Scholarly yet spellbound, skeptical yet open to belief.



A judicious exploration of the circumstances and meaning behind the terra cotta army interred with China’s first emperor.

In 1974, a clutch of Chinese farmers digging a well unearthed an army of clay soldiers: Confucian in their aura of strength and tranquility, more than 8,000 strong, life-sized, carved to capture specific characteristics of individual soldiers, complete with horses, crossbows and bronze arrowheads. They were the army of King Zheng, the First Emperor, who unified China’s seven warring states (not to mention untold statelets and tribal areas) in a mere decade, from 230 to 221 BCE. They were never meant to be seen, avers historian Man (Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome, 2006, etc.). The soldiers were symbolic sacrifices, a solution to the problem of conflicting, evolving Chinese beliefs and practices related to the afterlife. Traditionally, dead rulers were entombed with servants either killed or buried alive. This would not do for “a new, forward-looking dynasty”; besides, the First Emperor was a military commander trying to build a strong state, and “men dispatched into the next world cannot fight in this one.” Working with the records at hand, the author delves as deep as he can into the emperor’s Qin dynasty, everything from its laws and the Great Wall project to the import of bronze trigger mechanisms. Man draws the scene, summarizes, notes conflicts and conditions both before and after the immediate moment. He wonders about the cost and speed of the clay army’s manufacture. He corrals the intrigues, affairs and treachery marking Qin history. What role did these intrigues play in the burning of the tomb? How might they have affected its construction? Did the Red Guards later erase vital signatures? His virtuoso historical investigation is thorough and well-versed in the material, but also restless and informal, with an eye peeled for new ideas.

Scholarly yet spellbound, skeptical yet open to belief.

Pub Date: May 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-306-81744-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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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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