This spirited jaunt into the peaks of Europe may inspire readers to pack their bags.



A tour through the Alps reveals history, geology, anthropology, and local customs.

As he frequently remarks, journalist and travel writer O’Shea (The Friar of Carcassonne: Revolt Against the Inquisition in the Last Days of the Cathars, 2011, etc.) is afraid of heights. Nevertheless, he decided to brave breathtakingly steep inclines and hairpin turns to investigate the dramatic political and cultural history of the French, German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. Traveling west to east, O’Shea drove a “souped-up” Renault Mégane Sport, a “muscle car” distinctive enough to attract attention in Geneva, where he began his journey. The French Alps, he notes, gave birth to Romanticism: Rousseau (“Switzerland’s most famous son”) set his sensational novel about Abelard and Heloise along the shores of Lake Geneva, and Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein there. Besides abundant literary references throughout his ebullient narrative, the author traces the mountains’ role in war and conquest: Hannibal, Napoleon, and Hitler all make appearances. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, he visited a museum documenting the Nazi-dominated Winter Olympics of 1936. He also chronicles his visit to Heidiland, a cheesy theme park cashing in on the popularity of Joanna Spyri’s children’s book; discovers that the famed Saint Bernard rescue dogs did not carry kegs of brandy; relates famous mountaineers’ “heart-stopping tales of danger courted and overcome”; and offers chilling descriptions of the “arduous and sinuous” routes he traversed. After being shrouded by fog, he saw “a horrific vista of yawning emptiness”; sheer cliffs and looming mountains “stretch to the heavens, gray rock and white snow in a stirring melodrama of nature.” He stopped in quaint villages, where he ate local specialties, all recounted in detail. O’Shea occasionally punctuates his otherwise brisk narrative with jarring imagery: he sees the Matterhorn “sheathed in clouds, like a burlesque dancer teasing the tourists staring up at it”; and he insists on describing bikers in reference to national cuisine: “a bratwurst of German bikers,” “a soufflé” of French.

This spirited jaunt into the peaks of Europe may inspire readers to pack their bags.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24685-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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