A useful introduction to a portion of the world whose crowded history is not easily condensed.

SICILY

THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF HUMAN HISTORY

A compact history of the Mediterranean’s largest island, the most frequently conquered spot on earth.

Sicily’s natural resources, agricultural importance and strategic location have made it a prize since antiquity. Benjamin (The World of Benjamin Tudela, 1995) separately chronicles the successive periods of Greek, Roman, Vandal, Goth, Byzantine, Muslim, Norman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Bourbon and Italian occupation. The island’s geography, topography and climate remain fixed, but the art, architecture, cuisine, religion, education and government altered with each conquest. Sicily’s story is the tale of obsidian and sulfur, Zeus and Mohammed, the farmer and the sailor, the slave and the master, migration and emigration, war and more war. A procession of famous people—Archimedes, Empedocles, Cicero, Pompey, Caesar, Richard Lion Heart, Goethe, Coleridge, Nelson, Garibaldi and Patton—all played out at least a portion of their lives at this seemingly inevitable crossroad. No single volume can hope to do more than touch on so many topics or so many actors, making it likely that this one will be more often referred to than read through. Still, the unflagging author does an especially good job of explaining how history never quite goes away in Sicily, how through the accretion of centuries, through so many varied influences, the island’s unique culture has emerged. For the reader who knows Sicily only as an irregular triangle on the map, the home of volcanic Mt. Aetna, or the birthplace of the Mafia, the densely packed information here will seem overwhelming. This may account for the author’s occasionally awkward shifts in tone from the professorial to the jaunty, as if she feared readers would lose heart if she didn’t jolly them along.

A useful introduction to a portion of the world whose crowded history is not easily condensed.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58642-101-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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

NIGHT

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.

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

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