Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.

THE PIONEERS

THE HEROIC STORY OF THE SETTLERS WHO BROUGHT THE AMERICAN IDEAL WEST

A lively history of the Ohio River region in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War.

McCullough (The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, 2015, etc.) isn’t writing about the sodbusters and hardscrabblers of the Far West, the people whom the word “pioneers” evokes, but instead their predecessors of generations past who crossed the Appalachians and settled in the fertile country along and north of the Ohio River. Manasseh Cutler, one of his principal figures, “endowed with boundless intellectual curiosity,” anticipated the movement of his compatriots across the mountains well before the war had ended, advocating for the Northwest Ordinance to secure a region that, in McCullough’s words, “was designed to guarantee what would one day be known as the American way of life”—a place in which slavery was forbidden and public education and religious freedom would be emphasized. “Ohio fever” spread throughout a New England crippled, after the war, by economic depression, but Southerners also moved west, fomenting the conditions that would, at the end of McCullough’s vivid narrative, end in regional war three generations later. Characteristically, the author suggests major historical themes without ever arguing them as such. For example, he acknowledges the iniquities of the slave economy simply by contrasting the conditions along the Ohio between the backwaters of Kentucky and the sprightly city of Cincinnati, speaking through such figures as Charles Dickens. Indeed, his narrative abounds with well-recognized figures in American history—John Quincy Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Johnny Appleseed—while highlighting lesser-known players. His account of Aaron Burr—who conspired to overthrow the government of Mexico (and, later, his own country) after killing Alexander Hamilton, recruiting confederates in the Ohio River country—is alone worth the price of admission. There are many other fine moments, as well, including a brief account of the generosity that one farmer in Marietta, Ohio, showed to his starving neighbors and another charting the fortunes of the early Whigs in opposing the “anti-intellectual attitude of the Andrew Jackson administration.”

Vintage McCullough and a book that students of American history will find captivating.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6868-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2019

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

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

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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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

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