Silent stone faces on a tunnel wall in Syracuse. Ruins of the first settlement of freed men and women discovered under a saltwater marsh in Florida. Family stories leading archaeologists to an upstairs room in a Brooklyn house, where slaves were hidden. These and other archaeological sites are examined in this study of the Underground Railroad. In addition, WPA slave narratives, spirituals, quilts, a ship’s logs, diaries, eyewitness accounts, and letters all demonstrate the ways historians learn about the past—from old-fashioned studies of 17th-century church records to the space-age technology of thermal imaging. An important point made here is that the Underground Railroad was not, as often portrayed, an organized network of routes delivering escaping slaves directly to freedom in the North. There were many “freedom roads” and many people with the courage to break the law and put their lives at risk in the name of liberty and democracy. The authors portray historians as detectives, solving mysteries when history keeps a secret, and point out that this is a “living” history, “waiting for a new generation of historians, archaeologists, and researchers to continue to tell this fascinating story.” Discussions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, John Brown, and the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law provide additional historical context. Well-written, well-documented, imaginatively arranged, this is a fascinating offering. Handsomely organized with ten black-and-white illustrations, maps, sidebars, photographs, and other archival material, this covers much ground while saying a great deal about the historian’s craft. An important addition to library collections and classroom units. (foreword, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8126-2673-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy.



A portrait of two victims of the Great Depression whose taste for guns and fast cars led to short careers in crime but longer ones as legends.

Blumenthal (Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016, etc.) makes a determined effort to untangle a mare’s nest of conflicting eyewitness accounts, purple journalism, inaccurate police reports, and self-serving statements from relatives and cohorts of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Though the results sometimes read as dry recitations of names and indistinguishable small towns, she makes perceptive guesses about what drove them and why they have become iconic figures, along with retracing their early lives, two-year crime spree, and subsequent transformations into doomed pop-culture antiheroes. She does not romanticize the duo—giving many of their murder victims faces through individual profiles, for instance, and describing wounds in grisly detail—but does convincingly argue that their crimes and characters (particularly Bonnie’s) were occasionally exaggerated. Blumenthal also wrenchingly portrays the desperation that their displaced, impoverished families must have felt while pointedly showing how an overtaxed, brutal legal system can turn petty offenders into violent ones. A full version of Bonnie’s homespun ballad “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” and notes on the subsequent lives of significant relatives, accomplices, and lawmen join meaty lists of sources and interviews at the end.

Painstaking, judicious, and by no means exculpatory but with hints of sympathy. (photos, timeline, author’s note, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47122-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Tricked out with a ribbon, foil highlights on the jacket and portrait galleries at each chapter’s head by Ireland’s leading illustrator, this handsome package offers British readers an orgy of self-congratulatory historical highlights. These are borne along on a tide of invented epithets (“ ‘Foreigners!’ spat Boudicca”), fictive sound bites (“Down with the Committee of Safety!”) and homiletic observations (“By beating Napoléon the British showed how strong they were when they worked together”). Aside from occasional stumbles like the slave trade or the Irish potato famine, Britain’s history—from the Magna Carta to the dissolution of the biggest empire “there had ever been”—unfolds as a steady trot toward ever-broader religious toleration, voting rights and personal freedom. American audiences will likely be surprised to see Mary Queen of Scots characterized as “one of the most famous of all monarchs,” and the Revolutionary War get scarcely more play than the Charge of the Light Brigade. It makes a grand tale, though, even when strict accuracy sometimes takes a back seat to truthiness. Includes timelines, lists of monarchs and an index but no source lists. (Nonfiction. 11-13)


Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5122-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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