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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1991


ISSUE:  Spring 1991

The scholarly world has long awaited Mr. Pipes’ study of the Revolution, and the result is unlikely to disappoint either his sympathizers, who are legion, or his few detractors. Brilliantly researched, conceived, and written, the book is a tour de force. It is the best book since William Henry Chamberlin’s superlative account, and it is unlikely to have any real rivals for another generation. It is not without its faults, most glaringly the author’s unconcealed detestation of Russians in general and Russian intellectuals in particular, but it is the most honest book on the subject the West has produced in 50 years.

The Legacy of Bouvines, by Georges Duby. California $32

First published in 1973 as Le dimanche de Bouvines, Duby’s analysis of one of the decisive battles of medieval history is now made available to a wider audience. The change in titles is striking since almost four times the space is given to the engagement itself in 1215 (which occurred on a Sunday) than to the mythology which later grew up around it. Apparently legends are thought by the publishers to have an electrifying effect on book sales among English readers. In any case, the translation, if not quite equal to the style of the original, is adequate, and surely the event is worth recounting in detail. When Philip II of France defeated the coalition originally assembled by King John of England, his victory was seen as a successful holy war against the enemies of Christ, a vindication of Philip’s right in a judicial duel, and a confirmation of his claim to the throne. John, for his part, returned to England to face a group of discontented barons, civil war, and the Magna Carta. In the 19th century the legend was revived by nationalist historians, who saw Bouvines, like Poitiers before it, where the Franks vanquished the Muslims, as the place where civilization triumphed. Duby’s careful description of the brief military action, linked to the absorbing history of its reconstruction and meaning at a later time, make this little book a fine introduction to medieval warfare and European cultural history.

The Generals of Saratoga, by Max M. Mintz. Yale $24.95

Saratoga was the biggest all-American victory of the Revolutionary War. One of the ironies of this battle was that the opposing generals had once served together in the same British regiment several years before. This book is a dual biography of these two generals, American General Horatio Gates, and John Burgoyne, the leader of the German and British forces, and the separate paths they took to arrive at Saratoga. Though many of the facts of the battle are well known, Mintz’ approach gives a fresh and interesting new perspective to this important event in American history.

Guns for the Tsar: American Technology and the Small Arms Industry in Nineteenth-Century Russia, by Joseph Bradley. Northern Illinois $27.50

We Americans had some highly uncomplimentary names for foreigners who supplied weapons to the doomed North American Indians, but we called our own arms manufacturers, who sent guns to the tsars entrepreneurs. That’s odd: the guns sent to Russia had the same mission, to kill native peoples, and here “native” could and did include not only the Oriental peoples but also Russians and Ukrainians and other Europeans. Professor Bradley has told the story of this side of the American weapons traffic in truly brilliant fashion.

Roman Gaul and Germany, by Anthony King. California $29.95

A volume in the series Exploring the Roman World, this book is not so much a survey of the history from 600 B.C. to A.D. 486 as a description of the archaeological sites which is intended to illustrate the historical development for the general reader. There is a good deal of information provided on the changes which occurred in these parts of Europe which have now become France, Belgium, and parts of Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands in regard to the rural landscape, the foundation of towns, and commercial enterprise. The major flaw in the presentation is the paucity of adequate maps. The discussions of the history of the frontiers, the location of markets and trade routes, and the penetration of Roman culture in the south, for example, all of which are interesting and important, are in fact far less effectively argued than they might have been for this reason.

Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler, by David Kaiser. Harvard $29.95

A wide-ranging, intellectually provocative, well-written discussion of the impact which the structure of the domestic politics of major European countries has had on their international conduct over the last few centuries. Until the 19th century the repeated experience of military conflict is shown to have originated chiefly from the pressures which bloody-minded and greedy aristocracies placed on rulers rather than from the hegemonic designs of the latter. In the last two centuries not-so-different pressures come from the hold established on publics by imperialism and nationalism; but, again, push factors account for the occurrence of war more than pull factors do. This is indicated also by the fact that the destructive effects of war have always been much more significant than their positive ones; and that by and large war cannot be realistically understood as an effective instrument of policy—even before the nuclear era. The author, who teaches history at Carnegie Mellon University, develops his argument in a sophisticated fashion, by reconstructing the dynamic relationships between politics and war in four major phases of European history: the eras respectively of Philip the II, of Louis XIV, of Napoleon, and the 20th century. His book is likely to awaken much interest beyond the narrow circle of historical scholars.

The American South: A History, by William J. Cooper, Jr., and Thomas E. Terrill. Knopf $50

The burgeoning literature on the South shows no sign of abating. While the struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s that inspired so much of the writing of the golden age of Southern historiography in the 1970’s have passed, popular and scholarly interest in the topic refuse to fade. This book, the first full history of the region in two generations, necessarily struggles to contain the profusion of new ideas and opinions about the Southern past. These authors, while refusing to settle for bland compromises, offer a sure guide through the thickets of controversy for those who have not been following the twists and turns of the debates. They write well, the book is attractively designed, and a wide readership should find this thick volume fascinating.

The Minority of Henry HI, by D. A. Carpenter. California $34.95

This is the story of the critical early years of the reign of young Henry, who was nine years old when he was crowned in 1216 and barely a man when he assumed the royal power in 1227. The threat of civil war, provoked by the hostility of a majority of the great barons, hung over the country, and most of eastern England was in the hands of Prince Louis of France. Using a wealth of archival sources, including financial and legal records and private letters, the author has opened up the internal machinery of medieval English government to a wider view. We are able to see the delicate balance of power within the regency which enabled the king’s men to triumph over Louis at the battle of Lincoln and ultimately over the opposition of the local sheriffs and castellans in the interests of national stability. The new monarchy, it would appear, was acceptable to the baronage politically because it was preferable to anarchy, and it was acceptable constitutionally because it was publicly restricted by the issuance of Magna Carta. From then on the idea that the king was bound by the law would be a permanent maxim of English political reform. Scholarly and persuasive, this book expands considerably the range of analysis in the older classic works of Kate Norgate and Sir Maurice Powicke, and complements the more recent work of R.C. Stacey, R. Eales, M. Clanchy, and others.

Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880—1920, by Willard B. Gatewood. Indiana $39.95

A new kind of African-American history is being written these days. It is becoming increasingly clear that the black community has always been divided by strong internal lines of demarcation. While whites often spoke of black Americans as an undifferentiated mass, blacks themselves recognized that class, religion, region, background, and skin color divided their people against one another. Willard Gatewood explores the highest elite of all, the interlocking national “aristocracy” of the “best families.” It is a fair and detailed account, one that will give these people a place in history.

The Fall of the Roman Empire, by Michael Grant. Macmillan $12.95

In this work, Michael Grant explores Roman society from top to bottom, showing that it had turned upon itself. The internal divisions of Rome—such as the poor and the rich frying to escape from the overweening financial exactions of the government, the Christians attacking both pagans and other Christians, the non-Romans trying to overcome Roman prejudice, East and West failing to cooperate—were more significant in bringing down the empire than the barbarian invasions. If Rome could have set her own house in order, she might, like Constantinople, have been able to withstand the barbarians. As she did not, she could not. Michael Grant’s powerful little book has a clear, timely message.

English rural society 1500—1800: Essays in honour of Joan Thirsk, edited by John Chartres and David Hey. Cambridge $59.50

Joan Thirsk is the doyenne of English agricultural historians. She has contributed much to our understanding of both rural society and rural economy of early modern England. She writes with precision and charm. The essays in this Festschrift reflect these strengths as they explore many of the themes at the core of Thirsk’s contribution to knowledge—from rural projects and early industry to estate management, wills and widowhood. A just and fitting tribute to a fine historian.

The Russian City between Tradition and Modernity, 1850—1900, by Daniel R. Brower. California $35

In today’s closed little world of Moscow intellectuals, the one-word explanation one hears for the city’s misery is “aziatchina”—Asia taking over Europe. In the middle of the last century it was the other way around: as Russia began to modernize, Europe began gaining ground at the expense of Russia’s oriental heritage. The cities were the prime battleground in the process, and this splendid book by Professor Brower analyzes the process intelligently and sympathetically.

The Formation of a Society on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1615—1655, by James R. Perry. North Carolina $32.50

Perry’s social history is directed at historians who have seen 17th-century Virginia as a chaotic land of ruthless individualists. To counter such arguments, Perry combs local court records to conclude, unsurprisingly, that kin and neighbors aided one another in Colonial Virginia. Thus Perry can argue that in the early years of European occupation, social chaos did not prevail. Rather, “a society” formed. Unfortunately, this study presupposes 20th-century notions of kin, neighbor, and society, and therefore fails to explore the relevance of those concepts to 17th-century colonists. The result is a tedious rehearsal of the obvious.

LITERARY STUDIESRomanticism and the Sciences, edited by Andrew Cunningham & Nicholas Jardine. Cambridge $59.50 cloth, $19.95 paper

This is a timely and valuable publication. One of the commonplaces of 19th-century studies is to see an opposition between Romanticism and science, citing Blake’s criticism of Newton, for example, or Wordsworth’s famous line: “We murder to dissect.” But critics are increasingly beginning to uncover the links between Romanticism and science, the ways in which new developments in technology and experimental science fueled the Romantic imagination, rather than inhibiting it. What, after all, is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a work of Romantic fiction or of science fiction? This rich volume brings together 22 essays by an international group of scholars, covering the whole range of issues raised by the encounter of Romanticism and science in the 19th century. The volume is particularly valuable for paying attention to developments in Germany, where the symbiosis between Romanticism and science was more clearly evident than in England. Some of the essays deal with general topics; others focus on specific subjects, such as Goethe’s theory of color or Kleist’s relation to abnormal psychology. Readers will come away from this volume with a new and expanded understanding of the impact of science on literature in the 19th century, as well as a sense of how “romantic” science could be in some of its earlier incarnations.

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, by Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy, and Patricia Clements. Yale $49.95

In addition to thoroughly researched, incisive, well-written biobibliographies of authors from Sappho and Mme de Sévigné to Ann Beattie, this volume contains entries on genres, events, and institutions important to the history of women’s writing, plus critical introductions to leading schools of feminist theory. Refreshingly inclusive and dispassionate, the Companion proposes neither a canon nor a “correct” approach to the authors of their productions. As such, it will remain a vital resource for general readers and specialists well into the next century. Hopefully, it will also help complete the transformation of women’s literary studies from a quasi-political movement into a full-fledged scholarly discipline.

Time and the Crystal: Studies in Dante’s Rime Petrose, by Robert Durling and Ronald L. Martinez. California $55

This compendious book will be indispensable to all scholars of Dante. Indeed, it will be of considerable interest to students of late medieval and Renaissance culture in general, since it includes extensive references to astrology, science, philosophy, and theology. This book is also particularly valuable because it brings into the scholarly foreground a group of Dante’s lyrics about a lady as hard as stone who deserves to be better known. Whether readers agree with the authors’ claims that these lyrics are of importance to the interpretation of the Divine Comedy or not, the close reading of the poems presented here will be rewarding, for they are both erudite and sensitive to Dante’s poetry.

Reading Petronius, by Niall W. Slater. Johns Hopkins $28.95

If this essay is any indication, classical studies are being dragged—kicking and screaming, perhaps—into the current dialogue on literature and theory. Petronius’s Satyricon, of course, lends itself perfectly to postmodernist speculation: fragmentary and unstably ironic, it has never failed to perplex its audience. Accordingly, Niall Slater has adapted reader-response criticism to reconstruct the process by which the farrago’s potential unity may be perceived (or, more precisely, apperceived). Erudite, brilliant, and stylishly written, Slater’s readings provoke as often as they convince, and provide a useful model for dealing with similar texts, ancient or modern.

Writings on Literature, by N. S. Trubetzkoy. Edited and translated by Anatoly Liberman. Minnesota $39.50 cloth, $14.95 paper

1990 was the centennial of the birth of Trubetzkoy, prince, exile from Russia, casualty in part of the Anschluss. He is remembered as a pioneer of phonology whose ideas, mediated by Roman Jakobson, inspired Lévi-Strauss. But he began (in his teens) as folklorist and ethnographer, and took part in Russian formalism (broadly conceived). Liberman introduces Trubetzkoy as literary scholar with various excerpts and one long section on Dostoevsky. He does so awkwardly. Some sources are very selectively used, much is skirted because other sources exist. Biography awaits a companion volume. One has to work back and forth between table of contents, poorly placed bibliography, and bare citation by pages and year (of republication in all but one case) to identify what is in the book. As editor, Liberman seems not to look up from a desk on which everything is at hand. Still, this is valuable. The remarks on Trubetzkoy and Bakhtin are of interest, the account of the approach to medieval texts and Dostoevsky fits new work on oral narrative. Those who know Trubetzkoy for one great work in linguistics can learn much.

The Great Language Panic and Other Essays in Cultural History, by Robert Erwin. Georgia $19.95

Every season, some linguistic Jeremiah or other publishes a tract on the fallen condition of words and meanings. Inspired by schoolmarmish purism, the Safires and Simons classify, list, and ridicule every recent deviation from the Webster’s Second Edition or Fowler, those proxies for a decalogue of speech and writing. It is therefore refreshing to read Robert Erwin’s essays, which take a broader and more sophisticated view. Assuming that language and culture are embedded one in the other, Erwin argues that semantic trivialization ultimately stems from widespread and profound historical ignorance, which divorces key words from their origins and contexts. The situation has been aggravated by postmodern ideology, whose murky self-privileging discourse claims to unmask language, yet offers no workable substitute. Hope, Erwin believes, lies in a recognition that language has transcendent as well as limiting qualities and can thus get around its self-created obstacles.

Versions of Pygmalion, by J. Hillis Miller. Harvard $25

Whither deconstruction? If this most recent offering by one of the foremost of the old Yale school of critics is any indication, first-generation deconstructionists are following both their detractors and their former disciples into the real world of material history, ethics, and politics. Moving through a series of apparently unrelated narratives by Kleist, Blanchot, Melville, and Henry James, Miller uses Ovid’s Pygmalion as the model for the reading, writing, and teaching of each in an effort to show that deconstructive literary criticism has always been, uh, essentially ethical. So now we know.

Cool Memories, by Jean Baudrillard, translated by Chris Turner. Verso $45 cloth, $15.95 paper

With every new book—or rather text—by a French poststructuralist wizard, one’s awe at Foucault’s final work grows: his belated reacquaintance with the Greeks propelled him along paths more traditionally associated with scholarship and the creation of knowledge. Baudrillard’s Cool Memories, on the other hand, typifies the recent work of his confreres. Haying abandoned, well, everything, he satisfies himself with a hodge-podge of quasi-Nietzschean, aphoristic paragraphs, without, however, holding himself to the intensity and intellectual rigor that made Nietzsche a great rhetorical model to begin with. Instead, we get stuff like this: “There is no aphrodisiac like innocence.” “Space is what prevents everything from being in the same place.” “Winter is an emotive event.” “Every woman is like a timezone.” “Nothing can match the loneliness of a pianist in a large hotel.” Cool Memories contributes little to our knowledge, even to our knowledge of postmodernism, but it may act as a stimulant for those who turn to writing as a starting point for free association. Like, cool, man!

Selected Essays, 1965—1985, by Thomas Daniel Young. Louisiana $25

Over the last 25 years Dan Young has become one of the venerable figures in the study of American literature and perhaps our leading authority on the Fugitive-Agrarians who ushered in the Southern renascence of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. He has achieved his eminence quietly, remaining a modest scholar more interested in clarity and accuracy than in critical or rhetorical showmanship. In this collection, perhaps more than in his other books, one sees the value of that approach. Anyone interested in the development of the New Criticism— and especially those fashionable theorists who now dismiss it without bothering to understand it—can profit from reading Young’s essays on John Crowe Ransom. There are equally valuable pieces on Faulkner, Donald Davidson, and Robert Penn Warren, and a fascinating history of the fracas which erupted when the Bollingen Prize went to Ezra Pound in 1949. This collection is a valuable addition to the field of American literary study and a fit monument to Young’s long service to that field.

The Men I Have Chosen for Fathers: Literary and Philosophical Passages, by Marion Montgomery. Missouri $24.95

“What idea is capable of restoring us to our personhood?” asks Montgomery near the end of this collection of essays about the writers who have shaped his thought. The answer, the Georgia-born novelist and critic believes, is a recovered awareness of what Allen Tate called “local universality” —timeless truths, incarnated as they must be in the customs and ceremonies of a particular place and time. A commitment to this idea (and an abhorrence of its opposite, the curse of abstraction) is what unites the disparate “fathers” Montgomery discusses here: Flannery O’Connor, Robert Frost, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and others. When he confers paternity on O’Connor, or when a bit later he offers honorary Southern citizenship to Solzhenitsyn, one may suspect that Montgomery hasn’t fully exorcised the demon of abstraction from his own thought. But neither had his models; their effort to do so—to engage the particularity of experience without surrendering the possibility of truth—provides the drama of their works. The same can be said of the eloquent personal statements gathered here.

Stages of History: Shakespeare’s English Chronicles, by Phyllis Rackin. Cornell $32.50 cloth, $10.95 paper

For some years and in various essays, Rackin has worked through and thought through the nature of history in Shakespeare’s plays and Shakespeare’s time. The result is now a clear, illuminating book. The preface situates her as author in terms of historical consciousness; the first chapter situates the English Renaissance; four further chapters situate the plays. The writing is clear and cogent, and, to cite one example, the account of King John in terms of legitimacy is stunning. What was tedious becomes vivid. Often the analysis is suggestive for situations far from Shakespeare’s England, where the relation of history to the present, and of women to action, also are contested.

Historical Fictions, by Hugh Kenner. North Point $24.95

This handsome companion to last year’s Mazes collects Kenner’s stray literary essays and reviews from the last two decades: some on his established favorites (Pound, Beckett, Wyndham Lewis), but many on unpredictably diverse topics (Pope, Coleridge, Bellow, Nabokov, Leslie Fiedler, Robert Duncan). The text of Louis Zukofsky’s least accessible version of Cavalcanti’s Donna mi priega—the one in wiseguy Brooklynese—is given in full: “A foin lass bodders me I gotta tell yer . . .”

Romanticism, Writing, and Sexual Difference: Essays on The Prelude, by Mary Jacobus. Oxford $32.50

Rereading the most famous passages of The Prelude, Jacobus builds on the work of Weiskel, Hartman, and de Man to give us a Wordsworth even more complex, difficult, and unreadable than we had suspected. Together with the work of Ross and Homans, Jacobus makes the issue of gender central to all future considerations of the Romantic canon. Bringing together poststructuralist concerns with writing and feminist concerns with sexual difference, this book is a challenging and illuminating contribution to our understanding of Wordsworth and the High Romantic tradition.

Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words, by Steven Gould Axelrod. Johns Hopkins $29.95

A valuable revisionary reading of Sylvia Plath’s poetry and prose. Axelrod draws on psychobiographical and feminist criticism, but his primary theoretical paradigm is Harold Bloom’s theory of influence, as inflected by recent interpretations of gender. His book joins the rank of indispensable works of Plath criticism, rivaled only by the contributions of Kroll and Bundtzen. His readings are powerful and exhaustive, and their lasting insight is not only into the poems themselves but into the larger generic and poetic contexts in which the poems are embedded.

LIVES & LETTERSRealms of Strife, by Juan Goytisolo. North Point $19.95

This is the second installment to Goytisolo’s memoirs (the first, Forbidden Territory, was reviewed in these pages [vol. 66, pp. 542—46]). The dates in the subtitle are 1957—1982, but the book focuses on the 1960’s, when the author underwent his most profound changes, both as a writer and as a man. He recounts his life in exile in Paris, his alienation from his native country, his friendships with Semprún, Sartre, and Genet, his inexorable disillusionment with the totalitarian left (“I prefer making my own mistakes to following the right slogan”), and his struggle to write. His books, strictly banned in Spain, were published instead in Paris, Mexico, and Buenos Aires. He travels to Cuba and the USSR before landing permanently in Moroco, where he unleashes his new voice and admits completely and joyfully to his homosexuality. This book is harshly self-critical, painful to read, and superbly crafted. Goytisolo builds up to the creation of his masterpiece, Count Julian (1971), a dazzling outpouring of words and hatred, shame and rejection of Franco’s Spain.

The Darkness and the Light: A Philosopher Reflects upon His Fortunate Career and Those Who Made It Possible, by Charles Hartshorne. SUNY $39.50

Charles Hartshorne is 93 years old and probably the only great living, English-speaking philosopher around. Hartshorne is a process-philosopher whose ideas are very close to those of Alfred North Whitehead, even though Hartshorne arrived at many principles independently from Whitehead. In this autobiographical study (most of which was written more than 12 years ago), Hartshorne lets the reader participate in his extraordinary but also relatively unadventurous life. Extraordinary, counting the intellectual achievements of Hartshorne; but relatively uneventful in outward circumstances. Hartshorne’s life was not quite as structured and predictable as Immanuel Kant’s, but he comes close. But the spark of life, the celebration lies in the love for detail, the everyday wonder at the goodness of creation and history. Anyone who either likes thought process or appreciates a well-written autobiography, or who simply wants to read something positive for a change will love this book.

Etchings in an Hourglass, by Kate Simon. Harper and Row $19.95

This is the third and final volume of travel writer Kate Simon’s autobiography— the sequel to her Bronx Primitive and A Wider World. In this series of vignettes, somewhat haphazardly recalled and chaotically arranged, Simon reveals the major actors in, and the tragedies attending, her later life. The latter includes the early deaths from malignancies of her first husband, her daughter, and her sister. In spite all of that she endured, the author has managed to keep her resolve to live a rich and full life through psychotherapy, travel, writing, and a series of lovers. Simon spares her readers little (it might have been better if she had been a little less explicit) but reveals her passion for life, her courage, talent and, in spite of her own debilitating illness from cancer at 75, a will to survive.

Epicurean Delight: The Life and Times of James Beard, by Evan Jones Knopf $24.95

This frank and affectionate book records the life and friends of the famous cook and consultant on food. Those interested in Oregon will relish the early chapters, for the story starts there with Beard’s parents, their life and his, before and after the turn of the century. A world traveler based in New York, he yet returned to Oregon often, once for an honorary degree from Reed College, 50 years after it threw him out, and his ashes were distributed on the coast where he had played as a child. Between comes something of the story of the great changes in American food ways with which he had so much to do. There are photographs from throughout his life, and each chapter save the last is followed by recipes (some 94 in all).

A Hole in the World, by Richard Rhodes. Simon & Schuster $19.95

This memoir, subtitled with almost horrific irony “An American Boyhood,” is an autobiographical catalogue of child abuse. It contains a tale of tortured adolescence filled with echoes of Dickens and images consciously borrowed from the Holocaust. The author relates first how his mother’s suicide when he was not yet two became the defining event of his life. Not only was he left half-orphaned by this most pointed gesture of abandonment, but his mother’s place—that “hole in the world”—was filled by a woman whose cruelty was Hitlerian in scope. By turns she threatened, cudgeled, flogged, and thrashed her two stepsons, occasionally spiking their heads with her stiletto heel, working out her sadistic rage to no apparent end. Along the way the boys were also starved, perhaps to their final advantage, as their emaciated state went furthest in convincing police (to whom the fleeing older brother appealed) to entrust them to the juvenile court. Their escape and survival is a tribute to tenacity; this book, an unsettling chronicle of domestic madness. The reader is left finally wondering how many other children, equally victimized, fail to survive.

Abe Fortas, by Laura Kalman. Yale $29.95

Few lawyers have scaled the heights of Washington’s power structure as nimbly as Abe Fortas. From his modest Jewish boyhood in Memphis, and an equally modest small college start, Fortas leapt to the premier spot in his law school class, finishing as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. Then, at the unheard age of 23, he simultaneously took positions on the Yale faculty and in Roosevelt’s New Deal bureaucracy, serving as “the best under secretary” in the recollection of Department of the Interior chief Harold Ickes. Fortas went on to found one of Washington D.C.’s most successful law firms and is generally credited, as legal navigator, with piloting Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 senatorial campaign to an almost miraculous victory. Later as president, Johnson rewarded him with a spot on the Supreme Court, From that lofty prospect he could hardly have predicted his eventual fall, related in clear and evenhanded tones by lawyer and historian Laura Kalmari. Fortas became the first Supreme Court justice in history to resign under a cloud of impropriety. Kalman deftly reveals that the final blow to Fortas’ career was delivered by none other than that master dirty-trickster whose name now defines political scandal and shameful resignations, Richard Nixon.

Inter/View: Talks with America’s Writing Women, by M. Pearlman, K.U. Henderson. Kentucky $25

The book consists of 28 biographic capsules: a description of writing environment with direct quotes. Unfortunately, the quotes have been forced to fit a specific feminist agenda: the limits and meaning of personal space for women and memory as the property of women writers. If a subject’s politics threatened to derail these points, the “talk” (i.e., Grau) was curtly informational. Most successful were those in which the text consisted of lengthy quotes with no imposed frame (i.e. Lamott). At its best, the book is a worthwhile reference (i.e., Tan, Piercy, Lewis).

Robert Boiling Woos Anne Miller: Love and Courtship in Colonial Virginia, 1760, edited by J.A. Leo Lemay. Virginia $22.95

This volume contains Robert Boiling’s 20-page journal account of a 1760 courtship in Colonial Virginia, as well as 17 of Bolling’s love poems which refer to the affair. The editor provides useful notes and commentary, pointing out that Boiling’s journal “is the most detailed colonial American courtship account told from a young man’s viewpoint.” The journal reveals something of the sexual lives of the Virginia aristocracy, as well as the struggle between young lovers and their parents. The material is fairly slight, however, and will primarily interest specialists.

Warrenpoint, by Denis Donoghue. Knopf$19.95

A sustained, inspired reflection on the locale, the circumstances, the moral and intellectual texture of his childhood and adolescence, by a distinguished literary scholar and critic, who currently teaches at New York University. Donoghue grew up in a Catholic family in Warrenpoint, a town in Ulster; and this memoir of his first eighteen years of life, while focused chiefly on the texture of a secure and relatively comfortable family existence, and on the development of the author’s appreciation of musical and literary values, is significant also as a contribution to our understanding of the remote and proximate makings of the current problems in Northern Ireland.

Royal Mistresses, by Charles Carlton. Routledge, Chapman & Hall $29.95

This book is an enjoyable introduction to the subject. By focusing on the mistresses of Britain’s kings, the author hopes to illuminate their social and political importance while meditating on the national role of the royal family. Carlton’s reach exceeds his grasp, however; the brevity of his work precludes sweeping and definitive judgments. Americans will nonetheless find new information in this book written with an eye toward the growing American market for anything on Britain’s royals.

Sophia, Regent of Russia 1657—1704, by Lindsey Hughes. Yale $29.95

Half-sister to Peter the Great, Sophia was cut from the same paternal cloth. Intelligent but only half-educated, sensitive but emotionally unrestrained, she had visions of becoming the first great female ruler in Russian history, and she very nearly succeeded. She used the captain of the guard, Khovansky, to set the wheels of an armed coup d’état in motion, and used her lover, Prince Golitsyn, to keep those wheels properly greased. But the family of Peter’s mother tossed some sand into the gearbox and derailed the unhappy Sophia, who came to a melancholy end. This book tells this story very well indeed.

Death Throes of a Dynasty: Letters and Diaries of Charles and Bessie Ewing, Missionaries to China, edited by E.G. Ruoff. Kent State $29

There were a remarkable lot, those fearless, dedicated American missionaries who set off in the late 19th century to save the heathen Chinee. Untroubled by any doubts as to the righteousness of their cause, and motivated in most cases by a sincere affection for their spiritual wards, they ultimately did more good than harm in the Orient, and their saga deserves to be told again and again. This book does not attain the standards of Jack Service’s edition of his mother’s diary, but it is nevertheless a worthy subordinate companion.

Catherine the Great: A Short History, by Isabel de Madariaga. Yale $25

This is a condensed and to some extent popularized version of the author’s acclaimed Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great and as such is going to be accessible to a wide public. A graceful writer and a brilliant historian, Professor Madariaga, who recently retired from the University of London, has made the late 18th century in Russia as familiar—or even more so—than the age of Stalin. Highly recommended.

Gentleman Rebel, The Memoirs of H. Stuart Hughes. Ticknor & Fields $24.95

This is the autobiography of a professor emeritus of history, the patrician grandson of an American chief justice. It may be of interest to some of his former students; but the rest of us, who have never heard of the gentleman before, couldn’t care less about the sordid details of his early toilet training, his disappointing marital affair, his painful divorce, his political debacle against Ted Kennedy, or his constipated mother. So he once had dinner with President F.D. Roosevelt. Big deal! So did I.

Burnett Newman, Selected Writings and Interviews, edited by John P. O’Neill. Knopf $40

Barnett Newman was one of the central figures, along with Pollock, DeKooning, and Motherwell, in the New York school of painters known as the Abstract Expressionists. He was also an articulate erudite and witty writer, a fierce and highly combative polemicist, whose gathered articles, letters, journal pieces, and interviews give us a vivid picture of the man and the world he inhabited. Newman’s polemics against critics, fellow painters, and curators whom he felt misrepresented his works reflect the politics of art in an interesting way. He is at his very best, however, describing his own goals as painter, discussing the spirituality of art and his concepts of form.

FICTIONFerris Beach, by Jill McCorkle. Algonquin $18.95

With poetic clarity, Jill McCorkle portrays life in a small Southern town. Demographic changes in Fulton, North Carolina are reflected in Kate Burns’ inner turmoil as she prepares to enter adolescence. Striving to make herself more interesting, Kate half-believes that she is the daughter of Angela, her mysterious cousin. But when tragedy strikes their neighborhood, Kate must learn to face and accept reality. She begins to understand that life, moving in circles, is constantly renewing and unfolding, that opportunities are forever arising and that sadness often brings with it positive change. McCorkle invites both tears and laughter in response to her funny, real characters who show us that ultimately people are good. Ferris Beach is her fourth novel.

Mag, by James Sorel-Cameron. Viking $19,95

In a remarkable debut James Sorel-Cameron chronicles the survival of Mag, a mute cripple born into the debauched world of the Three Stars Inn. Passions run high at the Inn without much regard for morality, and Sorel-Cameron’s narrative records the goings-on with stomach-turning clarity. Much is distasteful, yet Sorel-Cameron compels us to read on, to follow Mag on her journey into the outside world, and one does so; tentatively at first, then with rising interest.

She seeks to find a niche for herself, far from the madding Inn crowd. But Sorel-Cameron’s uncanny prose makes sure that evil and danger are never too far away. A strangely moving novel.

Death Down Home, by Eve Sandstrom. Scribner’s $18.95

There were a host of irritating things about this debut mystery, featuring Sam Titus, a career soldier, and his professional photographer bride, Nicky. Most annoying was Nicky’s perpetual whine and the author’s self-indulgent asides. The newly-weds are forced to leave Germany for Sam’s home town in Oklahoma after his father was nearly killed in an “accident.” On arrival they find that Sam’s brother Bill has disappeared. Sandstrom made a mistake telling this story from Nicky’s point of view, because most of the action takes place in Sam’s head. The result is page after page of Nicky’s twaddle as she tries to figure out what’s happening in that thick noggin of his. Nicky, honey—it’s not worth the effort.

The Hunt Out of The Thicket, by John Morel Adler. Algonquin $15.95

Hunting a deer, shrimping by night, catching a marlin: these are the events of John Morel Adler’s short stories; actions set in the woods and backwaters of his native Georgia and South Carolina and captured in careful prose. Adler portrays men pitting their skills and intuition against nature, far away from the concerns of everyday life. And yet, alone with nature, they are able to throw back their heads, look at the stars and begin to understand the complexities of human relationships—man-woman, black-white, father-son. With these finely crafted pieces, Adler takes hunting and fishing stories onto a higher plane.

