Thoughtful and well-researched, but nonscholars would be satisfied with an essay-length treatment of this esoteric moment in...



A journey into the peculiar, nearly lawless world of bookselling in France circa 1778.

Darnton, a longtime scholar of French culture and trenchant commentator on books and publishing (Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, 2014, etc.), has spent decades poring through the files of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel, a Swiss publishing house. Little distinguished STN from its competitors just before the French Revolution, which serves the author’s purposes well: his goal is to explore how books were generally distributed and sold and which books were most commonly consumed (mostly Enlightenment writers like Rousseau, religious works, pornography, and scurrilous titles about royalty and religions). The available evidence is mainly in ledgers and stiff business correspondence, but Darnton finds an arc by following Jean-François Favarger, an STN sales representative who, in 1778, circled the country visiting booksellers. Boots on the ground were essential because the book trade of the time was almost unmanageably chaotic. Publishers freely pirated each other’s works (part of Favarger’s job was to suss out what was worth pirating); books were shipped unbound, prone to the ravages of weather and transit; border smuggling was rampant to avoid the monarchy’s control of the trade; and booksellers could often be lax about payment. (While on the road, Favarger maintained rankings of booksellers’ reliability.) “We don’t know of any branch of commerce that is more disagreeable or unrewarding than the book trade,” one bookseller grumbled. Darnton’s enthusiasm for his subject is palpable, and he delivers bucolic descriptions (with contemporary illustrations) of Favarger’s stops in places like Lyon, Bordeaux, and Dijon. But at heart this is an academic, largely dry business history. Favarger is an intrepid salesman, but his greatest drama involves replacing a horse.

Thoughtful and well-researched, but nonscholars would be satisfied with an essay-length treatment of this esoteric moment in publishing history.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-514451-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet