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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1981

ISSUE:  Autumn 1981

In some respects Arno J. Mayer fulfills the function in this country that A.J.P. Taylor does in Great Britain: he is (as someone once said of Taylor) the Peck’s Bad Boy of historiography. He delights in puncturing the balloon of academic pomposity. In this new work he argues that, far from dying in the 1789—1815 upheaval, the ancien régime of feudal privilege and aristocratic arrogance lasted until 1945. This is a startling departure, one sure to raise a ruckus; and that is just what Professor Mayer wanted and what he does so well.

The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal, by Virginius Dabney. Dodd, Mead $8.95

The “rebuttal” is to the allegation that Thomas Jefferson kept a mulatto slave mistress by whom he had five children. Although Jefferson and his family denied the accusation, and students of his life have believed it to be untrue, in recent years popular writers have misled much of the general public into thinking that mere rumors and speculations were established fact. Virginius Dabney, a distinguished journalist and historian, wrote this book to publicize the evidence that the children were not Jefferson’s. Mr. Dabney presents a strong case for the defense.

The Mapmaker, by John Noble Wilford. Knopf$20

Most of us deal with maps only in planning a vacation, and few are those who realize just how central the cartographer has been in human history, how important to the advance of civilization and knowledge. Even Columbus had a map, or what passed for one; lacking one he would never have set off on his journey. The astronauts of today have their own computer-drawn maps, but those computers are of course programmed by the modern counterparts of Eratosthenes, the first man to gauge the earth’s circumference, and of Ptolemy. In this fascinating account of the cartographer’s art and science we learn much about, quite literally, where we came from.

Explaining America: The Federalist, by Carry Wills. Doubleday $14. 95

Wills strikes again. Inventing America (1978) explored Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence as a study in Scottish common-sense communitarianism rather than Lockean individualism. Critics pointed out that Jefferson came to most of his Scottish sources long after writing that document. Now Wills writes that Madison and Hamilton’s Federalist Papers reveal more Scottish “influences,” that a proper understanding of The Federalist requires close reading of its “sources” in David Hume’s history of England and various treatises on man, society, and government. Number 10, Wills correctly argues (acknowledging his debt to the late Douglass Adair), rather than a proto-modern essay on interest bloc checks and balances, reveals an 18th-century, Scottish common-sense expectation that the new federal system of representation would distill a disinterested leadership cadre at the highest level of government. On the whole, however, Wills betrays a weak grounding in the historical circumstances of the ratification struggle and founders on the problem of assessing intellectual influence in history. It is interesting to watch this self-taught historian work; he nonetheless illustrates Pope’s adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Man Over Money”: The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism, by Bruce Palmer. North Carolina $19.50

Populism continues to attract—and repulse—those who reflect on America’s past. Many who explore this failed social and political movement of the 1890’s see Populism as the last truly democratic moment in our nation’s history; others see only a misled group of ill-informed farmers trying to foist outdated values on a rising industrial power. Bruce Palmer’s book strikes a new and unique balance between these two views. As the title suggests, Palmer believes the Populists offered humane values and policies which stood in sharp contrast to those of a depersonalized industrial capitalism. To Palmer, the Populists’ only failing was that they did not go far enough in their opposition but remained bound by the assumptions of their culture, especially racism and an unquestioned acceptance of private property and the profit motive. “Man Over Money” is a welcome book; it makes the often misunderstood Populists more comprehensible by making them more complex.

The Nazi Question: An Essay on the Interpretations of National Socialism (1922—1975), by Pierre Aycoberry. Pantheon $6.95

Yes, yet another book on Hitler and his people . . .but Heaven help us if we ever cease trying to understand. Professor Aycoberry of the University of Paris at Nanterre tries to analyze both the origins of Nazism and our postwar interpretations of it. There is no one “answer,” unless one be content with the observation that human-kind is savage and evil (and is there anyone to argue the contrary?), and those seeking a definitive statement will not find it here. Nevertheless, this is a very useful and provocative inquiry, and it is good to have it available in English.

An Imperfect Union; Slavery, Federalism and Comity, by Paul Finkelman. North Carolina $22 cloth, $12 paper

The revival of American legal history in recent years has generated scores of new studies on the problem of slavery in early American law. Paul Finkelman’s An Imperfect Union is among the very best of them. The book focuses on how the courts handled the choice-of-law issues that emerged when traveling Southerners took their slaves into free states. Finkelman describes the transition from comity to rage in the state courts, links changing judicial predispositions with changing patterns of thought in both sections, and advances some striking (but not entirely persuasive) “counterfactual” theories about the Supreme Court and the nationalization of slavery in an America without the secession crisis. It is an impressive work that no historian of slavery, antebellum politics, or American law can afford to miss.

Pleasure and Privilege, by Oliver Bernier. Doubleday $14.95

Bernier writes of life in France, Naples, and America between 1770 and 1790. France gets the lion’s share of attention; the treatment of life in America is considerably shorter, and that of life in Naples almost gratuitous. The section dealing with France discusses topics such as life and manners of the court, the arts, education, and the salons. Bernier gives us a most enjoyable book, though one whose treatment of individual topics is always sketchy and one which cannot be considered to make a significant scholarly contribution to the study of the 20-year period. For those whose interests in the period are more those of a dilettante than of a scholar, however, Pleasure and Privilege is likely to be profitable (though even the dilettante is likely to find the book at places too sketchy).

