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Book Notes


ISSUE:  Winter 2004

History

An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, by Henry Wiencek. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, November 2003. $30
In his last book, the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, Henry Wiencek showed himself to be one of the most nuanced and insightful contemporary historians of race. Wiencek’s greatest gift may be his firm alliance to fact over conjecture. His laborious research almost always reveals that the human truth is far more complex and captivating than any historian’s wishful thinking, and these talents are further on display in An Imperfect God. Recent revelations of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings have naturally led to closer scrutiny of the other founding fathers. Unlike Garry Wills’ new meandering defense of Jefferson—the hyperbolically named Negro President (Houghton Mifflin, November 2003)—Wiencek’s book shows how deeper insights can be gained by reflecting upon these difficult men in more ambivalent terms. The burning question: Did Washington father a child with one of his slaves? Almost certainly not—or more precisely, no evidence to support it. That’s the key. Wiencek doesn’t speculate often; instead he mines the fascinating but neglected facts, beginning and ending with the important detail that Washington freed his slaves upon Martha’s death. This gesture seems small at the book’s opening, but after our journey through the early-American universe of this book, we reach the book’s close with a greater understanding of how unassumingly revolutionary this decision was. Wiencek does not simply give us a new view of George Washington; he offers us a new way of looking.

A History of the Dora Camp, by Andre Sellier. Ivan R. Dee, August 2003. $35
This book lies more on the helps-fill-in-our-knowledge rather than the change-how-we-look-at-things end of the now-vast Holocaust scholarship. The author, later a historian and French diplomat, was an inmate of the camp which housed much of the research and production of the Germans’ V-2 rockets during the Second World War. In an echo of more recent events, the Western Allies had bombed the known sites of German rocket research, prompting the Nazis to disperse and especially to bury their facilities. To do this, they used forced labor by Russian, Polish, and other prisoners of war and by Jews to build the vast underground Dora facility, in which Wernher von Braun’s team, among others, operated. Sellier describes the literally killing conditions of this labor. Daily life included rampant lice, dysentery, gnawing hunger, and terrifying death rates, especially in some tasks. Specific work sites would be accompanied by heaps of the day’s dead. Since—unlike with the death camps—the facilities and not these corpses were the aim of the camp, Sellier considers the fine line between the inmates’ dying “not deliberately but … knowingly” as the result of conditions informed by the systematic disregard of the Nazis (including Albert Speer, overseer of such facilities). Based largely on testimony by diverse survivors, this book is in one way a full-bodied Holocaust story of the new type: it includes extensive consideration of the postwar trials of Dora perpetrators, the prior histories of the camp, and the scene of the site today. In other words, the history of the Holocaust now includes the history of the history of the Holocaust. Within these parameters, Sellier delivers an effective tale of yet another site in the Nazis’ system of war-making through terrible exploitation.
—Gerard Alexander

The Perfect Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium, by Kathryn Ringrose. Chicago, July 2003. $40
This scholarly analysis of the place of eunuchs in Byzantine society joins other recent works on ancient views of human gender and sexuality that have provided perspective on the “varieties of human experience” and the social forces that reject or embrace such variation. In this case it is the curious one of Byzantine acceptance of more than two genders. Ringrose considers Byzantine perception of eunuchs—as reflected in language—and places this changing perception within the context of available information concerning the evolution of Byzantine gender theory and of the class of individuals that eunuchs constituted. The Byzantine philology of gender provides her with clues concerning the ancient perception of the eunuch’s behavior, mannerisms, physical traits, negative and positive qualities. She then considers the extent to which these various attributes may have been due to physiology or socialization. Social influence on the construction of gender identity is found to be preponderant. Due to the lack of sources, these conclusions are not influenced by the views of the eunuchs themselves. The testimony of others suggests to Ringrose that increasing accession of eunuchs to positions of power in church, government, and military depended on a gradual half-millennium shift in Byzantine definitions of “eunuch gender” from negative to more positive ones, perceiving greater potential of eunuchs for holiness, asexuality, and spiritual enlightenment. The intervening step appears to have been appreciation for the benefits of the development of a class of individuals who displayed the traits of loyalty and selected abilities that rendered them “perfect servants.” Physiological alterations were increasingly perceived as enhancing the capacity of eunuchs to transcend normal physical, spiritual, and temporal constraints which might compromise loyalty and thus permitting them to concentrate on their roles as extensions of the power and vision of the church and the imperial court. They were in this sense mediators of societal function, at least to some extent unhampered by corrupting influences of sexuality or inheritance. Well-researched and well-written, it is a provocative study that should inspire a vigorous debate among historians. It should have an important corrective influence on our stereotypes concerning Byzantine eunuchs. It may prove disquieting concerning our own received notions of sexual definition and the extent to which they may be the product of cultivation of traits that meet our own social exigencies.
—Robert S. Rust

A Childhood under Hitler and Stalin: Memoirs of a “Certified Jew,” by Michael Wieck, translated by Penny Milbouer. Wisconsin, July 2003. $19.95
The end-phases of World War II, including the travails of Germans and ethnic Germans fleeing westward, have experienced a surge in historiographical and popular interest in recent years. This book is one installment in this new literature, which sold widely in Germany. Wieck is a German from East Prussia whose mixed gentile/Jewish parentage sequentially made him a target of Nazi persecution, protected him from the worst fate of fully Jewish Germans, and finally made him the same target of Russian harassment and oppression as other Germans they came to control as the Eastern front moved toward Berlin. Readers will be exhausted and relieved by the time Wieck describes his flight to Berlin and then West Germany, where he settled into a musical career in Stuttgart.
Wieck’s memories are vivid and extensive but cover more of his family history than is needed for the book’s main purposes. The writing style is also annoyingly casual or informal at times, though it moves along (quite) quickly. In the end, a brutal editor might have decided that there is enough provocative material here to fill an article rather than a book. That editors in at least two countries instead published it as a book seems most of all a testimony to the seemingly unquenchable thirst for Holocaust-related material. The result of that demand is seemingly inexhaustible supply, which permits readers to pore over even peripheral matters in great and highly personalized detail. At times, one might wish that other horrors received nearly as much coverage, starting with Stalin’s crimes, which appear only marginally here. Then again, one might wish that we decided which stories of Nazi crimes to publish using somewhat stricter criteria than validity and passing interest.
—Gerard Alexander

1816: America Rising, by C. Edward Skeen. Kentucky, July 2003. $35
“Year Studies” seem to be a growing trend among historians of the early American republic. Recently, Andrew Burstein and Louis Masur each claimed that their years—1826 and 1831, respectively—were crucial in understanding nineteenth-century America. This trend has its benefits: normally offering both scholars and students in-depth, deeply contextual snapshots of what life was like during a particularly significant (or not) twelve months, “year studies” have the potential to leave the reader with the impression that they have actually been there. Sadly, C. Edward Skeen’s 1816: America Rising is not one of those studies. Largely a top-down political history, 1816 is dry and unimaginative. What might have been a fascinating tour around postwar America during the “year without a summer,” Skeen’s analysis is rarely surprising. His thesis, that during the twelve months of 1816 America did experience an “era of good feelings” as the republic matured, is less than convincing and further worsened by an antiquarian attachment to the idea that it was simply “a more innocent time.”
—Robert Parkinson

The Confederate Belle,by Giselle Roberts. Missouri, June 2003. $32.50
Given current trends in cultural studies, Giselle Roberts assumes a politically unusual stance in The Confederate Belle by arguing that the role of young, elite, white Southern women during the Civil War has been largely ignored by historians. Roberts’s study, however, concerns itself less about race (although it obviously is a significant component) and more about age and gender. Specifically, she discusses how young women who had been raised to become Southern belles dealt with a world in which balls and flirtations had become largely irrelevant. Roberts maps out how these young women, whom she labels “Confederate belles,” adjusted to the new environment, not by rejecting the traditional values that they had been taught, but rather by shaping and maintaining the honor not only of the family, but of the South as a whole. Roberts draws extensively on diary archives, greatly enriching our understanding of women’s lives during the period.
—Sigrid Anderson Cordell

Girocho: A GI’s Story of Bataan and Beyond, by John Henry Poncio and Marlin Young. LSU, June 2003. $34.95
American prisoners of war in Europe during World War II stood a nine-in-ten chance of returning home when the war was over; the 22,000 GIs captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 confronted an unhappier fate. By August 1945, only about half remained alive to be liberated. The late John Poncio (died 1998) was an enlisted man with the 91st Bomb Squadron who arrived in the Philippines only days before the outbreak of war. He underwent the full array of horrors visited upon the hapless prisoners by their cruel or merely indifferent captors: the Bataan Death March, O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, and the brutal labor regime that awaited those who survived the horrific, and often deadly, sea voyage to Japan. Poncio’s well-honed stories are mostly suitable for family consumption. He does not ignore but tends to downplay some of the worst moments of the POW experience. Girocho also offers an insightful commentary on some aspects of Japanese culture, as well as a sympathetic portrayal of the long-suffering Japanese civilians alongside whom Poncio labored and toward whom he came to feel, at least in later years, a sense of besieged comradery.
—Richard Meixsel

A Great Plains Reader, edited by Diane D. Quantic and P. Jane Hafen. Nebraska, June 2003. $70 cloth, $35 paper
The selection of stories, essays, and poems in this anthology reflects the historical and contemporary experiences of life on the Great Plains of America, over four centuries and across “that purgatory of mileage” (to quote Heat-Moon) that stretches from Saskatchewan to Texas. The editors have organized the entries around five themes: the lay of the land, natives and newcomers, arriving and settling in, adapting to a new country, and the Great Plains community. The inclusion of authors is eclectic: classics of Willa Cather, Hamlin Garland, and Rolvaag sharing equal billing with lesser-known works that are no less meritorious in revealing the complex relationships of land and people on the Great Plains. This book contains a rich collection of writings by Native Americans. The power of Momaday’s imagery of the olden days—”to gather the splinters of the sun”—and of Harjo’s depiction of modern despair—”the bar of broken survivors, the club of shotgun, knife wound, of poison by culture”—will linger in the mind long after the reader has closed the 730 pages of this book. Informing, revealing, confirming, infuriating, and always holding our interest, this anthology is a masterful fusion of history and myth.
—Ed Imhoff

Early Modern Spain: A Documentary History and Modern Spain: A Documentary History, edited by Jon Cowans. University of Pennsylvania, June 2003. $19.95 each
These books will prove to be immediately useful to anyone interested in Spanish history and culture. Cowans has selected, edited, and translated many of the documents that helped shape modern Spain. The early volume begins with the Marriage Concessions of Ferdinand and Isabella, whose union created a united Spanish monarchy in 1469, and includes selections from important mileposts, such as the intensification of the Inquisition’s activities in 1480 (“Letter on Commission to Carry Out Inquiries into Bad Christians”), the Surrender Treaty of Granada in 1492 (the final outpost of the Moors on the Spanish Peninsula) and the order to expel the Jews (1492), Columbus’s letter on the New World (1493), Loyola’s autobiography, Olivares’s “Instructions on Government” (1624), “Laws of the Habsburg Monarchy,” Feijoo’s “Defense of Women” (1737), “Laws of the Bourbon Monarchy,” and Jovellanos’s “In Praise of Carlos III” (1788) and “Letter on the French Revolution” (1794), and much more. The later volume, which begins with Napoleon’s invasion of the Peninsula in 1808, moves through the Decrees of the Cadiz Cortes (1810-1814), Ferdinand VII’s reactionary “Manifesto of October 1, 1823,” Pardo Bazan’s “The Education of Men and Women” (1892), Arana’s now famous declaration of Basque rights (“What Are We?” 1895), Azana’s provocative “Spain Has Ceased to Be Catholic” (1931), Franco’s “Letter to Hitler” (1940), Dionisio Ridruejo’s “On Resistance to Franco” (1962), the Constitution of 1978, King Juan Carlos’s “Speech on the Coup d’Etat” (1981), Felipe Gonzalez’s speech on NATO (1986), and the recent report on racism and the Spanish State (1999). These volumes are rich with snippets from important material, and they will both inform the reader and lead him/her to the sources for further study.
—David T. Gies

