A novel way of reading our founding documents and revising them as both law- and nation-building myths.



A searching history of the legal and ideological basis of American identity.

Americans love to tell comforting stories about our foundational documents, writes Roosevelt, a Penn law professor and great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. The Declaration of Independence, for instance, purportedly enshrines the notion that all men are created equal; of course, that’s not true. Although Thomas Jefferson included a clause condemning slavery—though owning enslaved people himself—the Declaration means all White men are created equal. “Segregation and denying Blacks the vote are perfectly consistent with the Declaration of Independence,” writes the author. The nub of the Declaration, he adds, is that when supposedly free people are oppressed, it is incumbent upon them to rebel. With the arrival of the Civil War, the South was able to invoke that notion as a cause for separation. The result was not just a second revolution, but also a second Constitution, one that in important ways undid the slavery-supporting first Constitution. “We tell ourselves a story that links us to a past political regime—Founding America, the America of the Declaration of Independence and the Founders’ Constitution—to which we are not the heirs,” writes Roosevelt, provocatively. “We are more properly the heirs of the people who destroyed that regime” and who moreover “defeated it by force of arms.” But this second Constitution is contingent and incomplete, allowing for neo-Confederate revivals (Reagan, Trump) thanks to relics such as the Electoral College, “a legacy of slavery, which seems increasingly likely to stop a majority of Americans from electing the candidate of their choice.” Roosevelt proposes that we do away with that institution and attempt a national enterprise to atone for our original sin through targeted investment in Black and other marginalized communities, which “offers the possibility of a real transformation.” His argument is sometimes repetitive but compelling and well worth consideration.

A novel way of reading our founding documents and revising them as both law- and nation-building myths.

Pub Date: April 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-226-81761-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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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