A History of Europe, by John Bowle. Chicago $25

In an age of specialists, the synthesizer is a disappearing breed. Thus it is always a pleasure to welcome an intelligent work of synthesis in European history, the more so when the work is so gracefully written. Mr. Bowle, an Englishman with wide experience on the Continent and in America, has achieved a satisfying blend of political, economic, and social history in what is surely the most original survey of European history to appear in many years.

LIVES & LETTERSSonya: The of Countess Tolstoy, by Anne Edwards. Simon & Schuster $15. 95

Sonya Andreyevna Behrs (1844—1919) and Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828—1910) were married in 1862 and lived together in stormy and passionate matrimony for 48 years. For the first 25 years Sonya lived in practically non-stop motherhood: there were 13 children, eight of whom lived to maturity. The Tolstoys were all voluminous and opinionated writers of diaries, notebooks, and letters. Ms. Edwards has made extensive use of these. They are the major props of this partisan biography, which, while showing Sonya’s many faults and weaknesses, also stresses her unflagging devotion to and untiring labors for an increasingly difficult and disagreeable man of genius. This is a substantial and fascinating book, but it is marred by its style, which is gushy, mediocre, and sentimental. Perhaps some of these qualities were caught from her subject; perhaps they can be found too in her other biographies, Judy Garland and Vivien Leigh.

Matthew Josephson: Bourgeois Bohemian, by David E. Shi. Yale $19.95

Josephson’s career typifies the intellectual odyssey of many 20th-century men of letters. Born to prosperous immigrant parents and nurtured by Columbia and Greenwich Village, Josephson joined the “Lost Generation” in Paris during the heyday of Dadaism and Surrealism. Shi demonstrates in this competent biography that Josephson, like many of his contemporaries, later abandoned aesthetic resignation for political action, returning to the United States in the thirties. Influenced by Charles Beard, his Connecticut neighbor, Josephson produced his most enduring work—The Robber Barons, a dramatic portrayal of high capitalist industry and finance. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Josephson never retreated into conservatism during the Great Fear of the fifties. Rather, as Shi well argues, he remained committed to artistic freedom, economic justice, and civil liberties until his death in 1978.

Borodin: Stalin’s Man in China, by Dan N. Jacobs. Harvard $25

Michael Gruzenberg, better known to students of Russian and Chinese history as Borodin, fought in the revolution of 1905, emigrated to Chicago and worked there as a teacher until 1918, then went back to Moscow to serve the Bolsheviks. The party sent him to China. He met and worked with Sun, Chiang Kai-shek, Chou En-lai, and other leaders present and future. He was largely responsible for the growth of the Communist movement, and he bears his share of the blame for the Shanghai Massacre of 1927 which wiped out the party and cast a shadow over Sino-Soviet relations that still exists. He died in one of Stalin’s concentration camps.

Thomas Jefferson and His Unknown Brother, edited by Bernard Mayo and James A. Bear, Jr. Virginia $7. 95 cloth, $3. 95 paper

In 1942 the late Bernard Mayo edited and introduced a collection of the correspondence of Thomas Jefferson and his Unknown Brother Randolph. This new book is based upon the earlier one but includes additional letters and fuller annotation. The introduction is somewhat more accurate, though less poetic. Mayo described Randolph as “an earth-bound farmer.” James Bear calls him “an unenlightened and simple dirt farmer,” and strikes his name from Mayo’s original title. Thomas emerges as an affectionate and solicitous elder brother.

Grant: A Biography, by William S. McFeely. Norton $19. 95

How could this absolutely ordinary man have been such an outstanding military commander and, Janus-like, a thoroughly inept and corrupt politician? Bill McFeely’s thoughtful and highly readable treatment of Grant does not attempt to resolve this paradox. Rather McFeely’s Grant views the Ohioan in the light of the recent re-interpretation of the Reconstruction era, focusing on black problems and Grant’s role in the country’s reconciliation. Highly recommended.

For Freedom’s Battle”: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol.11, edited by Leslie Marchand. Harvard $15

The final volume of superbly edited letters ends with the death “between the double azure of the waves and skies” of the most interesting literary personality of the 19th century. Byron’s serious but lively correspondence concerns his attempt to reconcile the internal dissensions of the Greek factions, evade a Turkish blockade, control his private army of Albanian brigands, assault the fortress of Lepanto, arrange for officers, arms, and money to be sent from England—and deal with shipwrecks, earthquakes, epilepsy, fever, and speculation. The generosity, loyalty, and courage of the English partisan transformed the philhellenic movement from obscurity and chaos into the great romantic crusade of the post-Napoleonic era.

