A vigorous, compelling American history.


The history of a flourishing 19th-century village that gave rise to transformative thought.

Conceived as a sequel of sorts to Gross’ acclaimed The Minutemen and Their World (1976), this book is a deeply researched inquiry into the idea of individualism as expressed and grappled with by the two most famous transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau, among many others in 19th-century New England. Drawing on prodigious scholarly and archival sources, Gross creates a vibrant portrait of Concord, Massachusetts, as a thriving village that, from the 1820s to the 1840s, confronted evolving intellectual, economic, social, political, and spiritual pressures as well as contentious issues that drove townspeople “into mutually suspicious enclaves,” frayed bonds of community, and undermined an “ideology of interdependence” inherited from the Puritans. In the 1820s and ’30s, Concord prospered, with factories producing cloth from cotton picked by Southern slaves; a pencil factory, owned by Thoreau’s family; a circulating library, debating club, and lyceum; bustling shops; and, notably, the exclusive, influential Social Circle, “a self-selecting club of the local elite,” open only by nomination (Emerson proudly joined in 1839). Gross’ large, colorful cast of characters includes conflicting religious leaders, such as Congregationalist Ezra Ripley and Calvinist Lyman Beecher; African American artisans, Irish immigrants, and local farmers; and reform-minded women who energetically took up the cause of abolition, to which Emerson—unlike Thoreau—came late. Thoreau, Gross writes, “captured the driving forces of the day,” including the invasive “iron horse” (Emerson, unlike Thoreau, was an early supporter of the railroad and bought railroad stock), modern communications, the need for better schools, and “the moral and spiritual failures of church and state, the problematic programs of the reformers, and the loss of wildness in nature.” Gross incisively examines Emerson’s “masculine version of individualism,” which was offensive to his wife; Thoreau’s apparent retreat from social life; and both men’s changing conception of the individual within a matrix of social obligations and sustaining community.

A vigorous, compelling American history.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-27932-5

Page Count: 864

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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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.



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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