A lively, well-written survey full of novel observations on a region shrouded in legend.

DREAMS OF EL DORADO

A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN WEST

The prolific American historian turns his attention to the conquest of the West.

As Brands (Chair, History/Univ. of Texas; Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants, 2018, etc.) notes in opening, the American West was, in ancient times, the Asian East and the Beringian South. By the time Thomas Jefferson signed off on the Louisiana Purchase, it was definitively part of North America, contested by European powers but almost inevitably a part of the United States. The author identifies three commanding themes in Western history: the capacity of the region for “the evoking and shattering of dreams,” a pattern of constant violence, and unparalleled irony “in the form of paradox, contradiction and unintended consequence.” Emblematic of the first was Theodore Roosevelt’s dream of ranching in the Dakota Territory, a failed enterprise that nonetheless cast New York City native Roosevelt as “that damned cowboy,” as politician Mark Hanna called him. The second figures throughout the author’s lucid, fluent narrative at places like the Alamo and Wounded Knee. (One of the recurrent characters is the Sioux leader Black Elk, who lived a long life after many key battles.) Brands locates irony in the fact that the West gave us the iconic figures of the lone gunfighter and stalwart settler while the conquest of the region was emphatically an exercise in collective power on the part of the federal government. Another irony, especially given current events in the region, is the fact that “by scores, then by hundreds and thousands, illegal immigrants poured into Texas” in the 1820s—illegal immigrants from, that is, the U.S., creating the conditions that led to war with Mexico. The author turns up little-known historical facts: two subsequent invasions of Texas, after the collapse of Mexican rule under Santa Anna, by Mexican armies; the admission of California as a state in which slavery was illegal—but where blacks were almost forbidden to enter; and many more, lending depth to his narrative.

A lively, well-written survey full of novel observations on a region shrouded in legend.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7252-9

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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