A fine blend of history and adventure.



A British explorer follows the path to True North and runs into a still-raging polar controversy.

In 1909, Commander Robert E. Peary capped his brilliant exploring career by reaching the North Pole in a remarkable 37 days, only to return home to find his American countryman, Frederick Cook, a member of previous Peary expeditions, claiming priority. Newspapers and the fractious polar community quickly took sides and, though Cook’s claim was eventually discredited, controversy surrounding Peary’s achievement has yet to evaporate. Sir Wally Herbert, the first man to make a surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean, in 1969, dealt a seemingly mortal blow to Peary’s title as conqueror of the North Pole with his publication of The Noose of the Laurels (1988), in which he argued the impossibility of reaching the Pole in the time Peary claimed. Replicating nearly every aspect of the Peary journey—copying, for example, his design for dog sleds—Avery (Pole Dance: The Story of the Record-breaking British Expedition to the Bottom of the World, 2004), four companions and 16 dogs set out in 2005 to determine whether the legendary explorer could have accomplished what he said he did. One hundred years after Peary’s expedition, the obstacles and dangers of an arctic passage remain the same: open water, pressure ridges, polar bears, blizzards, frostbite, hunger, etc. How Avery dealt with these, how he mastered the dogs and how he blended the strengths and handled the differing personalities of his team in extreme conditions are all the stuff of a journey sufficiently amazing to require no special prose to narrate it. Deeply respectful of the arctic environment and of the polar explorers who preceded him, Avery comes across as a modest, amiable man who manages to conceal the steely drive his arduous expedition so obviously required. As his conclusion makes clear, the author may need that stamina to withstand the attacks from those still convinced that Peary was a fraud.

A fine blend of history and adventure.

Pub Date: March 17, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-55186-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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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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