Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)



Entertaining, masterful disquisition on the aims, limitations, design, and methods of historiography.

Gaddis (Military and Naval History/Yale; We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, 1997) adapts the lectures he gave at Oxford while its George Eastman Visiting Professor (2000–01). Employing a wide range of metaphors (from Cleopatra’s nose to Napoleon’s underwear), displaying an extensive knowledge of current thinking in mathematics, physics, and evolutionary biology, alluding frequently to figures as disparate as Lee Harvey Oswald, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lennon, and John Malkovich, Gaddis guides us on a genial trip into the historical method and the imagination that informs it. He begins by showing the relationship between a cartographer and a historian, asserting that the latter must “interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future.” He also takes us through a set of principles he believes historians must employ and reminds us that the imagination of the historian must always be tethered to reliable sources. He takes on social scientists (especially economists), observing that as they attempt to become more “scientific” (establishing laws, making accurate predictions), they move in the opposite direction of today’s “hard” scientists: “When social scientists are right, they too often confirm the obvious.” Gaddis moves to a discussion of variables (declaring irrelevant the distinction between “independent” and “dependent”: “interdependent,” he says, is the more accurate term), examines chaos theory and explores theories of causation. He ends with an intriguing discussion of the role of the biographer, insisting that historians retain a moral view of events, and with a reminder that they must necessarily distort even as they clarify. Historians, like teachers, he says, both oppress and liberate.

Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-19-506652-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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A shocking tale about science and law gone horribly wrong, an almost forgotten case that deserves to be ranked with Dred...



Attorney, journalist, and bestselling author Cohen (Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days that Created Modern America, 2009, etc.) revisits an ugly chapter in American history: the 1920s mania for eugenics.

Among “the most brutal aphorisms in American jurisprudence,” Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1927 pronouncement in Buck v. Bell—“Three generations of imbeciles are enough”—marked the high point of a shameful enthusiasm among the social elite for ridding the species of so-called mental defectives. With the nation anxious about changes wrought by unprecedented immigration, industrialization, and urbanization, and with marriage laws ineffective and segregation and warehousing of defectives too expensive and castration too barbaric, eugenics enthusiasts turned to mass sterilization as the solution to prevent the feebleminded from reproducing. The movement attracted its share of crackpots, racists, and conservatives intent on preserving an Anglo-Saxon heritage, but a shocking gallery of the very best people—professionals, intellectuals, feminists, and progressives—formed the vanguard. From this class came the principal players in Carrie Buck’s case: the physician/supervisor of Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded, the drafter of the state’s sterilization law who defended it in the Supreme Court, the national scientific expert who affirmed its utility, and the celebrated justice who upheld its constitutionality. The stories of these four men and that of Carrie herself—a teenage girl neither mentally nor morally deficient, as her caretakers charged, and never informed of the purpose and effect the operation Virginia demanded—form the spine of Cohen’s compelling narrative. Through them, he also tells a larger story of the weak science underlying the eugenics cause and the outrageous betrayal of the defenseless by some of the country’s best minds. Carrie Buck died in 1983. The 8-1 decision, joined by the likes of Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Louis Brandeis, has never been overruled.

A shocking tale about science and law gone horribly wrong, an almost forgotten case that deserves to be ranked with Dred Scott, Plessy, and Korematsu as among the Supreme Court’s worst decisions.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1594204180

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A rich excavation of both British and Afghan sources, with gorgeous colored reproductions of Muslim and romantic renderings...



An intensively focused study of the ill-begotten launch of the Great Game in Afghanistan. 

Who would gain control of the portal to India: Britain, France, Russia, the Sikhs or the Afghan tribes themselves? And was there really cause for alarm at imperialist advances or a “dysfunctional” intelligence gathering by both the British and Russians? In his exciting, exhaustive study, British historian Dalrymple (The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, 2007, etc.) sheds light on the enormously convoluted rationale for the First Anglo-Afghan War, ostensibly provoked by Britain in order to reinstall the compliant Shah Shuja ul Mulk (chief of the Sadozai clan) to power in Afghanistan over Dost Mohammad Khan (chief of the Barakzais), who supposedly favored the Russians. In truth, the war exposed the greediness and ignorance of all sides: protecting the interests of the East India Company and catering to the competing ambitions of major players like Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, Polish agent Ivan Vitkevitch, William Hay Macnaghten and Scottish agent Alexander Burnes. The British garrison was soon outnumbered 10-1 by the rebel forces of Akbar Khan, Dost Mohammad’s able, ferocious son; forced to surrender and retreat in ignominy back to India, the British left Shuja to fall to Dost’s assassins in April 1842 and gained virtually nothing save a more defined border. Dalrymple sagely points out that while the Afghans learned a valuable lesson from this early conflict, namely a firm rejection of foreign rule and a sense of nationalist integrity, the Western powers did not and, indeed, still perpetuate a policy of folly and waste.

A rich excavation of both British and Afghan sources, with gorgeous colored reproductions of Muslim and romantic renderings of the action and characters.

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-95828-0

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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