Mostly, though, this is a quiet, sometimes plodding history that could use some of the verve of Steven Runciman’s Sicilian...



Sturdy if stodgy history of a cradle of early Mediterranean civilization since fallen on hard times.

“This is Africa: compared to these peasants the Bedouins are the pinnacle of civilization.” So sniffed an agent of Prime Minister Cavour around the time of Italian unification. Many Italians from Rome share that view today, and part of the appeal of Italy’s current prime minister was his party’s pledge to split the country again so that the prosperous north could be even more prosperous. In its day, though, the Mezzogiorno (akin to Midi in France) saw glories, as Neapolitan scholar Astarita (History/Columbia Univ.) writes; the Greeks who colonized it and the Romans who succeeded them found it to be an Arcadia of rich soil and striking scenery, while the Normans, Venetians and Spaniards who followed found in the South possibilities for wealth and plentiful good food and wine. The medieval rulers of the South, too, tended to a certain liberality; as Astarita says, “The region was at least as multireligious, multicultural, and multilingual as the Iberian Peninsula before the Catholic Reconquest.” In the modern era, the South declined, at about the time that cultural diversity was suppressed by the Counter Reformation; Naples, its most populous and important city, showed by 1600 its present combination of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Southern Italy is now a national afterthought, though Astarita has hopes that “in the future there will no longer be room to doubt that this ancient land is indeed fully part of an integrated Europe.” There’s much drama possible in the many stories Astarita passes along as he offers up his portrait of a still-varied region: here, brother betrays brother; there, serfs battle absentee landlords in an obscure Sicilian village that will give its name to two famous English novelists; and there, now and again, a volcano erupts.

Mostly, though, this is a quiet, sometimes plodding history that could use some of the verve of Steven Runciman’s Sicilian Vespers.

Pub Date: July 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-05864-6

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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