to the five fundamental obligations of citizens: paying taxes, avoiding vagrancy (i.e., holding a job), performing jury duty and military service, and refraining from treason. In the first four cases, women have been excluded for most of the nation’s history. The book’s thematic organization only serves to underscore the timeliness of these issues: In one chapter, for instance, the author offers examples relating to the responsibilities of a female citizen married to a male noncitizen, from the American Revolution up to a 1998 Supreme Court decision in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, citing gender discrimination. Throughout, Kerber has adopted an engaging narrative style which offers women’s stories first, followed by legal and historical analyses. The study is also peppered with a sophisticated wit, as when she reminds us that the 18th-century slang for penis was —member,— indicating the extent to which male anatomy defined citizenship. Finally, Kerber is refreshingly sensitive to the historical entanglements of race and class; for example, her chapter on work profiles a 19th-century black woman who was —damned— either way concerning work—her gender constrained her from working, but her race demanded it. A tour de force in every respect, and required reading for American historians and legal scholars, Kerber’s new book is stunning. (30 b&w photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07182-5
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998