An illuminating journey through the history and culture of the metropolis that “still towers over all other cities in Europe...



The author of Venice: A New History (2012) returns with the astonishing and sanguinary story of the iconic city on the Bosporus.

Madden (Director, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies/St. Louis Univ.) begins by noting the obvious: no text can possibly contain the sprawling story of Istanbul. Undaunted, he begins in 667 B.C.E. and whisks us along through the centuries, ending with current times, “still a city at the crossroads of the world.” Dominating the text are tales of empire, war, commerce, and religious strife and wrenching accounts of brutality: ambitious family members murdering one another in the quest for power; invaders slaughtering others by the thousands, raping, looting, and sacking. Madden is fond of the city, however (he has been there numerous times), and generally reserves judgment as he soars along, only occasionally bogging down in detailed accounts of battles and internecine nastiness. He does spend time telling us about the design and construction of some buildings that remain—and some that do not. We learn about the lack of urban design that characterized the city for centuries and its once-hopeless infrastructure; about the voice of Mark Twain saying that the city was best when viewed from a distance; and about customs occasioned by location and religion. (The author offers an enlightening section on harem life.) Madden, who prefers description and explication and narration to judgment and condemnation, explores the religious conflicts—e.g., the split between Christianity (East and West) and the rise of Islam. We also witness the extraordinary, even grotesque, lengths to which men have gone to achieve wealth and power. In our own day, Madden views the rise of nationalism as a new worry for the city, as well as the enduring religious conflicts that seem likely only to intensify.

An illuminating journey through the history and culture of the metropolis that “still towers over all other cities in Europe and the Middle East.”

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-01660-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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