Readers with an interest in Russian cultural history and urban history will find much of value in these pages.



“Peter’s dream capital was majestic but crumbling, even as it was built”: an expansive portrait of the calamity-laden urban center of European Russia.

St. Petersburg—the city that would be known as Leningrad throughout most of the 20th century and then revert to its old name—is a city built on swampy ground. As Dostoevsky noted, it is “damp, foggy, rainy, snowy, fraught with agues, catarrhs, colds, quinsies [and] fevers of every possible species and variety.” It has been the site of devastation and suffering and has spawned monstrous ideas and monstrous people, but it has endured, if improbably, and has even attained a certain majesty. Paris-based biographer Miles (The Dangerous Otto Katz: The Many Lives of a Soviet Spy, 2010, etc.) likens the city to New York in being a gathering place of strangers, foreigners, and people who wouldn’t easily fit anywhere else. The author also uncovers a few ironies, such as the fact that some of the city’s most impressive monuments were built by a French veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, who “submitted twenty-four different proposals in every known style, so it is hardly surprising that he won the commission.” Chronicling shifting cultural styles, including Czar Alexander III’s interest in making a more Russian city of his Russian capital, closing the popular Italian opera in the bargain, Miles turns in some familiar tales as well, populated by stock characters like Rasputin and Lenin. But perhaps not so familiar after all, since, as the author writes, the modern St. Petersburg is the city of the young, people for whom “the gulag is a distant epoch” and who are at home in the globalized era even if the Putin regime keeps them from realizing their potential. The author’s account is vigorous and readable but a touch long; one wonders at what the economical Jan Morris might have done had she logged a few seasons in Russia.

Readers with an interest in Russian cultural history and urban history will find much of value in these pages.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-676-7

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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