So-so, even good in spots. Overall, though, for those inclined to a Jane-was-right view of a still-divisive war.


As the title promises, a leftist (though not especially doctrinaire) reading of the 20-plus-year American misadventure in Southeast Asia.

In this volume in the New Press People’s History Series, modeled on the work of historian Howard Zinn, novelist/playwright Neale offers interpretations of the war that range from the stunningly simplistic to the satisfyingly nuanced. His middle-school-textbookish overview of events abounds in the former: “As long as the Vietnamese peasants could grow enough rice to live, they did not have to work for the low wages that business and industry wanted to pay.” “One reason [the American ruling class] intervened in Vietnam was that if they simply accepted a Communist victory there it would have weakened anti-Communism at home.” Neale (The Laughter of Heroes 1993, etc.) deepens his views as he progresses, however, and turns up episodes that other histories gloss over or miss altogether: the string of minor coups, for example, that followed the Kennedy-era ouster of the Diem government, installing Nguyen Van Thieu and Nguyen Cao Ky (“Both were corrupt in all the usual bribery and export-import ways. But both were also heavily involved in the heroin trade”), and the widespread resistance among American soldiers to the war, both at home and on the front. Neale is particularly strong on this second matter, turning up little-documented mutinies in places like Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as well as an astonishingly high incidence of “fraggings” throughout South Vietnam. So thorough is his account of such events that one wishes he had devoted his book to what he calls “the GIs’ Revolt”—though without such unhelpful asides as: “The GIs could often see that they were workers oppressing other poor people,” a sentiment guaranteed to tick off just about any veteran, to say nothing of historians.

So-so, even good in spots. Overall, though, for those inclined to a Jane-was-right view of a still-divisive war.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56584-807-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet