PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAs much a chronicle of the Old West as it is the study of a colorful, and ubiquitous, frontiersman ... Mr. Ward—like Siringo himself—spins a good yarn, and his book will surely please Old West enthusiasts, whose interest in the characters of this period remains evergreen. But other readers will spot missed opportunities, especially in light of new findings by Mr. Ward that could have added depth to his portrait of the cowboy detective.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalExuberant ... In less capable hands, Mr. Pearlman’s childlike wonder in relating his subject’s exploits might come off as cloying. Instead, the author’s palpable enthusiasm supercharges descriptions of Mr. Jackson’s at-bats or off-tackle runs, which are often described with hyperbole that is at once self-aware and delightfully cheesy ... Readers should also consult Mr. Pearlman’s occasional and often hilarious footnotes. By his count, the author—renowned for his tenacity—interviewed more than 700 people in his reporting for the book ... Excellent.
H W Brands
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Brands is a talented storyteller, with a novelist’s feel for pacing and detail. There are virtues to The Last Campaign, chief among them Mr. Brands’s linking of the histories of the South and the West ... Alas, the weight of the book’s shortcomings keeps it earthbound. For one thing, Mr. Brands frames his story solely in terms of conflict ... For another, The Last Campaign is strictly narrative, a series of (often well-told) episodes rarely squeezed for their significance ... At times it seems as if Mr. Brands is almost allergic to analysis, a quality stemming in part from his habit of quoting the actors in his drama at excessive length. On the one hand, this permits readers to hear both sides in their own words ... But too often Mr. Brands’s narrative is drowned by a tsunami of excerpted primary material, to such an extent that his own voice, as the expert, is all but imperceptible ... The biggest problems with The Last Campaign are structural.
PositiveWall Street Journal... showcases Mr. Maraniss’s abilities as an indefatigable researcher and a deft prose stylist. But at times the march through Thorpe’s days is simply exhausting, whether because of the author’s self-described \'obsession\' with his subject or his unwillingness to leave out even minor details that he has so carefully unearthed. While Thorpe’s life is fascinating, poignant and instructive, the book drags in many places, and thus some readers might find it hard to reach the finish line, which comes only at the end of a whopping 25 (!) page epilogue ... What redeems the book’s length is Mr. Maraniss’s determination to reveal Thorpe as a man in full, whose life was characterized by both soaring triumph and grievous loss. For those who would see Thorpe’s story instead as a tale of ineluctable declension, the author insists otherwise ... In this way, Mr. Maraniss unwittingly invokes the work of the scholar Gerald Vizenor, who describes this process as \'survivance,\' an idea that rejects simple narratives of Native victimhood and disappearance and posits instead that the act of persistence in the face of overwhelming odds is a significant cultural and political triumph. By those lights, Jim Thorpe is unquestionably a champion.
Mark Lee Gardner
PositiveWall Street JournalThe Earth Is All That Lasts is a fast-paced and highly absorbing read, but the attempt to squeeze Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse into the same frame breaks little new ground in our understanding of the epic fight for the nation’s midsection...Instead, after a rousing opening chapter on the Battle at Little Bighorn, Mr. Gardner settles into a straightforward recapitulation of the Plains Indian Wars featuring its best-known episodes—from the Grattan Fight (1854) to the Fetterman Fight (1866)—as well as some other violent encounters that will be less familiar to many in his audience...Only rarely does the author raise his eyes to take in events happening elsewhere in the United States—most notably the Civil War, which conditioned U.S. military policy toward Native Americans during the conflict and especially afterward, in the era of Reconstruction...But if Mr. Gardner is unsuccessful in the effort to tell a new story, he enhances our appreciation of the brutality of this grinding conflict by documenting in graphic detail the horrors committed by both sides.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIn compelling fashion, Mr. Herring takes his readers on a trip through the most successful decade in the history of one of the NBA’s marquee franchises ... Readers need not love the Knicks—or even possess deep knowledge of professional basketball—to enjoy this book. It throbs with an insider’s perspective, giving the audience a courtside seat as the Knicks, deploying sharp elbows, stout picks and painful hip checks, took on all comers. But Blood in the Garden is bigger than the Knicks, placing them in the context of what Mr. Herring calls \'the league’s most fascinating decade,\' which featured Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the growing internationalization of the league, and even O.J. Simpson’s infamous low-speed chase in June 1994, which pre-empted in some television markets an NBA Finals game between the Knicks and the Houston Rockets ... Besides the vivid writing, what makes Blood in the Garden so successful is the depth of Mr. Herring’s research, which rests on extensive interviews with more than 200 individuals, ranging from players and coaches to front-office staff and fellow journalists, and even an \'unnamed Knicks dancer.\' Along the way, Mr. Herring revisits seminal moments of the Knicks’ 1990s run, both painful and sublime ... At the heart of the book are the personalities Mr. Herring evokes.
MixedWall Street JournalAs a contribution to our understanding of the world of frontier women, it is a limited addition ... Mr. Boessenecker is ideally matched to his subject ... Mr. Boessenecker proves a tenacious researcher, with a particular knack for coaxing telling details from newspaper archives. For Wildcat, he also turned amateur genealogist and enlisted the help of one of Hart’s descendants, who shared with him extensive primary source material ... For all his dogged investigation, as well as the trove of wonderful images that animate Wildcat (another of the book’s commendable features), Pearl Hart remains mostly elusive. No doubt this stems to an extent from Hart’s desire to cover her tracks, which may explain why Mr. Boessenecker spends so much time developing the book’s other characters ... But his handling of such sources produces a relentless this-happened-and-then-this-happened narrative style that pounds the story as flat as a stagecoach trail. Mr. Boessenecker’s writing is suffused with clichés ... This makes, at times, for a tedious reading experience ... More frustrating is Mr. Boessenecker’s failure to ground his story in its wider regional context ... But the author keeps his focus so tightly on the tale of his \'woman bandit\' that at moments it seems the story could be set almost anywhere, and we thus learn little about the Wild West of the subtitle.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThis is a work of towering ambition, which led Ms. Ngai to scour archives on five continents and to familiarize herself with several national histories to complement her primary expertise in U.S. history. There is good reason that many professional and popular historians opt for more narrowly drawn accounts of discrete events or individuals. But the payoffs of Ms. Ngai’s comparison are notable, among them the challenge to American exceptionalism as well as the illumination of key differences between her case studies ... While Ms. Ngai is a lucid and elegant writer, The Chinese Question is not a late-summer beach read. All the same, her audience will appreciate how she gracefully threads revealing episodes and anecdotes into her analysis ... Ms. Ngai’s study is a book for our time, reminding us of the increasingly interconnected global economy that—since at least the 16th century—has enriched select peoples, empires and nations at the expense of many others. As important, it offers critical context for what Ms. Ngai describes in her book’s epilogue as The Specter of the Yellow Peril, Redux, marshaled by both major U.S. political parties and shared by a wide swath of the American public that fears, among other things, China’s ownership of American debt as well as its grip on the U.S. import market. Such anxieties, the origins of which Ms. Ngai so skillfully traces to the era of the gold rushes, help to explain the surge in anti-Chinese racism around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... engrossing ... Though much of this material will be familiar to some readers, the authors move the story along in a chatty and amusing style ... In what may come as a pleasant surprise to their academic audience, the authors think of their work less as a history than a historiography, which they properly describe as \'a history of the history\'.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... replete with derring-do, suffering and failure ... Mr. Castner is an engrossing writer, which is apparent in set pieces like those featuring Dietz and the Berrys, but perhaps above all in narrating a thrilling episode in which Jack London pilots his flat-bottomed boat, the Yukon Belle, through the treacherous White Horse Rapids. He is just as skillful in conjuring the social world of the Klondike, especially in his indelible descriptions of the many boomtown settlements—Dyea, Dawson City, Skagway—that sprang up to outfit the stampeders. In these sections the author reveals an unmistakable sympathy for the few female characters who populate the book ... Given the grace of Mr. Castner’s writing, it is all the more disappointing when he occasionally lapses into folksiness ... And Mr. Castner’s insistence on using a variety of then-common racial terms like \'squaw\' and \'Negro\' is perplexing ... his deployment of such terms seems unnecessary, even gratuitous. Moreover, readers may wish that Mr. Castner had pulled back occasionally from his propulsive storytelling to help his audience discern some meaning in this cavalcade of immiseration, which had played itself out by the middle of 1899. He offers historical perspective only in a brief but provocative afterword, focusing especially on the roles of greed and irrationality in luring so many ... Mr. Castner’s larger point—that the romantic myth of the frontier continues to obscure the human costs of its absorption and exploitation—shines as brightly as a gold nugget in a mountain stream.
