For students of Greek drama, a revelatory contemplation of the theater’s enduring power.


A philosopher examines ancient drama for insights into morality, power, and freedom.

In an erudite reconsideration of Greek tragedy, philosopher Critchley (Philosophy/New School for Social Research; What We Think About When We Think About Soccer, 2017, etc.) asserts that the ancient Greek past offers “a way of questioning and destabilizing the present.” Each generation, he writes, has the responsibility of reinventing classical works in order to rescue whatever “will speak to the present and arrest us momentarily from the irresistible pull of the future.” In 61 brief chapters, each an inquiry, commentary, or meditation, Critchley offers close readings that assume readers’ familiarity with many of the 31 extant tragedies by Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus; iconic playwrights such as Shakespeare, Beckett, and Brecht; philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle; and critical works on tragedy by philosophers, theorists, and literary scholars from German idealists and romantics to contemporary writers such as Judith Butler, Terry Eagleton, and Anne Carson. Tragedy, Critchley writes, “poses a most serious threat to that invention we call philosophy” because it presents a “conflictually constituted world defined by ambiguity, duplicity, uncertainty, and unknowability.” In tragedy, humans must respond “to demands that exceed autonomy, that flow from the past, disrupt the present, and disable the future.” Gods stand as “the placeholder for a force or forces that exceed yet determine and can indeed destroy human agency. The gods are names for powers not under our control.” Among many unresolved questions about the impact of tragedy on viewers, the author asks about “the inversion of gender roles” in plays centered on the actions of intelligent, courageous women. In rigidly patriarchal Greek society, young men played these roles, and it is not known if women were among audience members. Male viewers, then, were confronted with displays of women’s power as well as overwhelming grief. Were such plays “lifelike,” Critchley wonders, “…or is something more subversive, troubling, and insurrectionary taking place in drama?”

For students of Greek drama, a revelatory contemplation of the theater’s enduring power.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4794-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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