As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados.

BIG WONDERFUL THING

A HISTORY OF TEXAS

Austin-based novelist Harrigan (A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, 2016, etc.) serves up a lively history of the nation-sized Lone Star State.

The title comes from the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who marveled at Texas but wound up making her fortune in next-door New Mexico. Of course, Texas has many next-door neighbors, each influencing it and being influenced by it: the plains of Oklahoma, the bayous and deep forests of Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico itself, all where South and West and Midwest meet. Telling its story is a daunting task: If the project of the gigantic centennial Big Tex statue with which Harrigan opens his story was to “Texanize Texans,” it was one in which women, ethnic minorities, the poor, and many other sorts of people were forgotten in the face of stalwarts like Sam Houston, Judge Roy Bean, and Davy Crockett. Not here. The standbys figure, but in interesting lights: Houston was famous and even infamous in his day, but his successor, Mirabeau Lamar, mostly known only for the Austin avenue named for him, was just as much a man of parts, “a poet and classical scholar with a bucolic vision of the empire that his administration aimed to wrest from the hands of its enemies.” Harrigan’s story of the Alamo is also nuanced: It is not true that there were no survivors, but the fact that the survivors were slaves has rendered them invisible—as is the fact that many Mexican officers who served under Santa Anna pleaded with him to show mercy to the rest. The Alamo has given a Texas flair to all sorts of things, including a recent golf tournament, highlighting Texans’ tendency toward "a blend of valor and swagger.” Just so, Harrigan, surveying thousands of years of history that lead to the banh mi restaurants of Houston and the juke joints of Austin, remembering the forgotten as well as the famous, delivers an exhilarating blend of the base and the ignoble, a very human story indeed.

As good a state history as has ever been written and a must-read for Texas aficionados.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-292-75951-0

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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