Inserting extracts from diaries and letters, the author does a solid job re-creating Napoleon’s “dream of an Oriental...

NAPOLEON IN EGYPT

Strathern (James Joyce in 90 Minutes, 2005, etc.) wades into the muddy waters of France’s fabled North African campaign in 1798–99.

It’s well established that Napoleon fancied himself a new Alexander the Great, eyes voraciously turned on conquering Egypt and then India, and the author crafts a solid account of the young general’s ambitions. Having gained notoriety as the “liberator of Italy,” steeped in Constantin Volney’s seminal 1787 text Voyage en Égypte et en Syrie and harkening cries by Talleyrand and others to liberate Egypt from the Mamelukes and jump-start French colonial expansion, Napoleon in 1798 ransacked the Vatican’s coffers and set out with an armada of 335 ships. The campaign was as much a “civilizing” enterprise as a military venture: The general took along 167 “hand-picked savants” from France. Among them were mathematician Gaspard Monge and chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet, who intended to plant European ideas and extract the essence of Egypt’s ancient grandeur. Pursued by Admiral Nelson, however, the general was thwarted at the Battle of the Nile and later at the Siege of Acre; what was planned as a triumphal progress ended with his precipitous flight back to France in 1799. In between the battle scenes, Strathern paints a portrait of Napoleon the man, sketching his humiliation over wife Josephine’s infidelities and his implausibly lofty ideals, which spawned a generation of Romantic artists. His team of savants spurred the discipline of Egyptology, thanks to painter Vivant Denon’s sketches of fabulous ancient ruins and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, among other valuable artifacts.

Inserting extracts from diaries and letters, the author does a solid job re-creating Napoleon’s “dream of an Oriental empire” without offering many new insights.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-553-80678-6

Page Count: 482

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2008

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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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