A splendid, challenging mixture of information and fun.

THE BOOK

A COVER-TO-COVER EXPLORATION OF THE MOST POWERFUL OBJECT OF OUR TIME

From barely decipherable scratches on ancient surfaces to the latest bestseller: a history of the book, its numerous ancestors, and its underlying technologies.

Houston, who has written a history of punctuation (Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, 2013), returns with a text that is erudite, playful, and illuminating. His massive research informs his discussion—research he has absorbed so well that it seems to flow effortlessly from his pen. Accompanied by many useful illustrations, the text approaches the subject in several ways: the author recounts the history of the writing surfaces and implements humanity has used (from papyrus to paper, reed to keyboard), rehearses the evolution of illustrations in texts (from illuminated manuscripts to our contemporary mass-produced pages), and describes the advance from the scroll to the codex. In each of these major sections, Houston is both witty and intensely detailed, thus appealing both to general readers and to bibliophiles who will wish to know the specifics of making papyrus, of stitching together pages, and of learning how we arrived at today’s paper sizes. Humor appears almost always in the punny, allusive chapter titles—e.g., “Etching a Sketch: Copperplate Printing and the Renaissance.” The author calls out onto his stage numerous principals in his play—names not widely known—and gives them their due, among them Flemish scribe Colard Mansion (the first to use engraved copper plates in the late 15th century) and Martial, a Roman poet, whose first-century (C.E.) volume is the first known use of the codex. Houston also continually refers to the published version of the book he is writing, pointing out its similarities to others, ancient and contemporary. And we sometimes have to “unlearn” things we thought we knew—e.g., Gutenberg’s first book was not the Bible but rather a grammar text.

A splendid, challenging mixture of information and fun.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24479-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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

NIGHT

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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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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