HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES TOO

THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE BORDERLINES

A fun sequel offers more recondite tidbits of American history.

With 50 states, there are plenty of details about border controversies for this mildly titillating follow-up to screenwriter Stein’s How the States Got Their Shapes (2008), which in turn inspired the History Channel’s eponymous documentary. The personalities behind the disputes take center stage: Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who were actually a pair of highly accomplished English surveyors of the Royal Society possibly hired by Benjamin Franklin to establish impartially the disputed 300-mile Pennsylvania-Maryland-Delaware boundary. “Asking Mason and Dixon to survey a boundary in America,” writes the author, “was… akin to asking Mozart to play at a prom.” Thanks to Ethan Allen (“not a furniture maker”) and his motley posse of Green Mountain Boys, the homesteads making up the future Vermont were saved from rapacious New Yorkers. It is largely due to the zeal (or wealth) of John Hardeman Walker who “put the boot heel on Missouri” in order to keep his land from sinking into Arkansas. Under the presidency of James K. Polk, America’s borders increased greatly, incorporating Texas, the Oregon Territory and everything in between the Rockies and the Pacific, creating a massive befuddlement for lawmakers; bright lights such as Sam Houston, Brigham Young and John Sutter would all wield profound influence on the shape of the states affiliated with their names. Stein includes contributions by important women, including proto-feminist Clarina Nichols, who moved her family to Kansas for the purpose of creating an anti-slavery majority in 1854, and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, who attempted tirelessly to win statehood for the District of Columbia. Overall, the author provides plenty of good stuff for tournament quizzes and Jeopardy questions. Bright, readable and accessible for all ages.

 

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58834-314-7

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Smithsonian Books

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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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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