Al Gore by way of Monty Python. Readers should be aware of the F-bomb throughout, but otherwise we should all be hanging our...

HUMANS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HOW WE F*CKED IT ALL UP

It’s an article of faith and certainty among many humanistic circles that the enterprise of our species has been one of continual progress, to which London-based humorist Phillips replies, bollocks.

It’s been a mess ever since our protohominid arboreal ancestor, Lucy, fell out of a tree and died only to have her bones discovered in the 1970s and become a star of paleontology: “And yet,” writes the author, “the only reason we know about her is because, bluntly, she fucked up.” According to Phillips, humans are particularly good at this, and instances of error outweigh our better achievements. The author’s approach is spirited and goofy, and though the fault-finding can seem excessive at times, you’ve got to enjoy a book that explores weird manias (including “outbreaks of panic that malign forces are stealing or shrinking men’s penises”) and misguided actions like introducing a potentially species-hopping virus to kill off the rabbits that humans introduced to Australia in the first place. Phillips can go obscure at the drop of a hat, as when he writes of the sultanship of Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire and the brother-to-brother succession that followed his premature death: “It’s fair to say that this did not go well.” The author moves easily from subject to subject, and he does have a point: Some of our best-laid plans quickly go awry. A good example is the endless built-in struggle of democracy to balance tyrannies of the minority and keep from “sliding into autocracy,” and it’s undeniable, unless you benefit from denial, that we’ve made an incredible mess of the planet and are pretending things are OK “when instead we should probably be running around in a panic like our house was on fire, which…it sort of is.”

Al Gore by way of Monty Python. Readers should be aware of the F-bomb throughout, but otherwise we should all be hanging our heads in shame, lifting them for a frequent chuckle.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-335-93663-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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