A meticulous account of the grinding, day-to-day advances and setbacks, but also infected with the sheer wonder of taking...



Kitty Hawk was just the beginning for the Wright brothers, explains NBCC Award–winner Tobin (Ernie Pyle’s War, 1997) in his history of their first flight and ensuing efforts to make flying practical and profitable.

For Wilbur Wright in 1899, human flight was “only a question of knowledge and skill as in all acrobatic feats.” However, as detailed in this bright-eyed narrative, that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. Nor did the Wright brothers have the field to themselves, writes Tobin. Alexander Graham Bell had a team working hard and with considerable success, albeit always in the wake of the Wrights’ continuing ability to build a better airplane. Smithsonian Secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley also had his eye on the prize (though his efforts resembled those of Icarus), and so did others around the globe. At stake was not just the accolade of being the first to stay aloft; the author makes it clear that flight’s potential monetary rewards were always part of the equation, especially for national governments interested in deploying aircraft as tools of warfare. Throughout the first half, Tobin concentrates on all the tinkering and design trials conducted by the various teams involved: Langley’s “aerodrome” and its ride off the rails of a raft and straight into the drink (photos of the event, included here, are deeply amusing), as well the Wrights’ numerous experiments with gliders before they attached an engine to a craft. Then came that wonderful 59-second, 852-foot flight, an astonishing act followed by the comedy of its reporting by journalists who, of course, got all the particulars wrong. The second half follows the work to perfect the machine and the tricky maneuverings to earn some financial reward for all the effort and expense.

A meticulous account of the grinding, day-to-day advances and setbacks, but also infected with the sheer wonder of taking wing. (Photos)

Pub Date: April 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-85688-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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