The Chancellor’s Spy, by Wilhelm J. C.E. Stieber. Translated by Jan van Heurck. Grove $17.50

Wilhelm Stieber organized and ran a spy service for Otto von Bismarck during the mid-19th century. His memoirs were not published during his lifetime because of their candid nature, including descriptions of Bismarck’s political maneuverings. Stieber’s clever espionage techniques were used to gather information during two wars, as well as to protect his monarch, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, from assassination attempts. This book throws light on the history of espionage and on the life of one very talented spy.

Edward Douglass White: Defender of the Conservative Faith, by Robert B. Highsaw. Louisiana $20

The legal thought of Louisiana jurist Edward White, associate justice of the United States Supreme Court (1894—1910) and chief justice of the United States (1910—21) is the subject of this book. It supplies some new biographical detail. It also effectively arranges and summarizes White’s more important opinions in constitutional and antitrust law. But it sheds little or new light on the relationship between law and conservatism in the Progressive Era. Remarkably, the book might have been published 20 years ago. The bibliography lists only two books published since 1960; Felix Frankfurter was the author of the most recent law review article cited.

Simone de Beauvoir, by Carol Ascher. Beacon Press $15

It frequently happens that the biography tells more about the biographer than about the subject, and so it is with this work. If Carol Ascher had the stature in the women’s movement of a Steinem or a Friedan or a Greer, we could perhaps excuse her, but she lacks that stature, and her book is an embarrassment. There is far too much of the “I” syndrome here—and it is the author who is speaking, not de Beauvoir. This work fails on all counts; the literary judgments are insipid, the discussion of philosophy almost incoherent, and as for French intellectual politics, well, suffice it to say that they elude Ms. Ascher’s grasp.

Letters from Colette, edited by Robert Philips. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $12. 95

The world was never able to break Colette’s spirit whatever the emotional or physical difficulty with which she might be afflicted at any particular time. This spirit, part imagination, part anthropomorphism, and part a very special and very personal light touch, is deliciously evident in each of the letters included in this collection. Is it too much to suggest that letters have rarely been so pleasurable or so self-revealing?

William Ellery Channing, by Andrew Delbanco. Harvard $15

This is an especially lucid and well-written biographical essay on an important, lately neglected, thinker in American religious history and literary culture. Delbanco observes Channing’s development as the leading figure in the crisis Boston Unitarianism faced in separating from Congregational Puritanism. By tracing the growth of Channing’s thought, the author gives a broader view of the relation between religious and political issues. His readings are sympathetic, not indulgent. While one wishes that Delbanco had been more detailed about the Baltimore sermon, he treats the minister’s role in the antislavery movement judiciously. This is an excellent survey of a man of letters and the cloth facing the challenges in his culture.

The Making of a New Europe: R. W. Seton-Watson and the Last fears of Austria-Hungary, by Hugh and Christopher Seton-Watson. Washington $50

If people learn nothing from history, as seems the case, it follows that they learn nothing from historians. There are times when that is a pity. R.W. Seton-Watson was 40 years ahead of his time in understanding Eastern Europe, and he had the devil’s own task trying to make the movers and shakers in Whitehall realize where Britain’s best interests in that area lay. His track record was pretty good until about 1920. After that, British policy began the long slide that was to end at Munich. The senior Seton-Watson could only look on in horror.

LITERARY STUDIESSaving the Text: Literature/Derrida/ Philosophy, by Geoffrey H. Hartman. Johns Hopkins $12. 95

Geoffrey Hartman, who has made a career of introducing continental philosophy to Anglo-American critical thought, here tries to ease our encounter with one of France’s latest intellectual exports—Jacques Derrida, the antiphilosopher of deconstruction. The result, clearly not intended for the un-initiated, equals the alternating playfulness and impenetrability of its subject. With such chapters as “How to Reap a Page” and “Psychoanalysis: the French Connection,” Hartman frequently suffers from Derridean excess while ostensibly explaining Derrida’s dense text, Glas. This is meta-commentary in extremis: Hartman reading Derrida reading Genêt and Hegel.

Black Time: Fiction of Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, by Bonnie J. Barthold, Yale $17.50

The virtue of this study lies in its attempt to discover some transnational yet communal ground for the discussion of novels that would otherwise appear related by only the superficiality of race. The results are sometimes forced or restrictive, but Professor Barthold’s range and taste are impressive, and much of her commentary is illuminating and provocative. Her book is not really about time at all— she shows little interest in the representation of time or in narrative as such—but rather about certain kinds of character that are developed according to their response to the conflicting conceptions of time in Western and African societies. The chapter on the value and power of female characters is particularly revealing.

William Faulkner: His Life and Work, by David Minter. Johns Hopkins $16. 95

David Minter is careful to say, in his preface to “The Writing of a Life,” that he does not “present this book either as a compilation of new data on Faulkner’s life or as a series of new readings of his novels.” He is trying, he says, “to subordinate critical discussions of Faulkner’s writings to the task of sketching the “mysterious armature” (to borrow Mallarmé’s phrase) that binds Faulkner’s life and art together. My claim to the reader’s attention,” he insists, “is specific then; and it stems from the story I try to tell—of deep reciprocities, of relations and revisions, between Faulkner’s flawed life and his great art.” This uneven yoking of Faulkner’s life and art is not very satisfactory. The prose in which the book is written is even less so: sentimental, turgid, weakly and emotionally speculative, repetitive (it would be hard to count the number of times he makes use of that phrase from Absalom, Absalom!, “old tales and talking”). Another repetition, which is perhaps the major weakness as well as the keynote of the book, is that of “the reciprocities between Faulkner’s great art and his flawed life.” This tandem pairing does not work out well.

To Keep Moving: Essays 1959—1969, by Donald Hall. Hobert & William Smith Colleges Press $5.95

These essays not only chronicle many of the trends, concepts, crises, and surprises of American poetry of a decade ago, but they also obliquely highlight the intellectual development of one of our foremost poets, Donald Hall. Poet, editor, educator, and literary historian, Hall has already shown us how well he can write about matters literary with his recent, marvelous book, Remembering Poets. This volume, an eclectic hodgepodge of essays on various subjects ranging from the uses of free verse to Wordsworth (“that capitalist of the imagination” whose poem “The Daffodils,” according to Hall, is about money) to the value of reading, includes some pieces too brief or glib to be of anything more than documentary interest, but the longer essays, especially “Poems Without Legs” and “Whitman: The Invisible World,” are always engaging. In all of these selections it is obvious that Hall is enjoying himself, that he is someone who loves to discourse, and that he is willing to discourse on any subject. And that is the mark of a natural-born essayist.

Fictive Discourse and the Structures of Literature, by Félix Martínez-Bonati. Cornell $15

This book is the first English translation of the main theoretical sections of La estructura de la obra literaria (1960). There are several deletions from and additions to the original Spanish text. Fictive Discourse presents a dense, highly abstract development of a phenomenological theory of literature. Topics discussed include the logical properties of narrative sentences, the structure of linguistic signification, and language and literature. The views of Bühler, Ingarden, and Jakobson, among others, are treated. This is a rewarding, though difficult, book which contains many insights.

Coleridge on the Language of Verse, by Emerson R. Marks. Princeton $9.50

A central issue in Coleridge’s thought is why words in metrical form take on special significance or meaning. Marks provides a very illuminating discussion of this, and also, he demonstrates how this aspect of Coleridge’s thought, in many ways, anticipates structuralism, although, as the author observes, one would hardly imagine that the structuralist had even read Coleridge! The book also relates this poet to other important figures such as Philip Wheelwright and Paul Ricoeur. This essay is highly suggestive.

Culture and Conduct in the Novels of Henry James, by Alwyn Berland. Cambridge $39.95

This study systematically presents James’s view of civilization as it is reflected in his novels. The author explains how much culture and conduct matter to James and surprisingly has some new things to say about the subject. Berland finds his proof in some of the novels’ (inevitably the middle ones, Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors) subtlest suggestions and broadest evidence. While Borland’s underlying sense of James’s debt to Matthew Arnold is labored, the critic makes a generally competent effort to place James among his intellectual contemporaries. When he argues that the novelist’s sense of civilization leads to formal innovations, Berland stands on shakier ground. His study does not profit from the best of recent James criticism; for better or worse, there is scarcely a consciousness—or a footnote—to anything written in the last 20 years.

Complete Prose Works of John Milton, Volume VII, edited by Robert W. Ayres. Yale $45

This seventh of the eight volumes of Milton’s prose replaces one issued and withdrawn in 1974. The historical introduction by Austin Woolrych, emphasizing Milton’s “last great burst of pamphleteering,” occupies more than 200 of the volume’s 500 or so pages. Milton’s prose itself is that which came from his hand from August 1659 to April 1660, including his private correspondence of that time. The pamphlets here show Milton, even on the verge of the Restoration, holding fast to his anti-Royalist principles and confirm his position as spokesman for the Commonwealth.

The Realistic Imagination, by George Levine. Chicago $25

This study traces the story of Frankenstein through the tradition of English realism. In Mary Shelley’s Gothic tale Levine discovers a metaphor for the monstrous aspect of the self in its relation to society that illuminates these very familiar novels, from Austen and Scott through Conrad and Lawrence. The realists assigned themselves the uneasy task of trying to find a language that could name the unnameable—the monstrous self—the element of mystery to be domesticated, suppressed but never banished from their works. Levine’s is an erudite reading; a summation of previous work, its strength is also its limitation: while it offers no real theoretical advance, this splendid culmination of preceding interpretations authoritatively reconceives study in the great tradition.

POETRYMatters of the Heart, by W. D. Ehrhart. Adastra Press $2.50

This short book—it consists of only ten poems—underscores the importance of the chapbook and the small press. While the corporate publishers seek the “big” book by the “big” name, Matters of the Heart proves that less can be more. These poems have a weight that is pleasing. Honest language, free form, naked emotion—a sense of social responsibility arising from a personal reality—characterize these lyrics. Presented in a beautiful hand-set edition, these are poems for anyone who feels overwhelmed “in the age of the MX missile” or the nihilist’s despair of being “only a man.” For such readers, Ehrhart is like “a clock forever tolling: Don’t give in . Go on. Keep on.”

