Not without flaws but an important addition to American history nonetheless.

SECRET CITY

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF GAY WASHINGTON

A comprehensive history of key political power struggles and controversies of the past century, focused on those Americans “whose obscurity was the consequence of their being forced to hide.”

In this absorbing and well-documented book, Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, engagingly draws attention to a variety of gay histories that have been largely lost to mainstream history. At the same time, he shows how Americans’ deep-seated fear of homosexuality was often amplified by political leaders. “Nothing posed a more potent threat to a political career, or exerted a more fearsome grip on the nation’s collective psyche, than the love expressed between people of the same sex,” writes the author. “While America fought fascism, political and cultural leaders associated [homosexuality] with the nation’s Nazi enemies. During the Cold War, voices from across the political spectrum linked it with communism.” Kirchick diligently tracks each presidential administration from Franklin Roosevelt through Bill Clinton. The author discusses the sexual scandal that would force Sumner Welles, FDR’s undersecretary of state, out of office; the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic during the Reagan and Bush administrations; and the policies of the Clinton administration, which were more open-minded despite the ill-advised “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy. Throughout, Kirchick sheds light on the stories of several individuals whose efforts bravely contributed to gradual acceptance and an expansion of opportunities for gay Americans, including civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin and John Ford, Reagan’s deputy assistant agriculture secretary. While ambitious and convincing, the narrative goes slack in certain areas; some readers may get the sense that the book would have been better presented as a multivolume history, affording Kirchick the opportunity to examine specific elements without losing momentum. In particular, the early chapters—about how the fear of homosexuality became entangled with the fear of communist influence—are worth further study. Though overlong, the book offers countless illuminating stories that have been grossly underserved in past political histories. The author also includes a “historical map of gay Washington” and a cast of characters.

Not without flaws but an important addition to American history nonetheless.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-62779-232-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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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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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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