Well-rendered popular American history that also speaks to present-day issues.



An eerily timely account of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission.

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson hurriedly appointed the high-profile commission in response to widespread race-based unrest around the country, especially in Detroit and Newark. Like many former presidents who announced advisory groups, Johnson sought to offer the appearance of concern without having to concretely address the unrest. The president hoped the commission would delay any report until after the 1968 presidential campaign. However, pushed by commission staff lawyers as well as members John Lindsay, the mayor of New York City, and Sen. Fred Harris, a detailed, scathing report about white degradation of black urban areas quickly became reality. Gillon (History/Univ. of Oklahoma; Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, 2011, etc.), a resident historian for the History Channel, describes the many internal controversies of the commission using authoritative details and lively prose. He also goes beyond the inner workings to demonstrate how the commission helped countless Americans better understand the alarming realities of nationwide racism. The public awareness of the report emerged the same week as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the convergence of those two events meant an unexpectedly intense focus on racism throughout the country. With the reality of systemic racism finally recognized among prominent white Americans, it appeared that African-Americans could feel safer about speaking truth to power without sounding like overzealous radicals. Gillon’s research about the Kerner Commission, bolstered by hours of interviews with the surviving members, is extremely well-documented and also offers the feel of being ripped from today’s headlines. “The report’s most important legacy,” writes the author, “was its willingness to acknowledge the role of white racism in creating the conditions that sparked the riots….Unfortunately, despite all the progress that has been made over the past five decades, many of those same conditions still exist.”

Well-rendered popular American history that also speaks to present-day issues.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09608-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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