Curzon: Imperial Statesman, by David Gilmour. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 2003. $45
Gilmour, already a biographer of Kipling and Giuseppe di Lampedusa, delivers a magisterial and one hopes definitive biography of one of the leading administrators and crafters of the British Empire at its zenith. Curzon’s life straddled that acme, and ended before this empire’s doom came calling during and in the wake of World War II. Gilmour chronicles the life journey of this man who was at once a volatile personality and a meticulous recorder of observations and events. Himself a staggeringly prolific author—of notes, diplomatic and other government reports, and books—Curzon was a Conservative, an ardent proponent of the idea of (British) empire, and in diplomatic service to that idea during Conservative governments. His expertise was overwhelmingly in Asia: southwest, south, and the far east, to use the culturally anachronistic language. He reached one professional height as Viceroy of India under Queen Victoria, when British rule there had been raised to the level of administration. Gilmour shows that this cannot be said of the empire as a whole. Curzon’s experiences show instead that extraordinary willpower and a long stream of savvy, hard-nosed decisions were needed to craft and then maintain Britain’s sprawling empire in a world of fierce (often regional) competitors. A handful of his final years were spent as Foreign Secretary, and his death in 1925 spared him the sight of the empire’s collapse. This massive (nearly 700-page) study is based primarily on the archival sources that are the pride of modern British historiography. Curzon, who had a keen sense of history, has been well served.
—Gerard Alexander

Staff Officers in Gray: A Biographical Register of the Staff Officers in the Army of Northern Virginia, by Robert L. Krick. North Carolina, June 2003. $45
Nearly fourteen years of labor of love have gone into the compilation of this valuable resource, which contains brief biographies of approximately 2,300 officers of the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV). The effort has permitted the author to provide interesting tables of information concerning age, place of birth, year of death, pre- and postwar occupations, and education, of samples containing 951-1,986 officers—depending upon availability of data. Additional compilations describe the degree of “nepotism” (placement of relatives on the staff) of various generals and provide a list of the various staff officers who served on the staff of each ANV general and a list of approximately 3,000 known Confederate officers who did not serve in the ANV. More than fifty photographs of ANV officers are included. There are some minor inconsistencies. Generals Bee and Bonham, for example, are listed with their “ANV” staff officers and Bonham by “nepotism degree”—presumably due to their pre-ANV service at First Manassas. But no biographies are provided despite the availability of considerable information on each. Nonetheless the considerable work that must have gone into collecting this information will undoubtedly prove very useful to the large number of individuals who will continue to produce books on the Civil War, not to mention Civil War Roundtables.
—Robert S. Rust


Current Events

The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory, by Monica Duffy Toft. Princeton, September 2003. $37.50
Monica Duffy Toft makes an important contribution to the literature on the origins of violent ethnic conflict. The author’s explanation is compact, straightforward, and elegant. When an ethnic group is a concentrated majority within a state, it is likely to press its sovereignty demands in indivisible terms. If the state is multiethnic in its composition, leaders in power will similarly view the territory under their control as being indivisible. It is the conjunction of the perception of territorial indivisibility on the part of concentrated majorities and state leaders that dramatically constricts bargaining space (indeed, none is likely to be found), thereby inducing the ethnic group to rationally adopt violent conflict over attempts at peaceful negotiations. The key to explaining the outbreak of violence, according to Toft, is to be found in an assessment of how each actor views territory. For concentrated ethnic majorities, the appeal of violence is most salient when the territory at stake is the homeland. Attempts to secure sovereignty over the homeland increase the legitimacy of the ethnic groups’ claims. Moreover, because they are a concentrated majority, such groups also have an increased capacity to wage violent conflict than do concentrated minorities, urbanites, and dispersed groups. The author tests the theory by using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, with impressive results. Toft successfully demonstrates how perceptions of territory can cause conflicts to erupt and, further, offers important—if pessimistic—conclusions regarding the feasibility of conflict termination.
—Spencer D. Bakich

Better Together: Restoring the American Community, by Robert D. Putnam and Lewis M. Feldstein, with Don Cohen. Simon & Schuster, September 2003. $26.95
Harvard University professor Robert Putnam quite recently authored the widely reviewed book Bowling Alone, which set out to explain why more and more Americans were spending time by themselves. It is only natural that he should continue this line of research in a similar book, albeit one approached from the other direction. All the hope that civic renewal and civic engagement can extend springs from these pages, which are unusually easy to read through. Serious scholars may object that Putnam’s new book pales in comparison to the seriousness of Bowling Alone, but the more breezy style will invite casual readers who otherwise would have been turned away. Whether it’s the neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, grassroots objections to pornography on the Internet, or the clerical and technical unions at Harvard University, this book can give you particulars and then make coherent generalizations from those particulars about main currents in contemporary America. A worthwhile read.
—John Portmann

The Imperial Tense, edited by Andrew J. Bacevich. Ivan R. Dee, September 2003. $28.95 cloth, $16.95 paper
An inevitably idiosyncratic collection of pieces—all but one postdating 9/11—regarding the question of whether America is or should be an empire. Bacevich is committed to such a view and he has done the ongoing debate about America’s role in the world a great service by bringing these pieces together in a convenient package. It is usable for interested citizens, policy thinkers, and even college classes on the U.S.’s place in the world.
     Nonetheless, for this reader, Victor Davis Hanson’s dissenting piece—”What Empire?”—has it about right: the concept is neither analytically useful nor empirically accurate, but is rather merely rhetorical, trotted out due to a weird mix of triumphalist nostalgia (for those pro-“empire”) or because of essentially escapist demonology (for those anti-“empire”). None of this is any reason for complacency. For if the U.S. bears few if any marks of the political entity known as “empire,” that is in part because its power actually transcends that exercised by empires. (Empires had borders; but there is no “outside” to the U.S.’s sphere of “interest”—what a gentle word!—and it has effectively tied its well-being to the fate of the whole world, thus ensuring that any attack on it is an attack on the world-system as a whole.) The language of empire merely reveals that we are at sea, intellectually speaking, in trying to come to grips with our present situation; using such grandiose ideas to understand and guide our action is merely an avoidance mechanism in the face of a seemingly infinite and invincible ignorance. “Empire” is merely this year’s version of “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
     Nonetheless, this is a major option in the contemporary debate, and this book captures its character as well as one could hope; and it should be valued for that.
—Charles T. Mathewes

The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, by Paul Krugman. Norton, September 2003. $25.95
Those for whom Paul Krugman’s biweekly column in the New York Times is a staple of their political diet will not be surprised after reading The Great Unraveling. Upon joining the Times in 2000, Krugman quickly established himself as one of the leading public critics of the Bush II administration, devoting the majority of his effort to demonstrating (with precision and clarity) the absolute poverty and outright danger of this administration’s economic policies. The bulk of this volume constitutes those pieces from the Times, though other materials are peppered throughout. Krugman’s objective is to show just how the administration is dedicated to dismantling the federal social safety net for the country’s poor and working class, while at the same time providing massive tax breaks for only America’s most wealthy citizens. Not only are these efforts morally repugnant for Krugman, but they are dangerous to the extent that they will likely be achieved only when such entitlements cannot be sustained as a result of the slash-and-burn austerity measures taken years prior; in short, as a result of a traumatic fiscal crisis. This plan, of course, is predicated on a great deal of duplicity, and it is the extent to which the “Bushies” obfuscate, inveigle, and “lie” about their programs that is perhaps the most troubling for Krugman. On this measure, the administration is guilty in many other realms of governance, including foreign policy. Why should we pay attention to Krugman? Simply stated, he offers compelling justifications for his criticisms based on independent analysis and on sound reasoning. This is not to say that Krugman’s tone is measured, balanced, and somber. No! He is mad, and this anger will, no doubt, off-put many. Irrespective, this is an important collection. Hopefully, Krugman is wrong.
—Spencer D. Bakich

Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, by P. W. Singer. Cornell, June 2003. $39.95
Warfare is typically viewed as being solely dominated by nation-states. Even as many consider the implications of the (post)modern revolution in military affairs (RMA), the primary assumption is that warfare is the result of state action (or, in the case of ethnic conflicts and civil wars, of state power collapsing). Since the end of the Cold War, however, the nature of warfare has changed profoundly, not only in the manner in which states fight, but just as significantly what organizations provide the tools of combat. In this fascinating and important study, P. W. Singer demonstrates how privatized military firms (PMFs) have become increasingly important suppliers of intelligence, logistical support, expertise (in the form of consulting), and even frontline combat power. This is an ambitious work: Singer charts (and offers an explanation for) the rise of the privatized military industry, provides a rich description of how the industry is organized, and discusses a number of the implications that have and will likely emerge as PMFs grow in number and in strength. While the second part of the book, “Organization and Operation” of the industry, is a significant contribution in its own right, it is the first and third sections which are likely to be of greatest interest to students of political science and international relations. Singer’s chapters on the causes of the rise of privatized security and on the effects of the industry on alliance behavior and the empowerment of nonstate actors are intriguing and will likely be the source of much debate. This is an important work and should be considered by anyone interested in the changing dynamics of warfare.
—Spencer D. Bakich

The New Economy: What It Is, How It Happened, and Why It Is Likely to Last, by Roger Alcaly. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 2003.$25
Lost amid the transition from the hagiographic portrayals of the twenty-something millionaires in the heyday of the “new economy” to the stern morality tales that scolded the same group for its hubris after the fall, lie the real and profound structural transformations that were ushered into the marketplace. Roger Alcaly’s The New Economy takes seriously the argument that information technology, coupled with distinctive models of manufacturing processes, have together made firms far more productive and, thus, made the economy overall far more robust than ever. Facilitating this productivity revolution were the revival of the junk bond market and wise monetary policy under Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. The strength of this book is its comparative historical approach. Alcaly does not simply glean the kernels of future growth from the ashes of the postboom meltdown. Rather, he attempts to place the engine of productivity growth in perspective and, in so doing, makes a convincing case that the “new economy” is real and distinct from the past. It is important to note, however, that Alcaly’s is only the first word on the subject. While his historical sweep is impressive and important, the real question remains as to how deep the productivity advances go. In other words, while Dell is the model, or the ideal type, one is left wondering if firms in other industries have begun to adopt similar practices, and to what effect. Nevertheless, this is an important book in a time of economic pessimism.
—Spencer D. Bakich

A Grand Strategy for America, by Robert J Art. Cornell, June 2003. $29.95
Professor Robert J. Art has written an important book. A Grand Strategy for America does what pundits and ideologues fail to do in their prescriptive statements concerning America’s place in the world: clearly specify the “national interests” for the U.S., rank order those interests so as to facilitate a clear understanding of the trade-offs that are likely to emerge among them, offer a lucid and nuanced strategy for securing those interests, demonstrate why and how a number of alternative strategic frameworks are inadequate, and provide a guide to implementing the adopted course. Art’s proposed strategy, “Selective Engagement,” argues for the adoption of a regional concentration (directed towards Europe, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf) with a forward defense posture. Moreover, in implementing selective engagement, the U.S. must be willing to use force only in defense of its “vital” and “highly important” interests, and must accept the mantle of leadership in the international system. Though Art recognizes that no grand strategy is 100% effective, the one proposed does promise greater dividends than its alternatives (dominion, collective security, containment, isolationism, and offshore balancing). None of these alternatives has the capacity to achieve the range of salient national objectives including: homeland defense, peace in Eurasia, access to Persian Gulf oil, international economic openness, democratic consolidation and the observance of human rights, and stemming the tide of global warming. Because no single volume can engage all of the ancillary debates that attend subject matter of this importance, A Grand Strategy for America leaves a number of questions unanswered. This should never obscure a critical point: this book should be read by anyone interested in the contours of American foreign policy in the coming decades.
—Spencer D. Bakich

Deterrence Now, by Patrick M. Morgan. Cambridge, June 2003. $25
Deterrence Now, written by one of the leading scholars in the subject of deterrence, is both an ambitious work and a significant contribution to the literature on coercive diplomacy. Morgan casts a very wide net in this volume. As the title suggests, Morgan offers an assessment of the utility of deterrence (both conventional and nuclear) in the post-Cold War international system. This analysis is significant to the extent that he tackles subjects that are normally overlooked in the standard state-to-state framework that abounds in the literature. For example, Morgan provides one of the most comprehensive discussions of “collective actor deterrence” to date—a concept that will become increasingly important if institutions such as the UN Security Council and NATO are to become more powerful and effective actors in international politics. Further, Morgan provides a conceptual linkage between the Cold War and post-Cold War systems in his discussion of “general deterrence.” Noting that the bulk of deterrence theory has been dedicated to understanding the crisis dynamics of “immediate deterrence” relationships, Morgan states that such a focus is odd given that preparing for more ambiguous, hypothetical challenges constitutes the primary concern for states most of the time. This chapter, while certainly not the last word on the subject (as Morgan readily admits), will provide the much-needed conceptual groundwork for future study. This is an important book and should be read by those interested in the state of deterrence theory. Morgan provides a number of significant challenges and correctives to an urgent field of study.
—Spencer D. Bakich


