A well-researched, lively entry into the current debate about the role of science in a democracy.



Shachtman (American Iconoclast: The Life and Times of Eric Hoffer, 2011, etc.) makes a strong case for the importance of science and technology in the creation of the United States.

“Today,” writes the author, “the centrality to the Founding Fathers of their enlightened, scientific outlook has been obscured.” He takes a variety of familiar examples—e.g. George Washington's experience as a surveyor and plans for a complex canal system; Benjamin Franklin's scientific eminence; Thomas Jefferson's wide-ranging scientific interests; Tom Paine's less well-known design of an iron-span bridge; and John Adams' love of astronomy—to make a larger point. Acceptance of the scientific method of verification and experimentation played a central role in the Founding Fathers' confidence that they could build a new nation based on a radical vision of the rights of man. They were able to unify the population and its leaders in a shared worldview broadly defined by key figures of the Enlightenment. Shachtman reveals a direct connection between the political and scientific correspondence committees in the Colonies that laid the groundwork for coordinated action in the period leading up to the Revolution. Botanist Peter Collinson and others sponsored Americans for membership in the Royal Society. Collinson's networks promoted Benjamin Franklin's work and encouraged botanical research and astronomical observations in the Colonies. The scientists also fiercely debated the issue of small pox vaccination, and the author suggests, its adoption by George Washington avoided a potentially calamitous spread of the disease among soldiers. Shachtman also points to Jefferson's inclusion of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in his draft of the Declaration of Independence. The author traces it to a book on moral philosophy, The Religion of Nature Delineated, which was widely read in the Colonies and was authored by William Wollaston, who claimed that “the greatest happiness lay in the discovery of truth.”

A well-researched, lively entry into the current debate about the role of science in a democracy.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-137-27825-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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.



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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