Entertaining studies of classic imposters and a public inclined to be gullible even before the age of TV. (20 illustrations)

THE GREAT PRETENDERS

THE TRUE STORIES BEHIND FAMOUS HISTORICAL MYSTERIES

Continuing his series of historical investigations (Buried Alive, 2001, etc.), Bondeson reconsiders perennial tales of substituted infants, royal pretenders, wild children, and claimants to lapsed inheritances.

Many prior tracts, plays, and romances have covered the strange doings of these schemers and scoundrels, not to mention the beliefs of their credulous victims, and this author feels no need to search for the un-obvious. Was a taciturn Russian ascetic really the tsar who presided over the defeat of Bonaparte? What of the lost dauphin, child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, who turned up in the darndest places? (Though Bondeson neglects Twain’s Mississippi, he overlooks little else in the grand story of the little child in the Temple dungeon.) Was the famous Kaspar Hauser actually a lost prince, simply a belching vagabond, or something else? (The author has a credible notion.) Speaking of royalty, as a work like this must, some believe that the British throne itself may rightfully belong to a black South African. The expansive, notorious Tichborne claimant, Bondeson reminds us, had a malformation that would qualify him to play M. Butterfly better than the lost Wodehousian ninny he purported to be. A truly eccentric English nobleman was reputed to have secretly commuted, mainly underground, to life as a London tradesman. To solve that case, retired Detective Chief Inspector Littlechild of the Yard was summoned, with as much success as Lestrade would have had without Holmes. To his cogent critical analyses of these familiar cases, the author adds mention of the inevitable Anastasia pretenders, Lindbergh babies, and a surviving Princess Di, each essential to a cadre of never-say-die believers. Bondeson (Wales College of Medicine) examines hitherto neglected documents and adds his valuable medical knowledge to the combined myths and histories, noting the contributions and limitations of DNA testing.

Entertaining studies of classic imposters and a public inclined to be gullible even before the age of TV. (20 illustrations)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-01969-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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