Alice L. Baumgartner
RaveThe Wall Street JournalGripping and poignant stories ... There is much to admire in South to Freedom, starting with Ms. Baumgartner’s dogged and extensive binational research ... Ms. Baumgartner is a fluid writer, with a natural gift for structure and pacing as well as the nicely turned phrase ... South to Freedom is at its best when Ms. Baumgartner describes, with skill and great sensitivity, the experiences of those enslaved men and women who, in resisting their oppression, bravely quit the United States altogether. Their stories challenge the glib assumption held by many Americans—those of the 19th century as well as the 21st—who have long taken for granted the idea of Mexican national inferiority. Most of all, their accounts serve as a stark reminder of the severely circumscribed nature of liberty in the antebellum United States and its tragic costs not only for the enslaved but also the republic itself.
Doug J. Swanson
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... will thus surely discomfit some of those who pick it up, even as it confirms for others their sense that the Rangers frequently served as anything but impartial arbiters of justice.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Leerhsen himself drinks deeply from the watering hole of myth ... Mr. Leerhsen asserts that, contrary to the less-flattering portraits offered by scholarly \'sourpusses,\' Cassidy was \'a good guy, a curiously good guy, a friend to you and the bane of your oppressors—a kind of hero, really, at a time when something like war was brewing between the haves and the have-nots of the intermountain West.\' Alas, little in Butch Cassidy supports such a generous assessment ... Mr. Leerhsen is a dogged researcher, having pored over the voluminous published material about Cassidy’s life, and he tracks his subject like a Pinkerton ... Some in his audience will no doubt revel in these you-are-there set pieces. But one suspects that Mr. Leerhsen included them at least as much to establish his bona fides with fellow Cassidistas (a group that appears supremely welcoming of those who share their fixation) ... Other readers, by contrast, may be put off by the author’s folksy narrative style, which conjures Waylon Jennings’s role as the balladeer in the Dukes of Hazzard television show. Like Jennings, whose cheesy voiceovers introduced each episode and eased viewers into and out of commercial breaks, Mr. Leerhsen peppers the text with cringeworthy asides ... Mr. Leerhsen’s approach to his subject is overly intimate, leading to unsubstantiated claims on matters such as Cassidy’s populist streak, which the author raises occasionally but largely ignores. In the end, it seems that Cassidy—like most outlaws—was interested in the redistribution of wealth to the extent that it wound up in his own saddlebags ... The pre-eminent banditologist Eric Hobsbawm argued that the fascination with outlaws often says less about the brigands themselves than the societies that lionize them. Hence the legend of (the possibly fictional) Joaquín Murrieta illuminates the dispossession of California Mexicans during the Gold Rush, just as the stories about Jesse James open a window onto lingering partisan resentments in the aftermath of the Civil War. Mr. Leerhsen offers no such direction in understanding the enduring appeal of Butch Cassidy, who—one is left to conclude—is famous mostly for being famous, rescued by Hollywood from creeping oblivion. While that might offer little insight into the social conditions of the turn-of-the-century West, it speaks volumes about the peculiar American obsession with celebrity.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThere is no better guide to this world than Mr. Feinstein ... Mr. Feinstein’s gaze rarely crosses the Appalachians, which will no doubt distress fans of West Coast schools ... For all its appeal, The Back Roads to March misfires here and there. Sports reporting, admittedly, is a genre prone to cliché, but Mr. Feinstein is far too good a writer to describe a UMBC player having a great game as \'unconscious\'...More distracting are those moments when Mr. Feinstein makes himself the story ... Additionally, Mr. Feinstein largely avoids criticism of any kind, save for repeated (and merited) swipes at the hypocrisy of the NCAA. Given the national conversation about the astronomical cost of a college education, one might expect Mr. Feinstein to offer even brief commentary on the vast sums spent by colleges and universities on Division I basketball, where—as of 2017—hoops coaches were the highest paid public employees in eight U.S. states ... Even for a relentlessly uplifting book like this one, surely there is room for a little more clear-eyed skepticism ... On the other hand, love letters rarely traffic in doubt or other unpleasantries, and The Back Roads to March is nothing if not a long, meandering, heartfelt missive to college basketball.