Overheated prose only slightly mars this colorful portrait of an underappreciated American inventor and his times.



Passionate biography of the inventor of the first practical machine gun.

Son of a prosperous farmer and inventor, Richard Gatling (1818–1903) designed a screw propeller to drive ships at age 17. Unfortunately, his application arrived at the Patent Office only months after John Ericsson’s similar device revolutionized ship transport. At 26, Gatling struck it rich with a seed planter that enabled farmers to sow in uniform rows instead of scattering seeds by hand; he filed nine more agricultural patents over the next two decades. The 1790 U.S. patent law was a historic achievement, points out Chicago Tribune culture critic Keller. Making it cheap and easy for Americans to profit from an invention, it became the engine of an explosion of technical advances. In 1861, Gatling used a rotary mechanical principle similar to that of his seed planter in a patent for the first useful rapid-fire “battery gun.” Despite his energetic efforts, conservative Union ordinance officials rejected it. First-time author Keller contradicts historians who claim the first Gatling was clumsy and unreliable; it worked fine from the beginning, she demonstrates. The army reversed itself in 1866, armies throughout the world quickly followed and the Gatling remained in use until the 1890s. Because this is such an interesting history, it’s regrettable that Keller is so eager to improve material that doesn’t require improvement. She adopts fashionable fictional devices such as writing in the present tense (“The wide world beckons. Gatling is leaving home, mounting his horse for the daunting and perilous 737-mile journey.”) and revealing her hero’s inner thoughts: “No, no, no. His head was too full of all the things he wanted to build.”

Overheated prose only slightly mars this colorful portrait of an underappreciated American inventor and his times.

Pub Date: June 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01894-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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