A well-told tale of naval exploits in which gold is the MacGuffin.



The history of the sinking of a trans-Atlantic liner and the hunt for the 43 tons of gold it was carrying.

Early in 1917, the Laurentic, an elegant passenger ship refitted for wartime service, set sail from Northern Ireland bound for the United States, laden with gold ingots to finance Britain’s effort in World War I. Before the vessel left the Irish coast, it was sunk by a German submarine as part of Germany’s U-boat campaign. Along with details on submarine development, Williams (Seventeen Fathoms Deep: The Saga of the Submarine S-4 Disaster, 2015) writes like a truly sober sailor, with a vocabulary that includes “coaming,” “paravane,” and “splicing the mainbrace.” The author graphically recounts the sinking and provides a biography of Guybon Damant (1881-1963), the naval officer who undertook the salvage for the Admiralty. Though Damant loved the task, it was not a simple assignment. Clad in inflated canvas diving dress, heavy boots, and globular metal helmets and tethered by lifelines and air pipes that tended to tangle, divers were subject to the bends. Damant became an expert in the practice of recompression. The wreck of the Laurentic was compressed accordionlike and shifting in rough water. Tons of plating and bulkheads required exploding and removal. There was also Admiralty red tape, shifting sand, silt, and crumbling wreckage. Winter weather was bad, and diving was restricted to summers. The effort took seven years, but, eventually, Damant’s group was successful. After he retired, he became a commander of the British Empire. Ultimately, the crew recovered 3,186 of the 3,211 ingots that went down with the ship. Others have since searched, unsuccessfully, and there are still a few bars of gold deep down in what is now an Irish historic site.

A well-told tale of naval exploits in which gold is the MacGuffin.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61373-758-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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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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