Essential for students of American slavery and antebellum history.

Eyewitness testimonies to the culture and commerce of slavery, America’s original sin.

Slavery was, in the words of a Southern circumlocution, a “peculiar institution.” In America, it was also an institution extending deep into the past, two centuries and more before the Civil War that ended it. In this gathering of personal, firsthand accounts, coupled with smart commentary, popular historian and editor Rae (People's War: Original Voices of the American Revolution, 2011, etc.) looks into that past. Near the beginning of the book is a tale by a slave trader in Africa who purchased captives from “a country called Tuffoe”—perhaps Togo—for “the value of twenty shillings sterling for every man, in cowries…and ten shillings for a woman, boy, or girl.” During the American Revolution, the British promised freedom to slaves only to return them to their masters in defeat given that the terms of surrender mandated that “any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these states…shall be subject to be reclaimed.” Within a couple of generations, by the account of a touring British journalist, the slave economy was at its apex. And it was extremely costly, tying up an enormous quantity of capital that would otherwise have gone into hiring labor and enriching the economy as a whole, by virtue of which “the whole country would have been advanced at least a century beyond its present condition.” That’s a fascinating premise, one of many that arise from this overstuffed book. It’s certainly a more fruitful one than the notion of the “lost cause,” which Rae traces to another journalist, a Southerner named Edward Pollard, who lamented the supremacy of the Northern cause and people, who were “coarse and inferior in comparison with the aristocracy and chivalry of the South.” Given the culture’s apparent need to readjudicate that conflict, this book and its wealth of documents and reports make a welcome, ready reference.

Essential for students of American slavery and antebellum history.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1513-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018


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



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

Close Quickview