Strathern does not take sides as he delivers a deft, often gruesome account of events in that distant era when Christianity...

DEATH IN FLORENCE

THE MEDICI, SAVONOROLA, AND THE BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF A RENAISSANCE CITY

Boko Haram and the Taliban are uniquely bloodthirsty, but they follow a long tradition of puritan reformers, among them the subject of this book, the Italian Dominican friar Savonarola (1452-1498).

Savonarola gets terrible press, admits novelist and historian Strathern (The Venetians: A New History: From Marco Polo to Casanova, 2013, etc.), in this lively history of a bizarre period during Italy’s golden age. The author opens with a portrait of Renaissance Florence under Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492), who governed through bribes, threats, and strategic marriages but with far more skill than fellow rulers. Strathern admires him but shows equal sympathy with the charismatic friar, already creating a stir with apocalyptic sermons and attacks on corruption, who became the city’s spiritual dictator after Lorenzo’s death and the 1494 expulsion of his incompetent son. Savonarola supported a new constitution that produced “the most democratic and open rule the city had ever known.” For reasons historians still debate, he presided over a citywide crusade against vice resembling that of the 1990s Taliban. Bands of young men patrolled the streets to punish immodest dress and behavior. In the celebrated bonfire of the vanities, enthusiasts destroyed objects of frivolity (mirrors, playing cards, musical instruments), along with books, paintings, and sculpture. Aided by a hostile papacy, the movement ran out of steam, at which point Savonarola was arrested, tortured, and hung. Some argue that he failed because Florentines wearied of life in a theocracy; others, that a corrupt church killed him, something it failed to do with a later reformer, Martin Luther.

Strathern does not take sides as he delivers a deft, often gruesome account of events in that distant era when Christianity was a matter of life and death.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60598-826-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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...

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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