Shadow Train, by John Ashbery. Viking $8.95

Ashbery’s tenth collection consists of 50 poems, each four quatrains long. Aside from the fact that they are all 16 lines, these poems differ little in style from those in preceding books of his. The most volatile and parodic of poets, Ashbery never seems to run out of new vocabularies to incorporate into his fluid syntax, teasing the mind toward ever-evasive meanings—which has always been the point. Whether rivers, houseboats, or shadow trains, life is constant motion, going nowhere or in circles. The most memorable poem here, “Paradoxes and Oxymorons,” comments directly on his own art, saying about the poem, “You miss it, it misses you.” All of these poems are concerned with what Helen Vendler has called “the recording of successive truths,” each poem being “a unique interval of consciousness.” Ashbery continues to refuse to separate meaningfulness from randomness or melancholy from cheerfulness as a response to this chaos.

The Boy under the Bed, by Philip Dacey. Johns Hopkins $10.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

It is always an unwelcome task to have to report that a poet’s second collection does not compare favorably with his first. That is the case, however, with Dacey’s second book. There are too many short, thin lines here, and the poems too often drift into vagueness and weak endings. The likable qualities of his first book, and his favorite subjects—family ties, domestic scenes, adultery—are present, but in watered-down form.

White Monkeys, by Bin Ramke. Georgia $8.50 cloth, $4.50 paper

Ramke’s poems probe the inner world of childhood memories and domestic life, capturing a mood of nostalgia and dreams in a quiet, subdued voice. Most are delicate but well-balanced, deeply introspective but also thoughtfully responsive to social and religious aspects of his past. The sense of place—the South—is well-developed. These poems rely on precise imagery and subtle connections, rather than forcefulness or dramatic impact, for their effect. Some are rather slight; a few are too private to be accessible. The title poem articulates the recurring theme of aging without gaining much wisdom: “all men/grow only in small ways/only older.”

Without Roof, by Kinereth Gensler. Alicejamesbooks $4.95

In these poems, moving through life is like crossing a dangerous bridge, and creating art is like picking wild-flowers in a minefield. Gensler expresses well insights gained through traveling to a foreign country “that is more like home than home,” and her voice encompasses a broad range of themes, from the description of other cultures to the most personal sense of loss. Using existing myths or images from the natural world, she makes new fables on the experience of being a woman and a poet, on her Jewish heritage, and on uncovering the meaning of history. She finds nobility in nature, art, and humanity, a rare combination these days.

The Booth Interstate, by Thomas Rabbitt. Knopf$9.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

This book of sonnets about country life and the South, about personal history and tradition, about reality and dreams of fantasy, brings up—once again—the old question of form: can the antiquated English sonnet be used productively to frame contemporary poems about America. Reading The Booth Interstate, one would have to say no. Although Rabbitt masterfully uses colloquial language to portray current scenes, the sonnet form adds nothing to the individual poems. Rabbitt has carefully and successfully structured a book here rather than a mere collection of poems, but his reliance on prosody rather than upon the more inspired organic structures one finds in the best poetry today, is numbing. Nevertheless, those who applaud the current revival of prosody in American poetry—or “craft” as it has come to be called—will be sure to get a lot of mileage out of The Booth Interstate.

Selected Poems, by Jon Silkin. Routledge & Kegan Paul $12.50 paper

The deliberately inelegant, meditative verse of British poet Jon Silkin is sometimes excruciatingly passionate, in contrast to the verse of the so-called Movement poets who are his contemporaries. Unlike their chiseled poems, Silkin’s poems often seem to have been wrenched from stone. His most memorable poems “smell of the mineral / Origins of men” and tell of the “courting sensuousness / Of earth.” A Jew, Silkin possesses an acute social consciousness and also writes powerfully—even violently—of the agony of social alienation. His development has been steady. Still, one may prefer his early poems to his later ones, which are more dense and sometimes clotted. Silkin is one of the most original poets alive, and he deserves a popular audience. Unfortunately, this book is priced for connoisseurs.

Distractions, by Miller Williams. Louisiana $11. 95

Williams closes his new book of poems with “Parallel Lines,” five translations of Rilke, Desnoues, Salinas, Machado, and Fortini, a too brief selection that nicely echoes the preoccupations of his own poetry—death and the passing of time—subjects Williams faces with quirky good humor and strange insight. His poetry refreshes in its odd combination of measured line, colloquial language, jarring juxta-position, and suprising analogy. He is at his best when he grounds the whimsical in the ordinary as in such fine poems as “The Year They Outlawed Baseball,” “Getting the Message,” and “Ghosts.” One only wishes, in this rather slim volume, for more of Williams’ sensitive translations and his own richly distracting poems.

Hard Words and Other Poems, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Harper & Row $10.95 cloth, $4.95 paper

These poems are dissatisfying, particularly since the author does other things so much better. She is well known for the depth of character development she has brought to science fiction, a genre typified by one-dimensional characters. Her most recent work of imaginative fiction, The Beginning Place, was very well received. These are not bad poems; they only appear unremarkable in light of her other work.

