Entertaining social history that also reveals a little-known aspect of an important literary figure’s life.

THE IRREGULARS

ROALD DAHL AND THE BRITISH SPY RING IN WARTIME WASHINGTON

The noted children’s author was once one of several British agents conducting espionage in the United States.

Advertising-titan-to-be David Ogilvy and future James Bond creator Ian Fleming were also members of the group assigned to infiltrate top levels of Washington and New York society to gain information that would help their government push the United States to enter World War II. But Conant (Tuxedo Park, 2002, etc.) focuses on Roald Dahl, who became a spy after a grievous injury ended his career as an RAF pilot. In her enjoyable popular history, she keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace, including adequate doses of serious information and juicy gossip. She occasionally goes off on tangents and spends too long on some profiles, but she ably captures the complexity and paradox of the era as she depicts the spies’ active professional and social lives, which included sexual affairs as well as diplomatic briefings. Dahl’s roguish charm and dashing looks helped him become a trafficker of intelligence to British officials and a key provider of leaks to American journalists. Few suspected his secret life. “With his reckless sense of humor and general air of insubordination,” the author writes, “Dahl may have been mentioned to someone on high as having the makings of an ideal informant, if for no other reason than no one so badly behaved would ever be suspected of working for British intelligence.” While Conant admires the literary skills that Dahl eventually acquired, she abhors his willingness to use and discard people as they became more and less useful to him.

Entertaining social history that also reveals a little-known aspect of an important literary figure’s life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9458-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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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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