Black’s academic style can drag readers down in certain dry and wordy sections. However, his scholarly outlook on history...

OTHER PASTS, DIFFERENT PRESENTS, ALTERNATIVE FUTURES

A dense study of counterfactualism and its use in the practice of history.

The method of examining past events with the knowledge of the circumstances that affected decisions is a powerful tool to understanding what happened. Seeing the uncertainty, the “unknown knowns,” and outside forces that affected historical incidents help us divine why things happened as they did—as well as what might have been. Black (History/Univ. of Exeter; The Power of Knowledge: How Information and Technology Made the Modern World, 2014, etc.) asserts that counterfactualism is more pronounced in Anglophone nations than in those cultures without the freedom to question definitive histories. Even so, he explores and explains its use and the approach to history in cultures as varied as the Mongols, Chinese, Muslims, Ottoman Turks, Finns, and Danes. Readers will need a background in world history, as the author cites battles and wars over the last two millennia. There is a long and interesting chapter on the rise of the West and how Europe took precedence in world affairs. Black explains that assertive, definitive history quells debate, and its need to explain all serves only to mislead. It is better to know the role of the individuals involved, the timing of significant events, and the short- and long-term effects of a counterfactual. Certain disciplines do not respond well to counterfactuals—e.g., social history since it affects too broad a cast. It is more appropriate and useful for military and political history and a boon for teaching. The author’s illustrative examples of “what if,” “how,” and “why” will make readers sit back and wonder—the whole point of counterfactuals.

Black’s academic style can drag readers down in certain dry and wordy sections. However, his scholarly outlook on history today, its ambiguity and uncertainty, the need of analyzing, interpreting, and reinterpreting events, makes it well worth fighting through slow patches to appreciate his extensive store of knowledge.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-253-01704-8

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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