A concise, useful history of “the hometown of Western thought, the birthplace of democracy, and the starting block for the...


McGregor (Emeritus, Comparative Literature/Univ. of Georgia; Paris from the Ground Up, 2009, etc.) describes the great city of Athens in solid detail as it spirals out from its core on the Acropolis.

As the author demonstrates, the Parthenon wasn’t the only building, nor was it the first temple. The Erechtheum, named for the founder and first king of Athens, honors the dual guardianship of Poseidon and Athena. The Propylaia, more than a temple, was a gateway for the Panathenaic procession and a boundary between the city and the sacred place. With buildings atop ruins, walls, additions and conversions, the Acropolis has been a confused space since its very beginning. Democracy is surely the most important bequest of ancient Athens, but her architecture and the classical light and movement captured in the art of drapery influenced cultures well into the 19th century. The author not only starts at the top of the Acropolis; he also dives into the geology of the place itself, noting how the limestone base ends in a solid surface, which produces the many water sources for the city. Then it’s on to the agora, which was much more than a crossword answer and a market; it was the seat of the council of Areopagus and home of the Theatre of Dionysus. Throughout Greece’s history, invasion and occupation scattered the Greek people from the time of Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father) and the Roman Empire, up through the Ottoman Empire and World War II. The Allies’ great carve-up after the war set the physical boundaries of the country, but Greece will always be the larger part of our world that is philosophy, rhetoric, music, literature and art.

A concise, useful history of “the hometown of Western thought, the birthplace of democracy, and the starting block for the modern Olympics.”

Pub Date: March 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-04772-3

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet