A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.



The story of two British aristocrats who aimed to change their world.

TV producer Welfare creates a vibrant portrait of British society through his animated, well-informed dual biography of John Gordon (1847-1934) and his wife, Ishbel (1857-1939), the Marquess and Marchioness of Aberdeen, who were his wife’s great-grandparents. Drawing on copious family papers—letters, diaries, rent books, financial ledgers—as well as the couple’s joint memoir, Welfare follows the peripatetic lives of John and Ishbel, famous among their incredulous peers for their devotion to social reform. Luminaries of high society—the Archbishop of Canterbury, members of the royal family, and even Queen Victoria herself were among their many guests—they spared no expense on their reform efforts. Even cruising the Nile River on their honeymoon, they set up “impromptu clinics” to address dire health needs: “the first of countless enlightened, innovative, and often expensive ways in which, over nearly sixty years, Johnny and Ishbel worked to improve social conditions wherever they went. And they cared not a hoot if they risked the contempt of their peers by taking their campaigns to the slum dwellers.” Welfare unfolds his narrative by focusing on the grand houses in which Lord and Lady Aberdeen lived in London, Ireland, Canada, and Scotland. Just outside Aberdeen, Ishbel founded the Haddo House Association, which “acted as a virtual school, allowing housemaids and cooks to study at home in their quarters or in the servants’ hall,” with local ladies “cajoled into acting as tutors.” In Canada, she established the Victorian Order of Nurses to attend to medical needs in remote areas. Her campaign to address the spread of tuberculosis in Ireland earned her the derisive nickname “Viceregal Microbe.” As the author demonstrates in this fluid narrative, the couple persisted in their charitable projects even when house expenses, travel, failure of several Canadian ranches, and years of generous hospitality brought them to the brink of bankruptcy.

A fresh, engaging cultural history of the rich doing good.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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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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