Mostly engaging but rarely edifying.



Don’t Know Much About® series creator Davis (America’s Hidden History, 2008, etc.) examines six little-known episodes that influenced American history.

By now the author’s formula is familiar—seize a small or misunderstood incident from America’s past, identify it as a precursor to or emblematic of a better-known event and use it to illustrate larger themes that have altered the nation’s course. Focusing on the period between Jefferson’s 1800 election and California’s 1850 statehood, Davis looks at Aaron Burr’s 1807 arrest for treason, the 1818 Creek attack on Fort Mims, the 1841 revolt aboard the slave ship Creole, the Seminole massacre of Major Francis Dade’s relief column in 1835, the Nativist inspired Bible Riots in 1844 Philadelphia and the harrowing journey of Jesse Fremont across Panama’s isthmus in 1849. In breezily entertaining fashion, the author does just fine when he confines himself to the details of each episode. Beyond that, these historical vignettes aren’t exactly revelatory. Even casual students understand the gap between America’s ideals and practice. For whom, any longer, is it news that America’s presidents have frequently abused their power, that the nation has sometimes made war for ignoble purposes, that our history is marred by various eruptions of religious strife, that slavery, our intolerance of immigrants, and our shameful treatment of Native Americans continue to haunt our present? The narrative suffers, as well, when Davis attempts comparisons to contemporary events. Readers may be persuaded that Jefferson’s pursuit of Burr is analogous to Nixon’s efforts to destroy political enemies or to the Bush administration’s so-called outing of Valerie Plame, but bald assertion makes neither proposition true. This is history-lite, misleading to those who know too little, harmless to those who know enough.

Mostly engaging but rarely edifying.

Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-111820-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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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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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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