Although sorely in need of maps and other illustrations, this is an impressive, engaging analysis of one of the most...



A swift and savvy journey through 164 years of Alamo history—from lines in the sand to lines at the gift shop.

Roberts (History/Purdue) and Olson (History/Sam Houston State Univ.) present a balanced analysis of one of the obsessions of the subject of their previous work (John Wayne: American, 1995). The first half deals with the brief battle itself (it was over in about 90 minutes)—its causes, its participants, and its immediate aftermath. The second examines “how Americans gave and continue to give meaning to the event.” The authors provide fair and careful portraits of the principal players in the bloody drama: they characterize the Mexican general Santa Anna was “Byronic,” a man who “lusted for absolute power” and considered himself “Napoleon’s latter-day reincarnation.” William Barret Travis, the Alamo’s commander, read novels by Sir Walter Scott and, like many others at the time, employed “the rhetoric of the American Revolution.” Jim Bowie convinced Sam Houston the makeshift fortress could be defended—then died in his Alamo bed where he lay suffering from some devastating illness (perhaps typhoid). The most compelling and controversial figure, however, remains Davy Crockett, whose portrayals by Fess Parker and John Wayne have become part of the collective American imagination. Roberts and Olson consider the documentary evidence of Crockett’s life and death and conclude “there is no definitive account of Crockett’s final hours.” There are compelling chapters on the restoration of the structure, on Disney’s Davy Crockett phenomenon (which “must have made a dent in the raccoon population”), on Wayne’s meticulous but sluggish 1960 film (the set was cleared of rattlesnakes each morning), on the various academic interpretations of the Alamo, and on the structure’s continuing role as a lightning rod for political activists of all stripes.

Although sorely in need of maps and other illustrations, this is an impressive, engaging analysis of one of the most politically charged events in American history.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-83544-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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