In a market glutted with Civil War books, Slotkin delivers a fresh, well-told tale.



The offbeat history of a truly explosive Civil War battle.

Historian Slotkin (Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality, 2005, etc.) focuses on a particularly unusual battle, which occurred July 30, 1864. Ulysses S. Grant and his Union forces were determined to seize Petersburg, Va., a heavily fortified, key supply point for the Confederate capital of Richmond, but his soldiers were bogged down in trench warfare against Robert E. Lee’s Confederates. To break the stalemate, Henry Pleasants, a Union lieutenant colonel and former mining engineer, proposed that Union soldiers dig a tunnel underneath one of the Confederate forts, pack it with explosives and blow a hole in the Confederate line. Major General Ambrose Burnside supported the plan, but others, including Grant, were less enthusiastic. Consequently, the soldiers tasked with the digging were supplied with inferior equipment and supplies. Nonetheless, the tunnel was completed in a month and packed with 8,000 pounds of gunpowder. A regiment of African-American soldiers had been trained to lead the post-explosion charge, but were replaced at the last minute with an inexperienced white regiment. The blast—the largest manmade explosion to that point—opened a crater, still visible today, more than 130-feet wide and 30-feet deep. Many Union troops marched into the crater instead of around it and were shot in massive numbers. Ultimately, Grant deemed the Battle of the Crater “a stupendous failure.” Some 3,800 Union troops were killed, wounded or captured, compared to fewer than 1,500 Confederates. Burnside was relieved of command, and the seemingly endless trench warfare continued as before. Slotkin skillfully portrays the myriad political and strategic elements in play throughout the preparation of the ill-fated siege, as well as the sometimes prickly personalities of the commanders in charge. He’s particularly adept at describing the unbridled chaos and brutality, hour by hour, of the battle itself.

In a market glutted with Civil War books, Slotkin delivers a fresh, well-told tale.

Pub Date: July 28, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6675-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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.



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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