From the County of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry, edited and translated by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson. Introduction by Thomas Rimer. Anchor Books $9.95 paper

From the Country of Eight Islands presents a full range of Japanese poetry, from the early anthologies to the moderns, in straightforward, idiomatic translation. With a useful introduction, textual notes, biographical notes on the poets, and a bibliography, it makes a valuable addition to the series of Anchor editions of poetry, aimed at the classroom, but generally worthwhile volumes for anyone’s shelves.

Old Friend From Far Away, translated by C.H. Kwock and Vincent McHugh. North Point $15 cloth, $6.50 paper

This collection of 150 Chinese poems in translation covers a two^thousand-year period and draws from the work of many well-known poets such as Li Po. Many of these poems portray landscapes, young love, the sorrows of old age in a romantic light; others are spare evocations of emotions and situations. An interesting feature of the translation is the use of vertical line placement to capture the spirit of the original. An interview with the translators concerning their collaboration on this work concludes the volume.

Walking Home from the Icehouse, by Vern Rutsala. Carnegie-Mellon $12.95 cloth, $4.95 paper

Vern Rutsala’s long columns of short lines read quickly and easily, a style capable of immediacy and building momentum. Some poems stand out for their intensity and insight, but most of them do not live up to the potential he clearly has. There is too much repetition of the same tone and themes— Northwest landscapes of poverty and depression, loneliness of travel, bitterness of aging. This collection, his fifth, is somewhat disappointing.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSSolvency, The Price of Survival: An Essay on American Foreign Policy, by James Chace. Random House $9,95

In this cogently written essay, the author, who is managing editor of Foreign Affairs, argues persuasively that events at home and abroad since World War II are pushing our nation and its policies towards economic and political bankruptcy. Accordingly, the critical question now confronting U.S. decision-makers is how to conduct an intelligent foreign policy, with both our international and domestic power seriously depreciated, with no overarching consensus on policy issues, and without a clear definition of what precisely constitutes our vital national interests. The author proffers no panaceas but instead supplies several pensive, thought-provoking policy redirections for U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, our Western allies, and the Third World. From both an assessment and prescriptive perspective, laymen and foreign-policy experts alike will glean much perspicacity from Mr. Chace’s well-reasoned arguments.

The Pursuit of Inequality, by Philip Green. Pantheon $14.95

The Age of Reagan comes as no surprise: the intellectual right with its ideology of inequality has been paving the way for the past decade. Philip Green believes that egalitarianism— long the core of democratic thought— now needs defense from the conservative onslaught. Unfortunately, his dense study ill suits his worthy goal. Green spends too much time debunking the “factually worthless, conceptually inadequate, and morally indefensible” ideas of biological determinists such as Arthur Jensen and Richard Herrenstein. But his refutation, in the latter half of the book, of the narrow self-interest encouraged in the ideas of Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick, and the neo-conservatives (Bell, Glazer, and Kristol) reveals his theoretical and political brilliance. Now that Friedman is the new Reagonomic messiah, we can thank Green for exposing the strange gods pursued by the ascendant right.

Inside Russian Medicine: An American Doctor’s First-Hand Report, by William A. Knaus, M.D. Everest House $14. 95

They tell the story of the American in Russia who went to a hospital because he was sick, then fought to get out before they killed him. Soviet medicine is not that bad, of course; but neither, by our standards, is it very good. It is “free” (obviously the funds come from somewhere), 75 percent of the physicians are women, and from a technological standpoint it is about a generation behind Western medicine. Dr. Knaus, who does not know Russian, has produced a useful survey that is more pretentious than the contents merit. He saw little and was told less, but anything is better than nothing.

Governing America, by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Simon & Schuster $16.95

Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn, among many others, will not be pleased by this personal (read political) kiss-and-tell memoir by a fired secretary of HEW, about how the governmental process really works in the nation’s capital. So don’t despair if you’ve never attended a Cabinet meeting or an Oval Office crisis session. This exposé tells it all. And it’s not too encouraging.

The East European and Soviet Data Handbook: Political, Social, and Developmental Indicators, 1945—1975, by Paul S. Shoup. Columbia $45

When Thomas Carlyle referred to economics as “the dismal science,” it was no doubt because he had been exposed to statistics. This latest compendium of data tables runs the gamut from Communist party membership to per capita consumption of selected foods (although one cannot be sure just what “rye flower” is). The Handbook may prove useful to researchers who hope to build “models” of social, political, or economic transformation in Eastern Europe or to those wishing to construct yet more data bases for the area or any of its constituent parts. The lengthy introduction and numerous appendices attempt to provide signposts to guide the reader through the maze of information and to warn of the “dead ends.” But despite the author’s best efforts to explain how he did it and how to use it, the undedicated and uninitiated should keep before them that most worthy Latin phrase—caveat lector.

