A top-notch introduction to some fairly arcane material, accessible but not patronizing.

CONFRONTING THE CLASSICS

TRADITIONS, ADVENTURES, AND INNOVATIONS

This collection by Beard (Classics/Cambridge Univ.; The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, 2008, etc.) provides a traditional classical education, and there’s no need to learn a dead language.

Not only do the pieces illustrate the author’s extensive knowledge of all things ancient, but they could also serve as a guide to writing highly literate book reviews. Beard's clear way of explaining times and people we may or may not have heard of makes learning not only fun, but satisfying, and her prose style is easy without being annoyingly breezy. She examines books on the decline of Latin and Greek studies and wonders why we bother reading about their decline when we really don’t care about them anyway. By definition, classics are in decline, she notes, since they’re about the art, culture, history and philosophy of the ancient world; yet, as we see in one excellent section of this book, constantly changing views and new translations keep interest alive. Among the other topics treated with enjoyable erudition: our fascination with Alexander the Great, in a version created by Rome; Cleopatra, more Greek than Egyptian; and Mark Antony, a foolish drunk. Beard also decries the difficulty of translating Thucydides and Tacitus, reveals that most of Cicero’s writing was part of a single legal case and introduces us to Philogelos’ joke book from A.D. 400. (Some things are always funny.) Beard's reviews confirm her knowledgeable professionalism as she decries the conjectures of biographers who write “careful ancient history,” hedging all their bets with weaselly phrases such as "would have," "no doubt" and "presumably." While we’re at it, we learn that the ancients weren’t that great; they just had good spin doctors. Remember, the winner always writes the history.

A top-notch introduction to some fairly arcane material, accessible but not patronizing.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87140-716-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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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