Many fine passages charged with Greenblatt’s passion and talent for storytelling can’t disguise the fact that he’s not quite...

THE RISE AND FALL OF ADAM AND EVE

The Pulitzer and National Book Award winner considers the enduring appeal and manifold interpretations of the biblical account of the first humans’ expulsion from paradise.

“How does something made-up become so compellingly real?” asks Greenblatt (Humanities/Harvard Univ.; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, 2011, etc.), positioning himself as a secular-minded admirer of a story that religious thinkers for millennia have struggled to fit within a coherent theological framework. The author notes that this tale of humanity’s origins was uncomfortably reminiscent for many early Christians of the pagan creation myths they scorned as absurd: the talking snake, the arbitrary deity, all those animals named in one day, etc. Some, like the Alexandrian scholar Origen Adamantius, tried to frame the story as an allegory about the evolution of the soul, but the interpretation that triumphed was that of St. Augustine, who insisted that the story of Adam and Eve was literally true. From that assertion flowed the concept of original sin, the denigration of sex, and the powerful strain of misogyny (it was all Eve’s fault) that characterized the Catholic Church for centuries. During the Renaissance—Greenblatt’s focus as a scholar and the subject of this book’s best pages—artists like Albrecht Dürer and writers such as John Milton sought to give the rebellious couple of Genesis a palpable human reality in images and literature, most thrillingly in Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost. When Greenblatt moves on to the challenges to belief in the literal truth of the Bible posed by Enlightenment philosophers and 19th-century scientists (culminating with Darwin’s The Origin of Species), his narrative speeds up and loses focus. The author seems to be making an argument for the enduring power of stories while decrying fundamentalism, but his point isn’t clear, and a final chapter positing a chimpanzee pair in Uganda as a present-day Adam and Eve is simply odd.

Many fine passages charged with Greenblatt’s passion and talent for storytelling can’t disguise the fact that he’s not quite sure what story he’s trying to tell here.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24080-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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