Absorbing reading—necessary, even, for anyone posted to a place where our performance “will determine where a lot of people...



A tale of good guys and bad guys in the Wild West of Afghanistan—save that “good” and “bad” are strangely fluid notions.

Chayes, a onetime NPR correspondent, takes an anthropologist’s and historian’s view to explain how America got it so wrong following the post-9/11 invasion, and she is not shy of asking hard questions to make her point. For one, she asks, “Do we, as American citizens, wish to have the bulk of our foreign policy conducted by the Department of Defense?” United States military officers are doing just such work in Afghanistan, guided by supposed insiders who have axes to grind and enemies to dispatch—the very people, she adds, who convinced the Western press corps that U.S.-backed militias were fighting and winning desperate battles with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Sometimes they were; mostly they weren’t, though that didn’t keep dollars from flowing. Chayes served as a lecturer and informal advisor to American forces (“She’s like no journalist you’ve ever seen,” one soldier exclaims. “She’s a hawk!”), and in that capacity, she has urged them to do a better job of backing the right horses, such as an anti-Taliban friend of hers, a police commander killed by a suicide bomber for his troubles. But finding those horses is a challenge, for the convenient designations do not apply, and in all events, Chayes writes, the Taliban enemy were in essence a creation of Pakistan, meant to serve its narrow regional interests, “pressing into service ambitious petty commanders from the anti-Soviet period and uprooted, madrassa-inculcated youth from the refugee camps.” And indeed, some of the Taliban she meets surely seem preferable to some of their supposed opponents, including one corrupt governor who emerges from these pages as the worst of a very mixed lot.

Absorbing reading—necessary, even, for anyone posted to a place where our performance “will determine where a lot of people come down on the clash of civilizations.”

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-096-3

Page Count: 373

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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