An impressive history of global clashes, religious zealotry, and economic triumph.



Portugal’s bloody, defiant imperial adventure.

In a riveting narrative, Crowley (City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, 2012, etc.) chronicles Portugal’s horrifically violent trajectory from “impoverished, marginal” nation to European power, vying with Spain and Venice to dominate the spice trade. The story begins in 1479, when Spanish and Portuguese delegates met in Tordesillas, Spain, “to bargain for the world.” The rival countries, intent on finding a sea route to the Indies, “simply cut the globe in two with a vertical line through the Atlantic Ocean.” With Isabella and Ferdinand funding explorers such as the “unreliable fabulist” Columbus, King Manuel of Portugal made his own grand plans. “Manuel,” writes the author, “was incapable of distinguishing men of true merit from the inept, the corrupt, and the self-interested.” Among the worst was the ferocious Vasco da Gama, angry, short-tempered, and a fanatical hater of Muslims. He became the face of Portugal for sultans, villagers, and seamen as his fleet pillaged, threatened, murdered, and dismembered in their assault on Africa and India. Crowley describes in gory detail Portugal’s collision with “a polyethnic world…more deeply layered and complex” than they could understand, a world that fueled the “deeply rooted idea of holy war as a Portuguese vocation.” The author also vividly re-creates the dire conditions endured by explorers and their crews. Food deteriorated, and worms devoured biscuits and meat as well as the boards of ships; drinking water became increasingly foul, and scurvy could wipe out an entire crew in 111 days. The Portuguese project came to be overseen by Afonso de Albuquerque, a “highly intelligent, tortured man” who applied the nation’s technological expertise to a flexible strategy of defensible forts, a network of bases, and “the necessity for exemplary violence” against Muslims.

An impressive history of global clashes, religious zealotry, and economic triumph.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9400-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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