An engaging look at controversial defendants from the 1940s to the ’70s.

Secret History

A meticulous legal examination of the evidence against famous espionage and terrorism defendants.

The majority of Roberts’ debut study focuses on post–World War II America: the era of Cold War paranoia, real and perceived Soviet threats, McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Using a large dose of common sense, the author analyzes testimony from espionage cases involving U.S. government employees Alger Hiss, David Zablodowsky, Oliver Edmund Clubb, Harry Dexter White, William Remington and Judith Coplon. The most compelling passages zero in on Whittaker Chambers and Elizabeth Bentley, two colorful characters who confessed to acts of treason and then testified against their alleged accomplices in order to avoid prosecution. Roberts suggests that the FBI and other authorities had invested so much in these unreliable witnesses that they went to great lengths to prop up their veneers of respectability—despite the witnesses’ odd behavior and questionable claims. Toward the end of the book, the author abruptly shifts to the Irish Republican Army bombings in Britain during the 1970s and the suspects referred to as the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six. Here, he continues to attack official versions of events by underscoring their flawed assumptions and logistical improbabilities. However, he doesn’t explain his rationale for including such disparate historical contexts until the final chapter: “Both countries, and both periods, are linked by the fact that in each there was an urgent need to find someone who was guilty; and that in both, stories of the most preposterous kind were believed.” Thus, readers might want to begin with the last chapter to contextualize the interwoven tales of intrigue recounted in the rest of the book. Fortunately, the author provides a helpful index of the myriad figures, organizations and themes that resurface throughout the text. As debates about the guilt or innocence of these individuals rage on, this book will certainly stoke that fire.

An engaging look at controversial defendants from the 1940s to the ’70s.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1456789862

Page Count: 300

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?