Not groundbreaking but Leffler effectively demonstrates the nuances involved in the “dilemmas of statecraft.”



Sober overview of the complicated reasoning behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its disastrous ramifications, which still reverberate today.

Veteran historian Leffler, who won the Bancroft Prize for his 1993 book, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War, builds his latest political study around interviews with participants designed “to supplement and complement the written record, not replace it.” He closely examines the actions and thinking of George W. Bush and his so-called Vulcans—as Condoleezza Rice’s group of foreign policy advisers were called—after the events of 9/11 prompted a “war of terror” that was conducted without adequate preparation and planning, especially in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. While much of this territory has been covered before, Leffler adds useful contextual detail, beginning with a detailed biography of Saddam Hussein, who was especially brutal in his political and military tactics—e.g., gassing his own people. Because of Hussein’s known lying about his buildup of biological and chemical weapons, support of terrorism, hatred of Zionism, and general grandiose ambitions for a pan-Arab unity led by himself, the U.S. was already deeply wary of his regime before 9/11. The author asserts that paying close attention to Hussein’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction was a fairly reasonable reaction to his proven heinous behavior, and the Americans, shaken by the inability to prevent 9/11, were keen to remove any chances another such attack could happen again. Leffler emphasizes Bush’s reliance on “coercive diplomacy” to pressure Hussein to destroy his weapons, and he shows that the president did not necessarily want to go to war. Ultimately, however, he was ill-served by his subordinates, especially Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who fostered a poisonous, backbiting atmosphere among colleagues.

Not groundbreaking but Leffler effectively demonstrates the nuances involved in the “dilemmas of statecraft.”

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2023

ISBN: 9780197610770

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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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. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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