Despite the breathless title, this is an accomplished history of an iconic battle.



Sturdy account of the Civil War’s most significant naval battle.

Keith and Clavin, co-authors of All Blood Runs Red, once again join forces in this naval history that emphasizes commerce raiding and the lives of the captains of the vessels involved. Commissioned a midshipman for the Confederate Navy at age 16, Raphael Semmes eventually became commander of the fearsome raider CSS Alabama. At the time, British law forbade supplying warships to “belligerents,” but officials paid little attention as Southern agents found a shipbuilder willing to construct a vessel purportedly for private use. The ship sailed to the Azores, where another ship loaded with military supplies completed its conversion; on Aug. 24, 1862, it officially became the Alabama. Over the following two years, it captured perhaps 65 Union merchantmen. This barely touched the massive Union economy, but by 1863, pressure from infuriated ship owners persuaded the government to take action. The authors follow with a biography of John Winslow, captain of the Alabama’s nemesis, the USS Kearsarge. Both Semmes and Winslow had largely undistinguished prewar careers, but Winslow, a North Carolinian, stuck with the Union and received orders to track down the Alabama. Unfortunately for him, “when Alabama was in the Atlantic the chances of her heaving into view of the Ke­arsarge were infinitesimally small.” After more than a year, Winslow decided to pay special attention to ports along the English Channel, which Semmes seemed to prefer for resupply. Sure enough, in June 1864, the Alabama docked at Cherbourg, and Winslow and crew got to work. Although they produce a gripping read, Keith and Clavin do not overdramatize the battle. After years at sea with no major overhaul, the Alabama was no match for the well-prepared Kearsarge, whose modern guns pummeled it mercilessly, sinking it. Winslow was a hero, and in the South, so was Semmes. Both lived modest but prosperous lives into the following decade.

Despite the breathless title, this is an accomplished history of an iconic battle.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-335-47141-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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