Literary Studies

Discourses of Empire: Counter-Epic Literature in Early Modern Spain, by Barbara Simerka.Penn State, August 2003. $39.95
One can understand early modern Spain as the setting of a dispute between a dominant, militaristic viewpoint and an emergent, antimilitaristic one. Simerka views literary production of this period from a materialist perspective in which counter-epic literature arises to challenge the hegemonic martial beliefs. She addresses the texts of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Rojas Zorrilla, and others in light of the critical beliefs of Raymond Williams. Each chapter approaches the counter-epic ideology in a specific genre by different means. Chapter three analyzes the dramatic figures of the indiano and villano and the challenges they posed to Spanish society of the time. Chapters four and five focus on antimilitaristic messages in history plays. Chapter six examines the burlesque epic and the role of satire. Simerka makes extensive use of literary and cultural theories in her discussions and intends to delineate the critical issues at hand. Although Discourses of Empire could be understandable to any serious student of literature, it holds the most interest for those who study early modern Spain and ideological discourses.
—Daniel E. Hartnett

The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles, by Michael Wood. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 2003. $23
This engaging and wide-ranging reflection on knowing the future deserves praise. We would expect nothing less than a distinguished accomplishment from Wood, professor of English literature at Princeton University and author of a riveting book on the cinematic masterpiece Belle de Jour. Anthropology, philosophy, religion, classical mythology, English literature: various disciplines enter and exit the stage on which Wood orchestrates a thoroughly interesting analysis of how we interpret oracles and why. The chapter on medicine and probability deserves special praise, enlarging as it does Wood’s field of vision to bioethics and mathematics. All that’s really missing from this book on the future is one of the stars in the author’s past: Catherine Deneuve, who catapulted to international fame in Belle de Jour and found her most insightful interpreter in Wood.
—John Portmann

Jarrell, Bishop, Lowell & Co.: Middle Generation Poets in Context, ed. Suzanne Ferguson. Tennessee, July 2003. $38
There are, one might say, two kinds of essays written about poetry: those written by poets and critics as a creative exploration of a beloved or otherwise compelling subject, and those written as a professional task toward getting published. Most lay readers of critical works, myself included, prefer the former, and happily this book has a pleasant mix of such essays. The inclusion of the latter, scholarly sort of essay is hardly to be lamented: there is a wealth of writing on poetry being published these days, and room enough for everyone. The casual reader will now, I think, devour this book cover to cover.
The impetus for the book came from a conference on Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Lowell, with interest in “the eclipse” of Jarrell’s reputation and the friendship and working relationship between the three poets. Jeredith Merrin’s essay on Bishop and Jarrell, stressing their similarities while exploring their friendship, is particularly delightful reading and just the sort of essay fans of Bishop’s work (currently the most widely read of the three poets, certainly) would find illuminating and fascinating, sending them to Jarrell’s poetry anew.
—Peter Walpole

A Natural History of the Romance Novel, by Pamela Regis. University of Pennsylvania Press, June 2003. $24.95
Since critical books about romance novels are almost as rare as romance novels are common, one would hope to find such a book to issue a strong clarion call for attention and respect. This seems to be Pamela Regis’s agenda, but the call becomes so attenuated by the end that it loses the vigor that it should have. Regis points out that although romance novels account for more than half the paperback books published in the United States each year, they have not received the critical attention given to the best examples of other genres of popular fiction. The New York Times includes romance novels on its best-seller lists but never includes them in the New York Times Book Review. Intellectuals scorn romances perhaps because they are written and read overwhelmingly by women, but more because they are “profoundly bourgeois.” Though romances are sentimental comedies (in the classical sense), Regis contends that their bourgeois themes have helped women throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries toward personal, financial, and even romantic independence. Unfortunately, the boldness of this declaration is dissipated in the body of the book, where Regis, obviously out of love for the genre, buries her main argument under a crush of information. She has a great many interesting points to make, but the ground she tries to cover is far too great for two hundred pages, leaving her primary apologetics sadly feeble.
—Paul Gaffney

Privacy: Concealing the Eighteenth-Century Self, by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Chicago, June 2003. $36
Spacks, who has written some of the most influential studies of the English eighteenth century (The Female Imagination; Imagining a Self: Autobiography and Novel in Eighteenth-Century England; Desire and Truth: Functions of Plot in Eighteenth-Century Novels; Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind; Gossip), now turns her attention to another epoch-making change that took place in the eighteenth century — the concept of privacy. We treasure and defend our privacy today, but it was not always looked on as a characteristic to be guarded. In fact, privacy was often suspect and seen as a threat to the public order. Spack’s immense erudition and elegant writing style combine to create a book both profound and readable. She looks into the concept of the private-private conversation, private reading behaviors (women reading in private!), the propriety of privacy, the power of etiquette, the erotic undertones of private behavior, the hypocrisy of privacy, and much more—all the while connecting the “old” views with the meaning of privacy in our society. Much of her evidence is gleaned from eighteenth-century British novels because “[t]he developing novel of the eighteenth century helped to consolidate as well as to explore the notion of an inner life” (227). This rich and detailed study breaks new ground and invites us to contemplate the origins of one of today’s most cherished values.
—David T. Gies

The Twentieth-Century Spanish American Novel, by Raymond Leslie Williams. Texas, June 2003. $40
The search for “modernity” is, according to Williams, the driving force behind each movement associated with the Spanish American novel of the twentieth century. In this five-part book, Williams examines the various forms this quest took with each generation of novelists. He begins each section with a critical overview of the time period, followed by a detailed study of some of the major works, and ending with a “rereading” section in which he redefines the period and discusses significant works that have heretofore been pushed aside by mainstream criticism due to their inability to fit the preestablished categories associated with the canon. For comparison purposes, Williams further supplements his study with discussions of Brazilian, Caribbean, and U.S. Chicano literary movements. The final result is a truly comprehensive overview of the Spanish American novel from 1900 to 1999.
—Iana Konstantinova

