A very personal view of the past artfully brought to vivid life.



Now entering his ninth decade, a prolific adventurer in fiction and nonfiction offers an amalgam of some of his favorite topics in 10 lively essays dating from 1978 through 2005.

In an introductory essay, Charyn (Winter Warning: An Isaac Sidel Novel, 2017, etc.) confesses to a passion for words and a lust for books. That will be no surprise to his many devoted readers. During high school and college, he writes, “I was discovering a wonderland of books—it was like plunging deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole….I began to build my own castle of Modern Library classics, with one bookcase piled upon another.” In the other essays, the author pays particular attention to the land of his birth, the Bronx, and its attendant mobsters. He remembers his family—a beautiful, troubled mother, an inattentive, illiterate father, a good police detective brother—mostly with affection. In his biblical exegesis, Charyn considers the feckless and fearful King Saul. Regarding literary matters, he expounds on the work of Saul Bellow, Lionel Trilling, the neglected Anzia Yezierska, and, most significantly, Isaac Babel. Charyn’s world includes Josh Gibson, the gentle and disturbed hero of the Negro Baseball League, and Krazy Kat, the androgynous hero/heroine of the great eponymous comic strip. The author also explores the history of Ellis Island before it was cleaned up as well as the life of the natty gangster Arnold Rothstein. Charyn’s New York is not E.B. White’s. His collected ruminations, rendered in an idiosyncratic style that frequently combines street jargon with Talmudic intricacies, speak of greenhorns and gangsters, of alrightniks and no-goodniks, bosses, “mooks” and “geeps.” His musings are populated by Babel’s Benya Krik and Bellow’s Augie March, and the leitmotif is the individual isolated in the world.

A very personal view of the past artfully brought to vivid life.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942658-42-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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