Aficionados of early medieval history—and of course Ravenna itself—will learn much from Herrin’s work.



The early life and times of an Italian city that sometimes threatened to overshadow Rome.

Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast near Venice and Bologna, served as an outpost in the days of the Roman Republic. When Visigoths and other outlanders descended on Rome, Ravenna seemed a promising stronghold, “partly because it was considered impregnable and partly because of its large port,” as emerita professor of classics Herrin writes. After the fall of Rome, it steadily gained importance, first as a center of Gothic power and then as a tributary city of Byzantium and an entrepôt with strong ties to the Eastern Roman empire. “This strength,” Herrin observes, “was rooted in its threefold combination of Roman law and military prowess, Greek education and culture and Christian belief and morality.” She examines each of these pillars in turn. Roman power steadily declined over the centuries until Alaric stormed the gates in 410 C.E., but Ravenna remembered the lessons of its rule, eventually establishing colonies of its own in many parts of the former empire, especially in Sicily. More powerful than any other institution was the church, so strong that rivalries with the papal headquarters in Rome were not uncommon. Of particular interest to students of early Christian history is Ravenna’s emergence as a node of Arian worship—though, Herrin writes, eventually that “heresy” would be suppressed at the order of Byzantine Emperor Justin, “a symptom of the much greater intolerance that would later result in outright persecution of minorities.” The bonds with the Eastern Roman Empire would eventually break, but the centuries of affiliation explain why even today so many people travel to Ravenna to see Byzantine art, so widely destroyed elsewhere. Even in later medieval times, adds the author, “the mosaicked churches of Ravenna…continued to inspire transalpine visitors as they became monastic centres, ensuring their preservation while all around the palaces of secular power crumbled.”

Aficionados of early medieval history—and of course Ravenna itself—will learn much from Herrin’s work.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-691-15343-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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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