As of This Writing: The Essential Essay, 1968-2002, by Clive James. Norton, June 2003. $35
Buried in this collection of essays lies the germ of what has made Clive James something of an intellectual celebrity in Britain. Philip Larkin, Martin Amis, Raymond Chandler, Primo Levi, and George Orwell figure into his assessment of ranking of literary talent; each gets an essay of his own. Perhaps the most entertaining piece in the volume is “Bertrand Russell Struggles After Heaven.” After James proposed in jest that a Hollywood movie be made about the friendship between the philosopher/cad Bertrand Russell and his brilliant, dashing, and closeted pupil Ludwig Wittgenstein, a Hollywood producer contacted James and explored the movie possibility in earnest. Equally amusing is the excerpt from Russell’s writings in which he comments on the masturbatory urges that make him “tremble with excitement.” A good read, on the whole.
—John Portmann

Literature after Feminism, by Rita Felski. Chicago, June 2003. $42 cloth, $18 paper
Are feminists really bitter and resentful members of the thought police who distrust passionate engagement in literature? Rita Felski expresses a resounding “no” to such stereotypical views of feminism in this nuanced, clearly written volume. Focusing on the implications of feminism for discussions of readers, authors, plots, and literary value, Felski catalogs the manifold ways feminist literary criticism has expanded the field of literary studies. Literature after Feminism is suitable for both professional literary critics and those interested in literature; it tackles large questions and movements within feminism while relying on a diverse set of examples that range from Madame Bovary to lesbian picaresque fiction. Always resisting dogmatic conceptions of feminism that seek to reduce the complex negotiations between readers, writers, and critics, Felski’s vision of feminism is inclusive and open-ended. At the same time, Felski argues fiercely for the importance of feminist criticism as well as for its ability to adjust to changing climates, tastes, and political movements inside and outside the academy.


Fiction

[Editor’s Pick]
The Stories of Richard Bausch. HarperCollins, November 2003. $29.95
Richard Bausch may be the finest short story writer in English. That’s not the sort of thing one says lightly—especially considering the competition: Robert Olen Butler, Charles Baxter, Annie Proulx, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, Stuart Dybek, to name just a few. So many of the best writers of Bausch’s generation, however, have abandoned the short story for the more lucrative novel form. Though Bausch has certainly written his fair share of novels, it has always been the story form where he shines most brightly—and the result, as can be seen in The Stories of Richard Bausch, is an unparalleled body of work. Stories like “Aren’t You Happy for Me?” “High-Heeled Shoe,” “What Feels Like the World,” “The Man Who Knew Belle Starr,” and “Nobody in Hollywood” are as good as anything written in the last thirty years—richly drawn characters, compelling situations, dead-on dialogue. Bausch has a kind of unbounded compassion for ne’er-do-wells and ordinary Joes, a fascination with how people respond to unexpected obstacles. This requires more than good writing; it takes wisdom. This is a mammoth collection—at more than 650 pages—but every word is in place, and every story earns its own diamond-hard truths. This is the most thoroughly satisfying, witty, insightful, and heartbreaking collection of stories to appear since Raymond Carver’s best stories were gathered into Where I’m Calling From in 1988. With any luck, Richard Bausch’s genius will be recognized now as heir and equal to Carver’s.

Curled in the Bed of Love
, by Catherine Brady. Georgia, September 2003. $24.95
This collection of stories won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction last year. It’s easy to see why. Catherine Brady is an expert at creating fascinating characters and placing them in a myriad of interesting situations. Each of the eleven stories is a delight, yet each story is remarkably different from the others. Brady’s range is impressive. She portrays a variety of characters—a middle-class alcoholic mom, a grieving young man on a road trip, the owner of a greenhouse involved in an odd triangle, a hairdresser who has betrayed her cousin. Then, she masterfully gives an intimate and realistic view of their lives. Catherine Brady also tells her stories well. Brady comes up with great first sentences, instantly capturing a reader’s attention. Consider this one: “Wonder is not what Bill should feel after a truck smashes into his car at forty miles an hour, but he does.” This one is also a gem: “Three days after Daniel left Carrie, a tree came down against the house in a terrible rainstorm, crushing the front stairs and puncturing the roof.” Brady ends her pieces well, leaving the reader satisfied, without wrapping up all the loose ends too tightly. A lot of short fiction written today is angst-filled and dreary. However, without being saccharine, Brady manages to infuse hope into many of her stories.
—Deborah M. Prum

The Little Women, by Katharine Weber. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, September 2003. $23
Three sisters, named Meg, Joanna, and Amy, are so outraged by their father’s tepid response to their mother’s infidelity, they leave home in protest. One was about to leave anyway to start her junior year at Yale. The other two join her to live at her apartment in New Haven. The original Little Women recounted the overall harmony of the March sisters as they met the challenges presented by the Civil War. Weber’s book is a record of the civil war between the Green sisters and their parents and to some extent between the sisters themselves. The structure of the book is fascinating. It is written as an autobiographical novel from Joanna’s point of view. Each chapter is followed by a series of comments by the other sisters and rebuttals to those comments by the author, Joanna. For the most part, the structure works: We hear both Meg’s and Amy’s views and parts of the plot are more completely fleshed out. However, there are times when the notes seem too cute and self-indulgent. Even though the topic can be grim, the tone of Weber’s novel is light. She includes plenty of sardonic humor on the pages. Prior to their mother’s offense, the Green girls viewed their family as just about perfect. As the book unfolds, the sisters discover that no family, including their own, is perfect.
—Deborah M. Prum

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones. Amistad, August 2003. $24.95
This novel of antebellum Virginia makes a convincing case for fiction as a true vehicle for history or, better, the truth about the past. Set on the small plantation owned by Henry Townsend, a slaveholding black freeman in the 1850s, The Known World attains the bewildering density and inexplicability of life as lived. Its long list of characters encompasses all sorts of backgrounds and colors and persuasions—not a soul is there for exemplary purposes or narrative convenience, not a character drawn simple or denied a unique soul. The doomed slave economy of the Old Dominion is not so much an idea whose time has come as a seismic fault that undermines the stability of the red dirt that supports everyone, master, minion and slave, and will swallow even the political existence of Manchester County. Strong pity, but no regrets. It’s a testimony to Jones’ imaginative powers that the scholarship (actual or invented) which informs his narrative sounds hollow when cited in the flow of events. From the least creature in God’s sight to the highest in their own, Jones’ characters elude easy judgment even as they engage us in the real question: how do we know what we think we know? The “Known World” of the title refers to a 16th-century woodcut map that the county sheriff, a Bible-reading servant of the law, hung on his office wall.
—Laurance Wieder

