A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler’s finesse.

OF ARMS AND ARTISTS

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION THROUGH PAINTERS' EYES

How American art inspired a young country.

This is an impressive, ambitious undertaking, to tell the stories of five painters—Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart—while simultaneously showing how they were all interrelated and doing this against the complex history of the American Revolution. Staiti (Fine Arts/Mount Holyoke Coll.; Samuel F.B. Morse, 1990, etc.) begins his intricate narrative in January 1779. While the war waged, the Continental Congress approved funds to have Peale create a life-size portrait of “His Excellency General” George Washington. They felt strongly that art was “capable of arousing potent emotions in times of intense political change.” Staiti shows how these painters’ works “illuminated the era” when the population was in desperate need of inspiring images, rituals, and myths. Peele would go on to paint more than 100 more portraits. Copley, the “greatest painter in colonial America” and a loyalist, made many such contributions as well, until he felt he had to flee to London to protect himself and his family. West, known in England as the “American Raphael,” was born in Pennsylvania and served for more than a decade as King George III’s court painter. Peale and other Americans were students of his. He had to wait until he could express his patriotic sentiments in paintings, and his “luscious” painting of the Paris peace treaty signing was never completed. Trumbull, nearly blind in his left eye, served as Washington’s aide-de-camp and painted memorable battle scenes. His magnum opus is the majestic Declaration of Independence. Impulsive, witty, profane, and manic, Stuart, writes the author, was the “most talented of them all.” His numerous portraits of the Founders were conceived with a “brilliant talent never before seen in America.” Throughout, Staiti provides insightful, in-depth discussions of many key paintings, and the book is lavishly illustrated with illustrations and color plates.

A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler’s finesse.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-465-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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