This lively, lucid tract reminds us that historians gotta have attitude as well as game.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JULIUS CAESAR

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF ANCIENT ROME

Populist historian Parenti (To Kill a Nation, 2001, etc.) views ancient Rome’s most famous assassination not as a tyrannicide but as a sanguinary scene in the never-ending drama of class warfare.

His savagely entertaining brief begins with the Ides of March, 44 b.c., and returns to the details of the murder 170 pages later. The argument in between presents revisionist history at its most provocative. Employing the notion of “gentlemen historians” he advanced in History as Mystery (1999), Parenti writes as much about historiography as he does about historical events. Former and current patricians, the gentlemen historians are concerned with promoting the interests of their class, he contends, not in understanding the past. And so Parenti rips new ones for all those Roman “heroes” celebrated in Latin I and Ancient Civ—and in the GOP. Thus, Cicero is “a self-enriching slaveholder, slumlord, and senator”; Cato the younger, a money-grubbing apologist for political assassination. Julius Caesar, by contrast, despite his well-chronicled failures (he owned slaves and despoiled distant lands), was interested in the public welfare and thus a danger to the fat cats who purred in his presence while privately sharpening their claws. The author, who confesses to having little Latin, girds his argument with numerous examples of Roman populists (e.g., Tiberius Gracchus, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus) whose flesh yielded oh-so-easily to assassins’ knives when share-the-wealth proposals made jittery the monied and the propertied. Parenti’s account of Caesar’s murder and its aftermath is a highlight, and his primer on the political strategies exercised by the Roman rich is sobering; much sounds distressingly contemporary. Meanwhile, Shakespeare himself does not escape Parenti’s scalpel: the Bard, he argues, picked the wrong side and forever labeled the naughty Brutus (“a usurer of the worst sort and a spoliator to boot”) as noble.

This lively, lucid tract reminds us that historians gotta have attitude as well as game.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-56584-797-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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.

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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