THE BLOOD OF HEROES

THE 13-DAY STRUGGLE FOR THE ALAMO--AND THE SACRIFICE THAT FORGED A NATION

A popular historian revisits the most stirring siege in American history.

On Feb. 24, 1836, vastly outnumbered and defending an old Spanish mission in San Antonio against Santa Anna’s Mexican army, garrison commander William Barret Travis issued a plea for reinforcements. To the people of Texas and “all Americans in the world,” he declared, “I shall never surrender or retreat.” He did neither, and the slaughter of the Alamo’s defenders has reverberated ever since. Donovan (A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Big Horn—The Last Great Battle of the American West, 2008, etc.) rightly deems the Battle of the Alamo the signal event of the Texas struggle for independence. The two-week siege bought precious time for the fledgling provincial government to organize, for settlers to recognize the immediacy of their peril and for Sam Houston’s Army of the People to assemble and train. The siege bogged down Santa Anna’s avenging force, killing many of his best troops. When, seven weeks later, Houston’s army surprised and routed the Napoleon of the West’s exhausted soldiers at San Jacinto, the Texans’ battle cry was “Remember the Alamo!” Donovan’s thoroughly researched and agreeably told story focuses on the 13-day standoff, but he also supplies crucial context, helping us to understand the history of the breakaway province and notable characters in the revolution like Houston, Stephen Austin, Ben Milam and James C. Neill. He explains how the principal actors in the Alamo drama—including, of course, former congressman and frontiersman David Crockett and knife-fighter James Bowie—arrived at this juncture in history. Yes, the Alamo is remembered, but not without controversy. What really happened inside those battered walls? Did Travis really draw a line in the sand, asking all who would stand with him to step across it? Without breaking the flow of his compelling story, Donovan reliably separates fact from legend, persuasively assessing the evidence and artfully setting the scene. An authoritative, moving retelling of an enduring episode of sacrifice and courage.

 

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-05374-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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.

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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