One of the nation’s darkest chapters, brilliantly exhumed and analyzed with due attention to its obvious contemporary...



Respected biographer Morris (Ambrose Bierce, 1996, etc.) reconstructs in amazing detail a presidential election that profaned the rule of law and nearly rekindled the Civil War.

A vivid past portrayer of such diverse Victorian personalities as General Phil Sheridan and Walt Whitman, the author here meticulously fleshes out the character and influences of the antagonists: Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican Governor of Ohio, and Democrat Samuel Tilden, Hayes’s counterpart from New York. The contest, in the country’s centennial year, pitted an affable born politician and bona fide war hero (Hayes) against a bookish, lifelong bachelor barrister who had once dropped out of Yale because he didn’t like the food. Morris lets the reader smell the corruption accrued over 16 years of Republican administration, indelibly tarred as “Grantism” even though the two-term president in 1876 had never been touched directly by scandal. The wounded South still festered under Reconstruction, which brought carpetbaggers into sway in legislatures vacated by disqualified rebels, plus regular visits by federal troops anytime things threatened to get violent. In those days, the Democrats were the reformist party, out to curtail the size and power of the federal government while the entrenched Republicans strove to preserve and enhance it. Blacks in the South were free by decree only: armed white intimidators waited at the polls, and some local codes enabled the arrest for vagrancy of any refusing to work for their former masters at subsistence wages. The negation of Tilden’s eventual 265,000-vote plurality devolved into three southern states with Republican governors, and the fraud progressed from Florida (even then) to Congress and the Electoral College. By the time Morris documents the entire process, with Hayes’s victory declared official in February, democracy seems as dead as Wild Bill Hickok, gunned down that August in Deadwood, South Dakota.

One of the nation’s darkest chapters, brilliantly exhumed and analyzed with due attention to its obvious contemporary relevance.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-2386-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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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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