A readable companion to Arthur Herman’s like-minded How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001).

CROWDED WITH GENIUS

THE SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT: EDINBURGH’S MOMENT OF THE MIND

A lively portrait of the city once called the “Athens of the north”—and for good reason.

As English novelist and journalist Buchan (Frozen Desire: The Meaning of Money, 1997, etc.) writes, the Edinburgh of 1745 was “inconvenient, dirty, old-fashioned, alcoholic, quarrelsome, and poor.” Then came the Battle of Culloden Moor, which has been called the last fight of the medieval era, and the de facto annexation of Scotland by England, all of which caused Scotland’s great minds to flock to the city; remake it by draining lochs, building bridges over gullies, and constructing sturdy houses and public buildings; and down a sea of coffee, tea, and whiskey while conjuring up marvelous ideas. In 1755, Diderot and company, Buchan writes, still devoted only “a single contemptuous paragraph” to the whole of Scotland, but only seven years later Voltaire was proclaiming that all the best ideas about everything “from epic poetry to gardening” were coming from the Scottish citadel. What had happened in that short span was nothing short of a Gaelic renaissance, in which philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, and Adam Ferguson, poets such as James MacPherson and Robert Burns, and practical and theoretical scientists such as James Black and James Hutton were crossing disciplinary boundaries, talking with one another, and advancing new learning that quickly spread across the Western world. An Athens it may have been, but these celebrants made of Edinburgh (“a classical town rescued from the frigid by a Gothic town rescued from the grotesque,” Buchan writes in a memorable turn) a kind of Sparta, too, which insisted that commerce and industry were insufficient without virtu. Whatever the case, Buchan makes a good argument for its having been a great place to be. If he’s a little imprecise on how Edinburgh eventually became a vital center of European civilization, he does a nice job of describing daily life among its intellectual set, of charting their ideas, and of evoking days gone by.

A readable companion to Arthur Herman’s like-minded How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001).

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-055888-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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