Learned but accessible, a pleasure for all readers bitten by the bug of impractical acquisition.



Bezoars, crocodile teeth, sextants, first editions: if it can be collected, it figures in the pages of this entertaining debut, a history of passion-driven accumulation.

Though only 32, European journalist and translator Blom writes with an old hand’s appreciation for the deep-seated impulse to gather things and make them one’s own. Much of his narrative consists of brief profiles of collectors possessed by that need, some quite uncontrollably. Among them are Spain’s King Philip II, who “sent out agents to bring him every relic they could find,” amassing 7,000 items connected with Christian saints including 4 whole bodies and 144 heads, as well as putative pieces of the True Cross and the Crown of Thorns; American newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, who filled his California castle and apartments throughout the land with millions of dollars’ worth of art, inspiring Orson Welles’s movie Citizen Kane and pushing himself deep into debt in the bargain; English gardener John Tradescant, whose renowned collection of “Shining Stones or of Any Strange Shapes,” animal skins, books, and drawings forms the basis of Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum (why it’s not called the Tradescantian Museum is a tale in itself); and Hollywood-based artist Alex Shear, who hoards such things as African-American Barbie dolls and Jell-O boxes in an effort to chronicle the essential childishness of American culture. Blom also explores with a light hand what their obsessions mean; he observes, for instance, that the act of collecting and classifying things allows the amasser to impose order on a patently disorderly universe and remarks on the odd correlation between uselessness and value, such that goods with practical purposes are less prized than “a stamp that is no longer valid, an empty matchbox that missed the rubbish bin only because its last user had a poor aim.”

Learned but accessible, a pleasure for all readers bitten by the bug of impractical acquisition.

Pub Date: March 17, 2003

ISBN: 1-58567-377-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



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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