Offers revealing historical perspectives enlivened, but not swamped, by vivid accounts of blood-and-guts encounters.

THE PIRATE WARS

Earle (Economic History/Univ. of London) spans the spectrum of high-seas piracy from its Elizabethan origins to its final throttling by reenergized Western naval might nearly two centuries later.

Piracy was endemic in 16th-century Europe, notes the author, but only England was called “a nation of pirates,” thanks to the unofficially tolerated adventuring of privateers like Sir Francis Drake. These gentleman captains sailed under powerful sponsorship and were often used as a subtle instrument of policy by Tudor monarchs. Their mission was to harry the Tudors’ archenemy, Catholic Spain, which they did as much under the banner of Protestantism as that of Mother England. The privateers’ 17th-century Muslim counterparts, known as Corsairs, also practiced this piratical form of religious persecution. Launching from the Barbary Coast of North Africa and the Levant, these unabashed Christian-hunters ranged from the Mediterranean as far west as the Atlantic coast of Ireland, plundering unprotected towns for slaves and booty. Among the many common misconceptions about piracy that Earle challenges is the quick-and-dirty encounter popularized in Hollywood swashbucklers: a cunning maneuver under sail, a fatal burst of cannon fire, grappling hooks, flashing cutlasses, and a round of rum for the men. In fact, the author reports, buccaneers often tied alongside a potential prize and drifted with it for a week or more as the captors repeatedly paid “visits” to search for plunder, exact vengeance (including torture) on those who had resisted too vigorously, and rape any female passengers whose rank was insufficient to offer either protection or potential for ransom. During piracy’s Golden Age (1715–25) in the Caribbean, where treaties of peace agreed to and enacted in Europe were essentially ignored, egalitarianism became an oddly dominant factor. Crews elected their captains, decided on the venue and scope of their mission, determined how spoils would be divided, and sailed “against the world” under the black flag and their own rigid code of ethics.

Offers revealing historical perspectives enlivened, but not swamped, by vivid accounts of blood-and-guts encounters.

Pub Date: April 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-33579-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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