Big personalities, simmering turmoil, and fascinating popular science.



An entertaining update on a process as “red in tooth and claw” as nature itself.

Perhaps once a decade, a journalist recounts the history and latest findings in human evolution, a subject of apparently endless appeal—Martin Meredith’s Born in Africa (2011) remains a page-turner. Pattison caught the bug in 2012 and devoted seven years to gathering material. The result is a satisfying education on the status of the human family tree over the past 5 million years, and the author provides detailed explanations of how anthropologists tease information from bones, teeth, and local geology. It’s a journalistic maxim that readers prefer personalities to events, and Pattison describes plenty of ambitious, media-savvy researchers whose often bitter hostility has stalled progress but makes for lively reading. He passes quickly over the father of African anthropology, the colorful Louis Leakey, spends more time on his wife and family and their pioneering findings, and gives a major role to Donald Johanson, whose 1974 discovery of a partial skeleton of “Lucy,” a small, primitive human ancestor, and the resulting bestselling books made him a familiar name. Mostly Pattison focuses on anatomist Owen Lovejoy and anthropologist Tim White, whose energy, work ethic, and opinions made him a lightning rod for controversy even before his team’s 1994 finding of “Ardi,” a skeleton older than Lucy whose age approaches the era when hominids and chimpanzees diverged from their presumed common ancestor. Colleagues fumed for 15 years as his team studied the bones, and the resulting massive 2009 report aggravated matters. The anthropological community learned that “they were looking up the wrong tree for human origins, and that their quest to link early humanity to modern apes was nullified by Ardi because the last common ancestor looked like no modern species.” Pattison delivers a gripping and reasonably balanced account of the predictably hostile reception, and this remains a controversial interpretation, although it has made some converts.

Big personalities, simmering turmoil, and fascinating popular science.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-241028-3

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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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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