A solid study of violence and an even better study of the beginnings of California and its social makeup.

ETERNITY STREET

VIOLENCE AND JUSTICE IN FRONTIER LOS ANGELES

Faragher (History/Yale Univ.; A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland, 2005, etc.) investigates the most lethal place on the planet during the mid-19th century: Los Angeles.

The author provides a concise and edifying history of the California territory, beginning with the Spanish missionaries who tapped the expertise of converted mission Indians as their workforce. Their promise was to secularize the land and return it to the Indians; of course, that never happened. The rich landowners hired the Indians because they were the only ones capable of making the land productive. It was a time of rapid social change, with Indian workers and migrants from the south coming into the town to work. This change increased incidents of violence: Indian against Indian and incoming Mexicans against Californios. As Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and the Americans fought to annex California after the Mexican-American War, more migrants arrived, mostly Southerners accustomed to the brutalities of slavery. In the absence of a legitimate justice system, vigilance committees grew up based on codes of honor and vengeance. The Los Angeles Common Council accepted corrupt and ineffective law enforcement rather than hire more deputies and raise taxes to support them. The first deportation of undocumented immigrants occurred in 1840, and there were strict regulations against Indians and an abundance of men who were angry, volatile, and homicidal. Justice was parochial, dealing with the values and interests of groups, not the community. Vigilantism was an institutional feature encouraged by the press and condoned by authorities. Threading through this midcentury mayhem is the career of Judge Benjamin Hayes, whose strength of character and attempts to diffuse mob justice provided a small ray of hope. For fans of the Old West and frontier literature, Faragher provides a vivid and readable history.

A solid study of violence and an even better study of the beginnings of California and its social makeup.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-05136-0

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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