A self-impressed, capriciously hit-and-miss collection of New York Daily News columns and longer thought pieces by jazz guru and social/cultural critic Crouch (The All-American Skin Game, 1995, etc.). Crouch is at his poetic best conjuring jazzmen like Ellington, Parker, and Monk. Here he is elegant and confident, a masterful guide to the artistry of blues and swing. He excels too, in his nuanced look at the novels of Albert Murray, where he probes the crucible of race and the ``bass clef of American life'' in the South. He is equally commanding on Christopher Darden, whom he lambastes for incompetence and for playing an exculpatory race card of his own. However, when Crouch is glib, most often in his Daily News riffs, he bludgeons the obvious with slangy diatribes, offers muddled, vague analyses, and takes flimsy swipes at pet peeves such as ``liberal racism'' and ``Afrocentric types.'' His rants tweak with moot barbs the common wisdom on pedophiles (a menace), Michael Jackson (a fascist idol), army sex (get over it), Hiroshima (a necessary evil), foreign policy (``evangelical humanism''), and Princess Di (why the fuss?). He's at his worst as literato, where everything is Melvillian, and his tendency to condescend often obscures his better insights—as when he feels the sudden need to define ``onomatopoeia'' or when he dubs Faulkner an ``aesthetic scrapper.'' Such errant pedantry has none of the breezy erudition of an Irving Howe, and if anything, underscores Crouch's seeming discomfort with the material. Throughout, his attempts to jumble and reinvent meaning and word order often fail, either because they ring hollow when he has nothing clever to say, or because they fall flat when he misses the beat. Crouch sustains whole stretches of fine, sometimes expert material, but overall this ``intellectual medley'' is wildly erratic, and its best verses rarely transcend its verbiage.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40153-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.


A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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