Occasionally staid but erudite portraits of heroic botanists.


Sharp, vest-pocket sketches of a dozen intrepid plant collectors by the veteran popular-science team (Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity, 2005, etc.).

From the mid-17th century through the end of the 19th, pioneering botanists passionately strove to understand the natural world. At first blush, plant collecting seems an innocuous activity, but the Gribbins make it clear that the great collectors were a special breed: They traveled to distant places and combined extraordinary fortitude with the talents of polymaths, diplomats and logicians. Though the authors’ prose can be prim and obvious (“it seems appropriate to look at the work which made his reputation”), for the most part they invest their subjects with a well-deserved air of adventure. These individuals battled government interference with the free pursuit of knowledge and grappled with evidence that the world was much older than biblical chronology allowed. To puzzle out obfuscations and gather their quarry, they spent years in remote climes, where they were frequently regarded with dangerous suspicion and almost as frequently became direly ill. Among these swashbucklers were Richard Spruce, who obtained the seeds of the quinine tree; Robert Fortune, chiefly responsible for developing the black tea industry in India; Joseph Hooker, who brought home the rhododendrons of Sikkim; and Francis Masson, whom we have to thank for the Red Hot Pokers. Awarded the Star of India for his work, Hooker wrote happily that he felt this was recognition “of hard work under difficulties, of obstacles overcome, and of brilliant deeds.” This description applies equally well to Marianne North’s astonishing travels to almost every continent and countless remote islands in search of the exotic plants she captured in botanical paintings now exhibited at Kew Gardens: “a beautiful, and scientifically valuable record.” The Gribbins also spend time on the plant hunters’ incidental activities, such as observing the transit of Venus and identifying the magnetic pole.

Occasionally staid but erudite portraits of heroic botanists.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-19-280718-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

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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