THE YEAR 1000

WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE AT THE TURN OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM

An amusing, though lightweight, examination of English life in the year 1000. With millennial fever gripping the publishing world, biographer Lacey (Grace, 1994, etc.) and London Independent journalist Danziger bring us back 1,000 years. Using a variety of sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede, the Julius Work Calendar, and Beowulf, the authors probe topics as varied as Viking military strategy, coin-making, the Easter feast, and the development of English. It’s clear that Christianity permeated almost every aspect of daily life: “This was an age of faith. People believed as fervently in the powers of saints’ bones as many today believe that wheat bran or jogging or psychoanalysis can increase the sum of human happiness.” Christian monks preserved ancient knowledge by painstakingly transcribing Greek and Roman texts; they also established schools and hospitals. The Church’s political power rivaled the state’s, as both institutions promoted reverence for authority. Gerbert of Aurillac, the pope sitting in Rome at the millennium, was a ruthless political infighter and a brilliant scholar who helped popularize the abacus. The authors dub him, somewhat glibly, “the first millennium’s Bill Gates.” The book possesses a wide-ranging, quickly shifting focus that is alternately charming and exasperating. Like hummingbirds, the authors never spend much time on any one subject. For example, they’ll begin a chapter by discussing bread-making, then shift to the problems posed by insects, before finishing with the horrors of medieval medicine (leeches, bloodletting, etc.). While they lack the concentrated approach of historians, they’re quite entertaining. The book is weakest, however, when it tries to draw parallels between the year 1000 and today. It’s more than silly, for example, when they refer to the medicinal herb agrimony as “the Viagra of the year 1000.” A diverting and accessible read, though hardly noteworthy scholarship. Like a box of chocolates, it’s appetizing fun without much nutritional value. (13 b&w illustrations) (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-55840-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

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
more