An original, curious subject rendered in readable prose.

THE DANCING PLAGUE

THE STRANGE, TRUE STORY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY ILLNESS

A layman’s-terms explanation of the mysterious outbreak of a hysterical dance that seized people in the Middle Ages.

Synthesizing a great deal of scholarly material—mostly in German and Latin—on the dancing malady that broke out along the Rhine during times of great social and economic stress, Waller (History of Medicine/Michigan State Univ.; The Real Oliver Twist, 2005, etc.) covers the academic subject matter in lively, simplified language. The author concentrates in particular on the dancing frenzy that swept through Strasbourg in the summer of 1518, eventually claiming hundreds of lives. The outbreak was the culmination of enormous upheaval in Europe on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, and Waller carefully reconstructs the desperate social milieu of the era. Poor harvests triggered famine; devastating diseases such as syphilis and small pox were perceived as evidence of God’s wrath; excesses by the clergy had engendered a simmering peasant rebellion; and a deeply ingrained, vicious misogyny provoked hysterical symptoms in women. Frau Troffea, the first “choreomaniac,” began to dance on July 14, 1518. She couldn’t stop and soon others had caught on, descending into a kind of trance. The dancing was contagious and uncontrollable, rather than joyful, and Waller attributes it to a flight from extreme psychological distress. Martin Luther’s subsequent push for reformation of the Church helped alleviate the peoples’ “spiritual despair,” and the dancing madness did not reoccur in the same form—though Waller helpfully traces trancelike spiritual outpourings in later forms, such as among the Quakers, Shakers and even participants in the modern rave scene.

An original, curious subject rendered in readable prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4022-1943-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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

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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

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