Formidably researched, always readable, but necessarily incomplete. (55 b&w photos and maps)

AFRICA

A BIOGRAPHY OF THE CONTINENT

A grand attempt to illuminate the history of the “dark continent,” using an almost stunning blend of disciplines from geology to anthropology to agronomy.

Despite the breadth of the title, Reader (Missing Links, 1981, etc.) largely ignores Africa north of the Sahara—a significant lacuna. Still, any attempt to cover billions of years of history (never mind 50-plus countries), will always result in gaps, elisions, and exclusions. One can quibble with his extremely detailed treatment of human evolution—a subject he has written about extensively—or the relative short shrift he gives to modern African history, but it all comes down to a question of balance, and for the most part Reader does an admirable job of keeping his story rolling along. He begins right at the beginning with the formation of Earth and the primitive stirrings of life. Through an impressive mustering of scientific data, he recounts how changing conditions on the savanna opened a narrow niche that favored the evolution of hominids and eventually, through the relentless process of survival of the fittest, Homo sapiens. Reader is not so much a historian of dates and personalities, but of mass events and movements. He regards competition for resources, climatic shifts, geology and geography as infinitely more important in shaping history than any number of “great men” and their ideologies. For example, he sees slavery as a continent-wide catastrophe that drove everything from the rise of African kingdoms to the loss of the labor—and all that it could have created—of 11 million people, to the great South African diaspora that is usually attributed to the predations of Shaka Zulu. Once Africa entered the realm of formal, written history, the results have been almost unremittingly bleak. It’s an old mantra, but the price of European civilization has been enormously high. And the postcolonial era hasn’t been much better. That hairless hominid who spread out across the world has changed everything except his essential, animal self.

Formidably researched, always readable, but necessarily incomplete. (55 b&w photos and maps)

Pub Date: April 21, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-40979-3

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more