As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.



Wide-ranging anthology of narratives and literary works related to slavery and its abolition in the U.S.

“Focusing on the voices and actions of formerly enslaved Black people and lesser-known abolitionists,” volume editor Commander writes, this collection draws on the holdings of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she is a curator. (Kevin Young is the director of the Schomburg and the series editor.) Built on the Schomburg’s extensive archive of African American literature, the anthology incorporates excerpts from rare and little-known documents, among them courtroom testimonials concerning a 1740 “Negro plot” of arson and murder in New York and, 40 years later, an uprising laid at the door of “Denmark Vesey, a free black man,” which resulted in dozens of supposed conspirators being “hung on the Lines.” Other documents contrast the insurrections of John Brown and Nat Turner, the latter of whose fighters, a chronicler wrote, “were humaner than Indians or than white men fighting against Indians—there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation.” Precipitants of the Civil War, such uprisings and insurrections were far from isolated, though often accompanied by quieter acts of resistance. In 1849, for instance, one brave man shipped himself north from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in a coffinlike box, tossed and tumbled to a freedom that was not complete thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act: “I now stand before you as a free man, but since my arrival among you, I have been informed that your laws require that I should still be held as a slave.” (Fortunately, he escaped to England.) Commander’s well-chosen collection also includes literary works by Black writers such as Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, who wrote a play of the Underground Railroad excerpted here whose use of dialect (“I doesn’t like to say it, but Ise might ’fraid you’s gwine to lose your gal”) is unusual among the stirring oratory of the earlier abolitionists but that certainly has its place among the dozens of voices here.

As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313608-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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