As this abundantly detailed history shows, no one evades blame for the bloody past.



Rejecting an idealized version of American tribal life, a historian tells a complex story.

Smith (1917-1995), winner of the Bancroft Prize for a biography of John Adams, is best known for his eight-volume A People’s History of the United States (1976-1987). In the years before he died, the author recognized that the relationship between Euro-Americans and tribal peoples had become, as he put it, “a major preoccupation of white Americans,” fueled in part by the counterculture’s romanticized view of peaceful Indians attacked by “genocidal criminals.” Seeing the need for a corrective, Smith aimed to render history “as simply and directly as possible” by collecting chapters from each volume of his People’s History to form a narrative overview, adding an additional chapter updating the story to the 1990s. The result is a vivid recounting of brutality, duplicity, and violence on all sides. Since tribes often fought one another, warfare erupted not only between whites and Indians, but also among rival tribes. Sioux and Menominie, for example, were traditional enemies of the Sauk and Foxes; by 1775, the Miami had waged war for 100 years with the Iroquois, who counted among their many enemies the Potowatomi. During the American Revolution, the British drafted Indians as mercenaries, unleashing them against settlers, especially along the frontier, where “a ruthless and barbarous total war” caused more casualties “than Washington’s Continental Army suffered in all its major engagements.” Once the new nation was formed, tribal strife impeded negotiations and treaties. As the government began its policy of Indian removal, fierce fighting broke out between small groups of whites and Indians, sometimes incited by American militias that were often “disorderly and undisciplined.” While Smith admires some elements of tribal life, such as a sense of the sacredness of the natural world, he cautions against idealizing Indian culture.

As this abundantly detailed history shows, no one evades blame for the bloody past.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61902-574-5

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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