Debacle: The American Failure in Iran, by Michael Ledeen and William Lewis. Knopf $14. 95

This exceedingly well-written volume chronicles the failure of the U.S. foreign policy, particularly during the Carter administration, to preserve our national interests under the Shah’s regime in Iran. The personalities involved, the complexities and miscommunications of an entangled U.S. governmental bureaucracy, the misguided perceptions of our leadership—all are presented in a fascinating, though polemical analysis. The conclusion reached is that Iran “fell” to Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary movement largely because United States decision-makers lacked clarity in foreign-policy objectives and intelligence expertise in assessing Iran’s society and culture, as well as a requisite ability to put the 1978—1979 Iranian crisis into a global geopolitical context and then design accordingly an effective U.S. foreign policy. Given these harsh, provocative criticisms, it will be interesting indeed to read the Carter’s administration side’s case in the memoirs that are sure to follow.

The Third Option, by Theodore Shackley. Reader’s Digest Press/McGraw-Hill $12

Shackley, an officer with the Central Intelligence Agency for 30 years until his retirement in 1979, argues that the United States should undertake covert counterinsurgency measures to check “wars of national liberation” that threaten U.S. interests in parts of the world. This, his third option, supposedly stands between diplomacy on the one hand and outright war on the other. But Shackley’s judgments are exclusively based on his experience in the intelligence community and, accordingly, suffer from the absence of a sophisticated political understanding that would maturely assess the genuine changes in the world and the role of the United States in a changing world.

Peace Against War: The Ecology of International Violence, by Francis A. Beer. W.H. Freeman $19.95

This highly quantitative investigation examines the phenomenon of war as if it were a scientifically discernible natural disease, with a specific view toward discovering its causes, predictive susceptibilities, and cures. Though laymen may perhaps find the author’s rigorous research style too specialized and therefore burdensome, serious students and scholars of international conflict will find the work to be a most laudatory, salient contribution to the literature. Theoretically, methodologically, epistemologically, and sociologically, Professor Beer’s volume is likely to be regarded as the most comprehensive treatment of transnational violence since Quincy Wright’s Study of War appeared in 1965.

The Greatest Power on Earth, by Ronald W. Clark. Harper & Row $13.95

In plain, nontechnical language, this volume chronicles the historical interplay of science, technology, and politics as the production of nuclear energy evolved from the late 19th century to the near-catastrophe in 1979 at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. As one might suspect, the international struggle for atomic supremacy has fostered the Janus-faced reality of nuclear fission, harboring both global power and peril. Especially in this regard, Clark’s narrative elucidates and engenders a more thorough appreciation of the personalities and events that perverted the early optimism of unlimited energy into the currently conceivable nightmare of worldwide nuclear holocaust.

On A Field of Red: The Communist International and the Coming of World War II, by Anthony Cave Brown and Charles B. MacDonald. Putnam $19. 95

This is as misbegotten a book on international affairs as any we have seen in the past few years. It is in no sense a history of the Comintern, of which the authors have barely even heard, and it is likewise not a coherent account of the coming of the war, a development with which they are slightly more familiar. It is instead a mishmash of some vignettes from Russia and othercountries, a few spy tales, some rip-roaring battle scenes, and a clever quip or two. All of which is to say: skip this one if you can.

FICTIONTar Baby, by Toni Morrison. Knopf$11.95

Tar Baby is Morrison’s most ambitious novel. In her first two books, The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sula (1973), she limited herself to the problems of identity and alienation for black women in white America. In Song of Solomon (1977) she expanded her vision to include a young black man’s search for his tribal past. Tar Baby addresses all the thematic concerns of the earlier work and, in addition, contains Morrison’s first fully fleshed portrait of white characters—Valerian Street, a Philadelphia candy manufacturer, and his sadistic wife, Margaret. But two excesses keep the new work a cut below the award-winning Song of Solomon—too much talk, especially between Jadine Childs and Son, Morrison’s modern version of the tar baby and rabbit of black folklore and one of two black couples that counter the troubled Streets, and too frequent use of the pathetic fallacy, a stylistic flourish that mars slightly Morrison’s otherwise impeccable lyricism. But still Tar Baby is a major work from a major artist.

Nuns and Soldiers, by Iris Murdoch. Viking Press $14. 95

Iris Murdoch is one of the more important novelists now writing in English. In her newest work she turns again to the human heart and the subject of love, with its complications and convolutions. The story is that of Gertrude Openshaw, alone after the early death of her bigger-than-life husband Guy. She is surrounded by those who loved Guy as well as those who would now love her and those whom she would now love. The book is not easy going. Murdoch is not only wordy but is incapable of easing the reader into sympathy with her characters. Despite these stylistic flaws, she is one of our most morally perceptive writers, as this work confirms.

Free Fall In Crimson, by John MacDonald. Harper & Row $10.95

For those of you who are not MacDonald addicts, his latest novel (which is a choice for four different book clubs) is a most expensive item since it will make you want to run out to purchase all of his previously published 79 volumes. Sharp dialogue, fast action, a believable plot, incisive characterizations, mellow philosophizing, and ensuing pure delight are his trademarks.

