THE PURSUIT OF POWER

TECHNOLOGY, ARMED FORCE, AND SOCIETY SINCE A.D. 1000

In his Plagues and Peoples (1976) University of Chicago historian McNeill surveyed world history from the perspective of the influence of microparasites in human life and social organization; this much longer overview is based on "macroparasites"—i.e., other human beings. Plato called those who were entrusted with the physical defense of the community, and nothing else, Guardians. McNeill calls those who, specializing in violence, are able to secure a living without producing, macroparasites. But if McNeill's characterization suggests that he doesn't share Plato's view of the warrior as an organic part of society, he nonetheless winds up showing that warfare is never independent of other factors. The technical means of movement and supply, for example, posed physical limits to the scale of ancient empires: Xerxes' invasion of ancient Greece stretched those limits too far, and resulted in catastrophe. For a long time, Chinese leaders were able to maintain restrictive control over growing commercial practices within their realm; but commercial practices did proliferate, and contributed to the material provisioning of nomads who were eventually able to break through Chinese defenses. In Europe during the same period (10001600), the development of commercial practices—together with the establishment of well-organized, tax-supported military units (a "self-sustaining feedback loop," as McNeill puts it)—represented a new fusion that resulted in European military predominance. From then on, McNeill concentrates on Europe and America, chronicling such transformations in war-making as those resulting from the development of staff officers who prepared written battle plans, or from blast-furnace innovations that made possible new and more accurate cannons. Napoleon's vast French army is attributed by McNeill to population pressure (which he considers a main cause of the French Revolution); the Crimean War's sudden, overwhelming demand for weapons is seen as ushering in the era of mass-produced weapons made possible by new industrial production techniques. Thereafter, manufacturing and war went together, from the new technologies of transportation to modern notions of integrated weapons systems. But while McNeill is able to chronicle all of this, he is unable to show that war was the critical factor in historical developments; instead, war properly comes across as, at most, supplying new demand for goods the social and economic system was already capable of producing. As a survey of military history, though, it's a work of exceptional breadth.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1982

ISBN: 1597402907

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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

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?

more