Though without the flair of a McCullough or Ambrose or Brands, another solid work from Fleming.

WASHINGTON’S SECRET WAR

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF VALLEY FORGE

A revisitation of that American crèche, the wintry encampment at Valley Forge, where stalwart Continentals created a nation.

Prolific historian and novelist Fleming (A Passionate Girl, 2004, etc.) isn’t a revisionist as such; he has no interest in diminishing the heroism of the revolutionary soldiers who served with Washington and company in a time when victory seemed unlikely, certainly no interest in questioning the validity of their cause. Yet he does a solid job of showing that their weaknesses were institutional. In its wisdom, Congress had enacted legislation that made it impossible to profit from supplying the army, a disincentive even to a patriot, and it “insisted on trying to manage all aspects of running the war, without the knowledge or skill to do the job,” which included second-guessing Washington’s chain of command. Part of Washington’s task during his unwanted but necessary layover was to do a little old-fashioned politicking to lose the micromanagement. He had other challenges, of course: securing provisions, getting a sick and hungry army back on its feet, learning how to fight effectively against a much better-trained, better-paid and better-led enemy. In the last matter, Washington had inestimable help from the legendary Baron von Steuben, whose name is still honored among American soldiers today; no matter, as Fleming nicely reveals, that the good baron more or less made up his résumé, for Ben Franklin had “concocted his imaginary career and the idea of offering his services as a volunteer” just when such a person was most needed. Another surprise, courtesy of Fleming, is his account of the ethnic composition of the Continental forces, filled with German and Irish newcomers, with Indians and blacks—all of whom were tested the following spring and acquitted themselves well at places like Monmouth, where the tide of war turned.

Though without the flair of a McCullough or Ambrose or Brands, another solid work from Fleming.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-082962-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more