Fabulous Small Jews: Stories, by Joseph Epstein. Houghton Mifflin, July 2003. $24.95
Best known for his personal essays and his scandalously terminated editorship of The American Scholar, Joseph Epstein is also a classic short story writer who nonetheless takes interesting chances. Specializing in the life crises of aging middle-class Chicagoans, most of them male and all of them Jewish, he seems to challenge Saul Bellow. Epstein’s fictions, however, are more psychological, more caught up in socioeconomic particulars, more closural, and more cyclical than Bellow’s; at the same time they are less layered, textured, and tortuous. Perhaps Epstein is to Bellow what Edith Wharton is to Henry James, and no serious reader would willingly choose between them. Implicated in that comparison are Epstein’s gentle wit, his openness to the tides and ripples of mediated feeling, and his interest in distinction—won, lost, or simply unsought because of quirks and circumstances. Epstein also has a mischievous penchant for ironical rewriting. Witness, among others, “The Master’s Ring,” a poker-faced rendition of The Aspern Papers, with Henry James himself as the unnamed figure behind the title character, a lapsed Jewish critic. Issued simultaneously with the paperback of Epstein’s Snobbery: The American Version, this collection could easily be eclipsed by the more relevant and readerly volume of nonfiction. That would be a misfortune, of course, for each of these books richly illuminates the other.
—David Lee Rubin

Long for This World, by Michael Byers. Houghton Mifflin, June 2003. $24
Long for This World looks like a big social novel. It is a story of medical ethics and economic speculation, of affluence and America’s search for eternal youth. The novel, Byers’s first, is set in late 1990s Seattle, where everyone is obsessed with making money, even unassuming medical researcher Henry Moss. While his children navigate adolescent tribulations and his wife Ilse buys a Vespa (i.e., stumbles through a midlife crisis), Henry discovers a rare genetic mutation that might extend life indefinitely. This discovery triggers an avalanche of potential plots and subplots: Will the gene make the Mosses rich? Will it save Henry’s beloved patient (a brainy thirteen-year-old who insists “the market’s about to tank”)? Will Henry’s daughter fall for the spiteful boy in whom the mutation resides? The novel manages to answer all of these questions, but somehow, nothing much seems to happen. The plot feels like a parade of unfortunate events that never quite amount to tragedy or a clear social indictment; people die, are mourned or obsessed over, but the tone seldom varies from compassionate, unhurried seriousness. The characters—especially the teenagers and the Moss family’s satirized SUV-crazy milieu—are well drawn, but in the broad view, Long for This World remains a loving family portrait dressed in the wolf suit of cultural commentary.
—Nicholas Hengen

The Book Against God, by James Wood. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 2003. $24
Like the narrator of his first novel, who has shrugged off the task at hand—his dissertation—in order to complete a monumental screed, The Book Against God, literary critic James Wood has cast off his critical robes in order to write a novel, The Book Against God. But it is perhaps there that the similarities end. Tom Bunting is a burned-out graduate student, while Wood is a public figure in his own right. And his novel has been eagerly awaited, perhaps mostly by those at the wrong end of Wood’s critical pen. It is a familiar tale of filial revolt, and one might compare it to Frantzen’s The Corrections. But in its deployment of lies and ecstasy, of father-son relationships, of disillusionment and the divine, Wood’s novel falls more precisely under the long shadow of Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. A memoir, Gosse’s work is a compelling portrait of generational drift set within a rapidly receding religious landscape. The interest in Wood’s work, however, remains wholly intellectual. And it is likely to remain a curio simply because of his own critical barbs. There is nothing likeable about these thinly drawn characters. And while unsympathetic characters are a valid artistic strategy, they fail here to maintain the interest of this reader. I never felt compelled to turn the pages. I never felt empathy or desire. Events and outcomes just did not matter. This is not to say The Book Against God fails. It is yeoman-like work full of intellectual twists and often delightful prose. But does it carry the weight of Wood’s own critical standards? I’m not convinced it does.
—Jason Goldsmith


Poetry

[Editor’s Pick]
Hollow Log Lounge, by R. T. Smith. Illinois, September 2003, $29.95 cloth, $14.95 paper
The blurbs on this book draw parallels to Edwin Arlington Robinson and Edgar Lee Masters, but both of those poets risked parody with their aw-shucks sentimentality for small-town life and lexicon. The voices in Smith’s poems (all set in an Opelika, Alabama, dive named for its “den dark and a stuffed / fox snarling over the bar”) are too wise for that kind of easy nostalgia—and too steeped in the language of place to ever be dreamed up by an outsider. On Bluegrass Night a “Goshen oldster” steps out to dance: “Pivot and crossover, he bucks / the wing, his body stiff / but feet in time with ‘Sugar / Hill,’ as his friends step back / to let him shine.” Smith never allows this local language to lapse into what one of his characters labels “twang chic.” Even college professors are eager “to sound authentic, to drop the terminal / r and double the syllables” to achieve “hick bliss tinged with mimosa scent / and pig lots, Tuberose, greens. Say it’s bumpkin // vogue or red clay homegrown slang… .” Of course, it’s more than just that. These finely imagined, well-crafted poems have a musician’s ear for timing and syncopation. This collection belongs alongside such regional classics as David Lee’s The Porcine Canticles, William Kloekforn’s ludi jr, and James Whitehead’s Local Men—all collections that serve to remind us that poetry began (and survives) as an oral form. One of Smith’s particularly striking voices, Johnny Smooth, a Zydeco musician who specializes in washboard percussion, recalls, “First time I saw a chanky-chank man / strum a washboard with his thimbles, I was / stunned to discover how labor might make music.” The same could be said of Smith’s poems.

