A sappily sentimental but nevertheless vital look at America’s neighborhood.



Too-easy-by-half portrait of New York City’s most famous toehold on the mainland.

The book is an oral history of a teeming, immigrant-packed American city that looms large in the nation’s psyche, but this is no Division Street, and pop biographer Eliot (Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, 2006, etc.) is no Studs Terkel. He begins poorly with a hokey introduction that seems to be trying to set a cliché record in describing just how awesome (AWESOME!) Brooklyn is. The first chapter, on Coney Island, offers little better, as “the cyclonic roller-coaster ride that is Coney Island’s future continues to soar and dip.” Subsequent, crudely slapped-together sections on Sheepshead Bay, music and Dem Bums (the Dodgers) prompt fears that the entire book is going to be like that. Then, at about the halfway mark, comes a man speaking his mind about Brooklyn: “It’s a shit-fuckin’-hole of roaches and rats,” he declares before laying into “all of that candy store nostalgia and egg cream crap.” Unfortunately, Eliot gives far too much space to that crap, with long-gone-to-Hollywood entertainers getting teary-eyed about stickball and tenements and dear old Mom. Finally, in the book’s second half, he starts to include occasional voices of dissent speaking unpalatable truths. Acknowledging the borough’s racism, a rabbi talks about how an entire block would shift from white to black within a month. Blunt recollections of gang violence dispel the impression conveyed earlier that it somehow didn’t exist back in the Good Old Days. There’s some sadness here, and a more hard-hitting type of nostalgia: not for the old days of the Dodgers and trolley cars, but for a time when neighborhoods of different ethnicities still interacted out of necessity. Brooklyn comes across in the end as a crowded, sprawling, beautiful, ugly dream of a place that people can’t wait to get out of and then spend the rest of their lives unable to forget.

A sappily sentimental but nevertheless vital look at America’s neighborhood.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7679-2014-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Broadway

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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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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