A sharp harpoon, a keen eye, an unerring throw.



Druett (She Captains, 2000, etc.) sinks her literary lance deeply into the juicy story of the murder at sea of a vicious whaling captain by mutinous islanders.

Her swift, absorbing saga of the sea invokes malice, mayhem, murder, and, hovering over it all, Herman Melville. The Sharon, a whaler from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, set sail in the spring of 1841 with a crew of about 30 under the command of Captain Howes Norris, a man likable enough on shore who metamorphosed into a mean-spirited martinet once the Sharon was at sea. Norris reserved his special disfavor for a black steward whom he flogged to death and then dumped unceremoniously into the ocean. (The fellow had endured many previous beatings.) At every port to which the Sharon put in for repairs and/or supplies, men jumped ship. Norris was eventually forced to employ just about anyone who could breathe without instruction and soon had a minimal, insufficient crew. But he still ordered boats lowered when spouts were spotted, even though he stayed on board and drank. During one of these hunts, the captain remained behind with three islanders who had shipped on the Sharon for adventure and profit (they found some of the former, none of the latter). As soon as the whaleboats were away, they slew and mutilated Norris. Third mate Benjamin Clough, who went on to enjoy a spectacular career in whaling, sneaked back aboard in the dark, killed one man, disabled another, and frightened the third into surrender. Druett follows all the principals to their various fates. She offers a primer on whaling as well and intercuts accounts of the doings of other contemporaneous whalers, actual (Melville) and fictional (Ahab). This bloody story was forgotten for more than a century until the author recreated it from scraps she found in newspapers, ships’ logs, mariners’ letters, and journals.

A sharp harpoon, a keen eye, an unerring throw.

Pub Date: May 9, 2003

ISBN: 1-56512-347-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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