A sturdy, well-paced contribution to aviation history.



The tale of a forgotten aeronautical disaster.

Popular historian Gwynne, author of Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, tells the story of the dirigible known as R101, a behemoth “larger by volume than the Titanic.” It resembled the Titanic in other ways, but the Exxon Valdez comes to mind as Gwynne examines the sobriety of its captain at a critically important moment. The author centers his narrative on the zeppelin’s champion, a member of the minor British nobility known as Lord Thomson of Cardington, the place name referring to “a gritty little industrial suburb” whose workers built the world’s largest airship in 1930. In those days, notes the author, airplanes were confined to short-distance flights, whereas helium- or hydrogen-filled giant balloons could travel at a comfortable clip across vast expanses of land or ocean. The trouble was, as the zeppelins that bombarded London during World War I showed, these balloons were extremely vulnerable to fire—if not in midair, then when they crashed. Gwynne nimbly recounts the odd politics of the construction of R101, which involved government support and a good bit of backroom dealing, as well as the details of balloon construction, including gasbag intestines that “might normally have been used as sausage casings”—and thus might not have inspired confidence. Needless to say, things did not end well for R101, and the author devotes his later pages to an autopsy of the disaster that befell it as well as the tragic tales of other airships, such as the U.S. Navy’s Akron, “the worst airship disaster in history,” and, most famously, the Hindenburg. Gwynne also spins a nicely intriguing side story involving Thomson and his infatuation with a Romanian princess who served as his muse, a brilliant woman who uttered amusing apothegms such as, “Giving a virgin to a man is like giving a Stradivarius to a monkey.”

A sturdy, well-paced contribution to aviation history.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781982168278

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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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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