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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Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM?

Remarkably comprehensive and coherent analysis of and prescriptions for America’s contemporary economic malaise by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Smith (Rethinking America, 1995, etc.).

“Over the past three decades,” writes the author, “we have become Two Americas.” We have arrived at a new Gilded Age, where “gross inequality of income and wealth” have become endemic. Such inequality is not simply the result of “impersonal and irresistible market forces,” but of quite deliberate corporate strategies and the public policies that enabled them. Smith sets out on a mission to trace the history of these strategies and policies, which transformed America from a roughly fair society to its current status as a plutocracy. He leaves few stones unturned. CEO culture has moved since the 1970s from a concern for the general well-being of society, including employees, to the single-minded pursuit of personal enrichment and short-term increases in stock prices. During much of the ’70s, CEO pay was roughly 40 times a worker’s pay; today that number is 367. Whether it be through outsourcing and factory closings, corporate reneging on once-promised contributions to employee health and retirement funds, the deregulation of Wall Street and the financial markets, a tax code which favors overwhelmingly the interests of corporate heads and the superrich—all of which Smith examines in fascinating detail—the American middle class has been left floundering. For its part, government has simply become an enabler and partner of the rich, as the rich have turned wealth into political influence and rigid conservative opposition has created the politics of gridlock. What, then, is to be done? Here, Smith’s brilliant analyses turn tepid, as he advocates for “a peaceful political revolution at the grassroots” to realign the priorities of government and the economy but offers only the vaguest of clues as to how this might occur.

Not flawless, but one of the best recent analyses of the contemporary woes of American economics and politics.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6966-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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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