A graceful confirmation that reading can be an integrative education that offers a surprise with every turn of the page.



A singer, author and professor expertly escorts us through Winterreise, Franz Schubert’s 24-song cycle.

The subtitle refers to an obsession, and that is no exaggeration. Reporting that he has sung the cycle about 100 times, Bostridge (Music/Oxford Univ.; A Singer’s Notebook, 2011, etc.) frequently confesses his fondness for the piece, an affection that is patent throughout this illuminating and comprehensive work. Although the author pauses at times to discuss music theory, it’s not often, and he keeps in mind a more general reading audience. Devoting a section to each of the 24 songs, Bostridge employs an organization that is both fixed and flexible. He begins with the lyrics (poems by Wilhelm Müller, with German and English, on facing pages) and then both focuses and digresses in ways that explain the music and illustrate the value of a liberal arts education. In his rich, highly readable text are allusions to Rousseau, Shakespeare, Dante, Napoleon, the Nazis, J.M. Coetzee, Paul Auster, Thomas Mann, Gustav Mahler, James Fenimore Cooper and countless others. He shares the remarkable story of Schubert’s decline and death, a period during which he was compulsively reading Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. However, it is the winter journey itself that most interests Bostridge, and he dives into the text, explores how the words and music relate, looks for analogues in the composer’s life, and discusses his own performances and performances by others that helped shape his view of the piece. He treats readers to some things they would not expect in such a book: the history of postal delivery, the scientific explanation of the will-o’-the-wisp, the theme of loneliness in Romantic art, and the differences between crows and ravens.

A graceful confirmation that reading can be an integrative education that offers a surprise with every turn of the page.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0307961631

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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



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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