Calling this a classic like Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1987) may be slightly premature, but it’s definitely a...

ENERGY

A HUMAN HISTORY

From the Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, a magisterial history of “how human beings…[have] confronted the deeply human problem of how to draw life from the raw materials of the world.”

The modern world consumes gargantuan quantities of energy, a process made possible by the Industrial Revolution that began 300 years ago. In his latest, prolific veteran journalist and historian Rhodes (Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made, 2015, etc.) casts his expert eye on the subject. The breakout century for energy was the 18th, its birthplace Britain, and its basis coal, a more concentrated source of power than wood, increasingly cheap, and—no secret at the time—a source of smoke far more irritating than that of wood. Energy’s breakout technology was the steam engine. After the traditional nod to the Greeks, the author delivers a lucid but not dumbed-down explanation of how it works, from the first, clunky Newcomen engine suitable only for raising water from mines to James Watt’s spectacular improvements, which made steam engines the dominant power source until around 1900, when the steam turbine, electric motor, and internal combustion engine took over. Invention accelerated after 1800 when Watt’s patents (ironically a drag on progress) expired, and Rhodes takes readers on an exhilarating ride through the following two centuries, mixing narratives about the new sources of energy (electricity, oil, natural gas, the sun, and the atom) and the marvels that they made possible. He devotes entire chapters to their downsides (smog, radiation, toxic waste) but shows little sympathy for anti-technology activists. Humans are problem-solvers, he maintains, and the same genius that produced technological wonders will solve the problems that accompany them—although his optimism flags in the face of global warming.

Calling this a classic like Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1987) may be slightly premature, but it’s definitely a tour de force of popular science, which is no surprise from this author.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0535-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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

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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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