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Inskeep treads little ground unfamiliar to popular and professional historians. But his absorbing tale of the Frémonts and their marriage will fascinate readers, many of whom know John only as the namesake of a local school or street or even their hometown itself ... In addition to his riveting accounts of Frémont’s peregrinations, Mr. Inskeep is especially effective in bringing to life the challenges posed by mid-19th-century communication, which depended to a great extent on letters that could arrive months after their dispatch, like rays of light emitted from stars that might have burned out long ago.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...[a] fierce and poignant account ... On the Plain of Snakes...reveals how attentively Mr. Theroux listened to the people he met, grasping their plight and admiring their perseverance ... it should shame those among us who would revile people like María, who risk everything in the hope of securing what so many Americans take for granted: comfort, safety and, above all, a better life for their children.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalReaders may sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scope of Mr. Taliaferro’s coverage, but few will dispute that he does justice to his subject ... While Mr. Taliaferro’s admiration for his subject is unmistakable, Grinnell is no hagiography. The man was not ahead of his time but embedded within it, acting with the lofty confidence typical of the patrician WASP milieu in which he lived and operated ... Mr. Taliaferro sums up Grinnell as \'the prototype of the city-dwelling environmentalist whose conscience and money today fuel organizations such as the Sierra Club.\'
Kristin L. Hoganson
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWhile the borders of the region may seem a bit fuzzy, Ms. Hoganson delineates the myth of the heartland ... But, as with many of our most cherished fables, the real story is more complex, and Ms. Hoganson lays it out in fascinating and convincing detail ... Ms. Hoganson’s book will surely appeal to her fellow scholars. For one thing, she stitches together insights from a slew of fields that are rarely in dialogue, including environmental and settler colonial history, as well as the study of borderlands and U.S. foreign policy, the last of which is her particular area of expertise, established by two previous books on the global roots of American consumerism and the Spanish-American War. For another, more than merely recovering the connections that have always bound the heartland to the rest of the world, Ms. Hoganson demonstrates that these linkages—seen and unseen—were essential to the growth of an incipient American empire. Lay people, by contrast, may be put off by the sprinkling of academic jargon or the digressions into works by other, less accessible historians. And while Ms. Hoganson is a marvelous writer, all but the most enthusiastic readers will skim impatiently over detailed passages about seeds, plants and weather, however important they are to her story. None of this is to detract from Ms. Hoganson’s considerable achievement.
Monica Muñoz Martinez
MixedBookforumMonica Muñoz Martinez, has published The Injustice Never Leaves You, an account that explores the contested ground between history, memory, and reckoning ... The book finally stirs to life when the author shifts from describing incidents of violence to probing how they have been forgotten or, worse, absorbed into a triumphal story about the state’s supposed progress from savagery to civilization.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Anderson writes about Oklahoma City with zeal and devotion, his rollicking prose perfectly suited to Oklahoma City’s boom mentality. He expertly deploys singular characters to illustrate the city’s strangeness, from meteorologist Gary England, who became a household name by reporting on the tornadoes that regularly menace the city, to Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of the Flaming Lips, who, as his hometown’s merry prankster, drags Mr. Anderson into various hijinks. But there are poignant and deeply compassionate sections in the book, too. Among them is a frank assessment of Oklahoma City’s tortured racial history ... Mr. Anderson certainly doesn’t seem inclined to decamp from his perch in New York. But the city demands attention. Take that, Indianapolis.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal...a condensed history of the Wild West show, homing in on the unlikely bond between Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull … Blood Brothers offers a brisk and compassionate retelling of a familiar story, but falters at times under the weight of its author’s dogged optimism about the redemptive power of this ‘strange friendship.’