Eyeshot, by Heather McHugh. Wesleyan, October 2003. $20
Heather McHugh’s lasting effect on the American language may be her ability to transmute its most leaden phrases into gold through an ingenious, linguistically attuned alchemy. In her latest poetry collection, Eyeshot, utterings so near cliche as “only good can come” or “do not make a scene” become poignant, seriocomic punchlines when applied to, say, a hanged criminal’s reflex erection or the kaleidoscopic spectacle of a world glimpsed through tears. “Sight makes noise,” the poet decides. “It sponsors far / too much detail.” The jarring selection of details that enter through our eyes and these poems seem to envy the living blind and the closed-lidded dead their freedom from an illusory visual world. Her vertiginous free verse is accented at times by taut tetrameters, Sapphic stanzas, and translations of French and Chinese poems. In “The Looker,” the poet imagines the prospect of her own cadaver’s unblinking stare with tongue-in-cheek narcissism (“I was a looker at last”) and pithy whisperings worthy of Yeats’s gravestone (“Don’t fear to look. Don’t look / to stay”). This is horseplay one should not pass by.
—Kevin McFadden

Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 2003. $45
Without a doubt, a collected edition of poems from Robert Lowell would be a welcome addition to any bookshelf. And this one is. But beyond its very comprehensiveness, Bidart and Gewanter’s latest proves particularly appealing to aficionados of poetry and poetics. For ironically, this monolithic text, focusing as it does on an individual writer, debunks the Romantic myth of creative genius, highlighting poetry as a process of revision, a course of rewrites and returns. Bidart’s excellent introduction exposes, by Lowell’s example, the work of poetry. Tracing here the changes Lowell made to “Walking Early Sunday Morning,” Bidart suggests the complicated nature of the aesthetic object. The poem exists in two distinct forms, and Lowell himself was unwilling to privilege either. “But they both exist,” he said. In this collected edition, the editors give back voice to earlier published versions of poems in an abundant appendix and the copious endnotes. One wishes they might have done more, but, as Bidart writes, this is no “variorum, which tends to leave every variant at the same level of importance.” Their aesthetic judgments are deliberate and justifiable, bringing Lowell’s work back to life.
—Jason Goldsmith

Consolation Miracle, by Chad Davidson. Southern Illinois, November 2003. $12.95
Chad Davidson’s first book of poems begins with “A”: “Pin it to an adulterer’s blouse. Shout it as you careen into the rocks … Allah, Adam, Ariel… .” The only A-association not invoked is association itself, and witty associative turns are the abiding architecture of these poems. In odes celebrating “Starfish,” “Mushrooms,” “The Yawn,” “The Match,” Davidson moves on subtle lines that at times amuse but at times downright astonish. In “A Hand,” for example, a litany of hand imagery gives way to this rendering of applause: “which but the most fearful wouldn’t rise / up before the encore to beat his twin?” Fratricidal urges suddenly at our fingertips … hardly a page in the book is without these dark marvels. That Rome was founded by a similar act is not lost on this poet, whose sense of the growth and decline of the Roman Empire emerges often (notably in “Cleopatra’s Bra” and “All the Ashtrays in Rome”). His formal forays into American decadence have shades of the late-empire Roman poet Ausonius, whose literary fault might have been mapping out a bit too much of territory already well charted. Davidson’s poem “Space,” for example, is a literary lament of unexamined expansion and waste in a sequence of loosely pentameter tercets that remind one of Ammons’s sprawling couplets in Garbage. But this first book is lively, ingeniously consoling, and makes humorous leaps out of luminous heaps. Like this one: “you know any generation / by the length of its song and movie titles.”
—Kevin McFadden


General Nonfiction

Il Gigante, by Anton Gill. St. Martin’s Press, July 2003. $24.95
Michelangelo’s creation of his sculpture “David” (Il Gigante of the title) forms the focus of this book, which, although it covers only the years 1492 to 1504, provides readers with a wide-ranging sense of Michelangelo’s complicated world. Every artist is a part of his times, and Michelangelo’s was an age of great discoveries, political turbulence, and intense rivalries among artists, families, cities, countries, rulers, armies, and the Church. Mr. Gill asserts that politics and propaganda shaped Renaissance art more than they do today. “Most people looking at a work of art then would see its public message, rather than any personal and intimate interpretation with which the artist had invested it.” By this interpretation, the statue of David emerges not only as a brilliant, unsurpassed work of sculpture, but also as a practical answer to Florence’s political predicament and as the symbol of her independence. This fine book will interest both the expert and the non-specialist.
—Joan B. Fry

Stolen Figs, by Mark Rotella. North Point, July 2003. $25
This combined cultural, spiritual, historical, gustatory, and travel adventure offers an engaging account of life and the towns in Italy’s Calabria, the rugged, out-of-the-way toe of Italy’s boot. Unlike fashionable Tuscany or Emilia Romagna, Calabria is the poor, unglamorous stepsister, the victim of wars, pillaging, drought, and earthquakes. This was home to Mr. Rotella’s grandparents before they emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. Exploring and trying to learn about his ancestral land, Rotella conveys its wildness and captures the Calabrisi character. These resilient people hang on to their traditions and maintain their dialect. The Calabrisi are “testa dura” (hardheaded). Their sense of time follows the two-year cycle of olive harvests. Food equals hospitality, and life centers on meals of home-grown and hand-made foods and wines. Calabria’s true beauty lies beneath the superficial. Just as Mark Rotella has, any reader will fall in love with her.
—Joan B. Fry

The Immortal Count: The Life and Films of Bela Lugosi, by Arthur Lennig. Kentucky, June 2003. $39.95
This book is an odd coupling of fanzine and scholarship. Star-struck since childhood by Lugosi as Dracula (and armed with photos to prove a zero degree of separation), Lennig is also professor emeritus of film studies at SUNY Albany. Predictably, the meticulous researcher is ever at war with the enthusiast, and the struggle doesn’t end in a draw. If Lugosi’s failings and failures—from incredibly bad career moves to major addictions—are freshly and fully documented, they are more than offset by what the movie public most values: ample proof of charm, generosity, physical allure, and (lest we forget) talent. Ostensibly balanced, yes; but also underanalyzed. Lennig seldom probes far below the surface, and finally, one fears, he connects too few of his own dots. The resulting goulash of the sublime and the grotesque becomes its own reason for being and—for some, perhaps—its own reward. Stricter editing might have purged the manuscript of other defects, some petty, others not. Lennig is overtly and repeatedly mean-spirited toward Lugosi’s alienated son and unremitting in his all but ad hominem attacks on fellow biographer Robert Cremer. Similarly, the author never passes up an opportunity to disparage Boris Karloff’s acting and character or to deride his lisp. Lennig also seems unduly preoccupied by the controversy over Lugosi’s command of English during the ’20s, even after making an effective case for it very early in the narrative. By a kind of poetic justice, Lennig himself proves uneasy with matters linguistic (for example: he translates tabula rasa as “an unwritten entity” and asserts that “da acchent und da hand gestchas” were part of the “classic Jewish routine” on film). Lennig’s stellar collection of anecdotes, photos, and interviews deserves a far more critical and lapidary synthesis.

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