As a cubist might, Parrish paints a multifaceted portrait of catastrophe: sometimes puzzling, often surprising, and wholly...

THE FLOOD YEAR 1927

A CULTURAL HISTORY

A scholar’s cross-disciplinary look back at the little-remembered greatest natural disaster in American history.

Even as Charles Lindbergh took off on his historic solo crossing of the Atlantic, a triumph of modernity, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to manage disaster relief, ordered the evacuation of 35,000 people from a Louisiana town, one small piece of the devastation wrought by the Mississippi superflood of 1927. Although Parrish (English/Univ. of Michigan.; American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World, 2006, etc.) sketches out the scope of this catastrophe, she’s less interested in a granular account of the slow-moving, long-lasting flood than in exploring how such a disaster acquires meaning. Through multiple lenses—sociological, ecological, cultural, and aesthetic—she focuses on the dark side of modernity, the ominous portents of the future accompanying the deluge: the man-made contributions—clear-cutting, industrial farming, faulty levee design—to the flood’s magnitude; the harsh economics and the even more severe prejudice that left African-Americans most vulnerable to the flood’s depredations and least helped by the federal “relief machine”; the unprecedented communications apparatus—the newly nationalized radio medium, the pervasive white and black press—reporting the unfolding crisis, making it a collective rather than merely private experience; and the contemporaneous representations and interpretations of the disaster by popular entertainers. Too often hobbled by academic locutions and a specialist’s vocabulary, Parrish’s ambitious, dense, deeply researched narrative nevertheless rewards dedicated general readers. It requires no doctorate to appreciate her rendering of the remarkable back story to Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”; her insightful discussion of the trauma’s conversion into enduring works of literary fiction by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston; her analysis of the persistent North/South hostility that complicated relief efforts; and her survey of 1927’s vaudeville scene, from the subversive African-American stars Miller and Lyles to the high-profile, widely influential, and, in the author’s telling, somewhat problematic Will Rogers.

As a cubist might, Parrish paints a multifaceted portrait of catastrophe: sometimes puzzling, often surprising, and wholly original.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-16883-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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...

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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