Here's material for many a budding picaresque romance. It's an expedition in time, educational and entertaining, and more...



Londoner Waller offers a journey to another age and another London.

The year 1700 was not a particularly special one in history, but in 1700, London was the greatest metropolis of its day, teeming with more than half-a-million busy urbanites. Wren redefined the city skyline after the great fire, but he is scarcely mentioned. William and Mary reigned, but they matter not all in this story: this is a social history, in which we meet merchants and apothecaries, fops, footpads, highwaymen, pickpockets, prostitutes and wig snatchers—in a time when London had no central police force, houses had no numbers, and no one had knickers to show off on stage. Regular entertainment was largely in the form of public executions and other blood sports. There were cock fights, bear-baiting, and general fisticuffs, Bedlam was considered a fun place to visit, and coffeehouses and taverns were busy. But leisure was scarce for the majority and life was short for most. Few children survived to adulthood. Disease was treated by dubious means and by benighted practitioners. Decent sanitation was unknown (which, incidentally, caused the practice of ladies leaving dinner tables to the men). Waller investigates life and death and the travails of childbirth, as well as comestibles and drink, the regulation of the home, and the dictates of fashion (including the price of worsteds and silks) in 1700. Also considered are rampant crime and fierce punishment, as well as the everyday lives of the poor, the rich, and the `middling people.` To tell the story she draws copiously from contemporary bills of mortality, diaries, wills, letters, news reports and guidebooks—with the added delight of original eccentric orthography. Clearly speaking to posterity, Swift, Pepys, and Defoe appear frequently. Ultimately, despite different values and habits, these Londoners of three centuries ago, on the cusp of modern times, are no strangers to us.

Here's material for many a budding picaresque romance. It's an expedition in time, educational and entertaining, and more edifying, surely, than a visit to Bedlam.

Pub Date: May 10, 2000

ISBN: 1-56858-164-5

Page Count: 326

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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.



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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