The Crater, by Richard Slotkin. Atheneum $17. 95

In this first novel a student of violence in American culture employs fact and fiction, “official messages,” and reconstructed thought and dialogue, to tell the story of the 1864 battle for Petersburg. Whether because Slotkin’s fictive powers are limited or because he missed military service (Clausewitz said that one could never imagine combat, could scarcely know it firsthand), his characters tend to woodenness, their language forced and motion creaky. When it comes to friction among 19th-century Americans, however, he turns every “realistic” corner. Like an urban social worker sent to the trenches of Blue and Gray in a time machine, Slotkin charts strains between (and among) officers and men, blacks and whites, slave-holders and plain folk, Jews and Gentiles, veterans and recruits, coal miners and military engineers, and the Irish and everybody else. While Slotkin is no Hemingway, he may have here the social history text of the future.

Bourbon for Breakfast, by Wendy Perriam. Doubleday $11. 95

This absurdly titled first novel starts out like a sophomoric revision of a trashy sex-and-drugs best seller and ends on a note of poignant triumph for conventional morality. In between there is good writing and bad, but the curve is upward. A bored English housewife is seduced by a rake (so what else is new?) and very nearly abandons all for him. Quite conventional, quite trite . . .until Ms. Perriam’s intelligence takes over the reins, which had been in the hands of her banker. This is not a good first novel, but watch out for the second one: this writer has talent.

The Shooting Party, by Isabel Colegate. Viking $11. 95

The device is a little heavy, and certainly it has been done before and in some ways better, but this protracted tale of a shoot in the English countryside on the eve of the Great War is a little masterpiece. Isabel Colegate has an eye and an ear for a time and place she can never have seen or heard, and in this incredibly tightly written allegory she wraps up the reader in her own time warp. She does this so brilliantly that the book demands not to be read at one sitting but rather to be consumed in small and, one hopes, digestible doses. For this is nothing less than the story of the Lost Generation on the eve of its disappearance.

July’s People, by Nadine Gordimer. Viking $10. 95

The time is the not very distant future, and the place is South Africa. The long-anticipated black rebellion has begun, and the cities are falling to the insurgents, who are aided by Russia and Cuba. Bam and Maureen Smales, whites, flee into the hinterland with their manservant, July, and find refuge in his village. Their young children play with the village urchins without so much as batting an eye, but Bam and Maureen have enormous difficulty adjusting to the total collapse of their world. This splendid vision of an all-too-likely future is the most disturbing novel out of South Africa since the heyday of Alan Paton.

GENERALSea Disasters and Island Catastrophes, by Edward Rowe Snow. Dodd, Mead $9.95

Edward Rowe Snow has been a great popularizer of New England maritime history. Since 1935, he has turned out dozens of books on the history of Boston Bay, lighthouses, shipwrecks, pirates and buccaneers, and the incredible adventures of sea-faring men. This collection of 26 short tales, arranged chronologically from the 17th century to the present, deals with events selected for their unusual aspects: the loss of the Eastland, the siege of Louisbourg, and the landing of German U-boats on American shores during World War II. Of no scholarly pretensions, the book will appeal especially to younger readers who can appreciate a well-told story.

Railways of the Raj, by Michael Satow and Ray Desmond. Columbia $29. 95

Railways of the Raj is a handsome but somehow disappointing addition to the growing collection of picture books about 19th- and early 20th-century British India. The illustrations are lavish, and there is a lucid and precise foreword by that prince of railfans, Paul Theroux (who explains that the title for his Great Railway Bazaar came from a conversation he had with an Indian who lived “in Railway Bazaar” at Luchnow). The text is summary for a picture book, however, and does not whet one’s appetite for the subject as it should. The illustrations do, and there are some marvelous pictures of rolling stock and passenger stations—particularly the Victoria Terminus at Bombay, which looks like St. Pancras or Waverly Station, Edinburgh transported to the subcontinent and wonderfully Indianized.

Winter Count, by Barry Holston Lopez. Scribner’s $9.95

Somewhere between the worlds of John McPhee and Edwin Way Teale lies that strange, ethereal principality where Barry Holston Lopez reigns. The author of the brilliant Of Wolves and Men here offers nine graceful, understated essays, hauntingly beautiful aquarelles in words. He writes of a book restorer laboring over a Frenchman’s library in North Dakota, of a young man’s search for a grandfather he never knew, and of the death of the Niobrara River. He writes of the perishability of all that is measurable, quantifiable, and thus he exalts love, which is neither. This is a beautiful book by an astonishingly gifted writer.

Genesis—The Origins of Man and the Universe, by John Gribbin. Delacorte $13. 95

Gribbin, who perhaps is the British equivalent of our Carl Sagan, is an astrophysicist who has written extensively in science and has appeared on British television and radio. This book is a survey of origins, successive chapters covering the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, the earth, life, species, and finally the diversity which led to human origins. This is a large field to cover in one volume of modest size, but Gribbin has done a remarkable job. Without the use of mathematics, he presents a convincing picture of the origin and present status of our world as we know it. He writes very well without becoming bogged down in complex explanations. It would seem that in this so-called space age, this book or one like it should be required reading for every high school or college graduate as well as the rest of us who pretend to be informed about the world around us.


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