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AMERICAN TAPESTRY

PORTRAIT OF A "MIDDLING" FAMILY, 1746-1934

A rigorous, absorbing family account that offers both a microcosm and a macrocosm.

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A historical work introduces readers to at least six generations of a family and tells the story of the America the clan grew up with.

This account of Sherman’s family starts with her Irish immigrant ancestor James Woodside, a farmer who homesteaded in Central Pennsylvania near present-day Harrisburg in the 18th century. Then, down through the centuries, the volume covers John Woodside and his son, Jonathan, in the direct family line. In the 19th century, Mary Ann Woodside married George McEliece, starting another Irish American clan. Their son, John McEliece, married Ann Ellen Lukens. These were the author’s great-grandparents, giving way to her grandparents Dr. James J. Brown and Lillian McEliece. This is where the sprawling account ends, a story that takes readers from an agrarian semiwilderness to the 20th century, from Native American raids to the automobile and the electric light. Along the way, the work discusses the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, with all the reverberations they entailed. And let’s not forget the Industrial Revolution. The book focuses on the various men in the family. They were all civic-minded, and some prospered and some didn’t. As the subtitle notes, Sherman wants to celebrate a “middling” family (which happens to be her own), not memorialize famous figures whom readers already know about. The volume features charts, maps, and archival photographs.

Sherman is a competent writer and is passionate about the downtrodden, such as the Native American tribes that were cheated time and again and finally displaced, if not brutally annihilated. When anthracite coal was discovered in Shamokin, Pennsylvania—just in time to power the Industrial Revolution—John McEliece became a manager of a mine. The author agonizes over the fact that an otherwise seemingly good man could countenance children as young as 10 years old working harder than any character in a Dickens’ novel. She devotes many pages to a study of the “breaker boys” and the benighted conditions that would only begin to be addressed when the courageous muckrakers exposed them. She is also intrigued by the rough and tumble politics of the day and the vitriolic attacks on the “Papist” Irish, who pushed back as the Molly Maguires and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. She devotes a lot of space to John McEliece because he also fought and was wounded in the Civil War and went on to become a prominent figure in the community, serving on many boards and councils. This makes her final discovery about the man a ghastly shock. Although Sherman protests that she is neither a historian nor a genealogist (nor a sociologist), readers get a very thoughtful panorama of 250 years of history, change, and how this “middling” family dealt with all of it. She is a formidable and patient researcher. The author says it took 10 years to write the book, and readers will believe it. Almost the last third of the volume is devoted to useful appendices (two Civil War battles and the deplorable conditions in the mines), acknowledgements, endnotes, and a detailed index.

A rigorous, absorbing family account that offers both a microcosm and a macrocosm.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Luminaire Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2021

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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