Sexual Intercourse, by Rose Boyt. Random House $17.95

This is an extraordinary first novel: the bittersweet tale of a young girl’s love for her father, seen through the author’s microscopic vision. In this world objects are thrust into our faces for scrutiny; distorted out of all proportion, yet frighteningly clear. Isobel and her father, Antony, live in a house that hasn’t had a good cleaning in years. Antony writes learned articles in his study, while Isobel tries to attract his attention without success. When she becomes pregnant she thinks her father might show some emotion toward her—anger, shock, pity . . . . She is wrong. Only when the baby is born does Antony change his ways, but all his affections are channeled towards his new grandchild. This is a funny novel, yet one shot through with black humor in which menace lurks. Boyt writes, as Francis Bacon paints, in grotesque celebration of human nature at its most basic. A fine debut, but definitely not for the squeamish.

Dead Ahead, by Ruby Horansky. Scribner’s $17.95

They say that two heads are better than one. They haven’t met Nikki Trakos and her sidekick Dave Lawton. OK, OK, so it was her first homicide. Still, this civilian discovered the perp about halfway through the book and watched painfully as the two detectives came to the same conclusion. Brooklyn gets its share of weird killings, but this one didn’t seem to add up. The murder of a poor schmuck who plays the ponies is somehow connected to the death by misadventure of one of New York’s richest men. If the plot is transparent, and the pace slow, there was one appealing character—a Jamaican cop who loves pickled herring.

Red Wolf, Red Wolf, by W. P. Kinsella. Southern Methodist $17.50

Known widely as creator of the cinematic cast of Field of Dreams, W.P. Kinsella has also published more than 200 short stories. Many of those take us back to the sometimes mythical, often allegorical land of baseball. This new collection contains a dozen nonbaseball stories, loosely organized around the notion that turns of fate are often signaled by the unexpected appearance of a stranger. While those stories are of even quality, none is so captivating as the 13th tale, the single story with a baseball motif. Narrated by a past-due ball-player whose down-home, tattooed wife insists on a life-size poster of Elvis mounted to survey the marriage bed, this story takes Kinsella back to the sound he knows best, speech measured in the pastoral rhythms of the national game.

In-Laws and Outlaws, by Barbara Paul. Scribner’s $17.95

Someone has it in for the Decker family. Rich, powerful, and talented as they are, they cannot escape being picked off one by one at the hands of some terrible unknown person. Gillian Clifford Decker had escaped the suffocating, if secure, family atmosphere when her husband, Stuart Decker had died. Drawn back to the family in their time of need, she digs to the heart of the seemingly inexplicable murders that are wiping out the family’s newest generation. What she—and the reader—find out adds a new dimension to the word horror.

Jack London, edited by Earle Labor, Robert Leitz III and I. Milo Shepard. Macmillan $35

This is a collection of 50 representative short stories of an author who is reputed to be the most widely read American writer in the world—the first one to earn a million dollars from his craft. The selection reflects the astonishing scope of subject matter and creative genius which account for the lasting appeal of a literary giant whose books are still best sellers 75 years after his death. The superb introduction (really a masterful brief biography), chronology, explanatory notes, and selective bibliography by three knowledgeable editors more than justify the stiff price for the volume.

Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $16.95

In this her second novel, Kincaid has created a delightful heroine in the person of Lucy, a young West Indian woman.

Recently arrived in New York, Lucy works as an au pair for a happily well-off family. She feels she should begrudge them their priviledged existence, so remote from her own upbringing, but, to her astonishment, she finds herself fascinated by Mariah, Lewis, and their four blond daughters. Lucy tells her story in a voice trembling with defiance and vulnerability. Yet a quiet beauty creeps into her irony; awe softens her contempt. When cracks appear in the American dream she stays to comfort the abandoned Mariah before moving into a shabby apartment of her own. As she begins to find herself in this new life, she grows to realize that the past cannot be cast aside like a piece of old clothing; that it will always be with her in the present; and, despite everything, she will always love her mother.

The Players Come Again, by Amanda Cross. Random House $17.95

In the spirit of feminine “empowerment” and the rise of women’s studies, Amanda Cross has more than ever blurred the line between fiction and her real-life duties in the Columbia University English department. This is an intriguing “nonmystery” mystery, in which English prof Kate Fansler is enticed into writing the biography of the wife of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, only to be faced with one puzzle after another. More is made of the difficulties of biography than in actual sleuthing, but afficionados of Cross’ drawing-room style will consider this an offbeat but delightful triumph.

Philadelphia Fire, by John Edgar Wideman. Henry Holt $18.95

In this forceful novel Wideman explores the evolving role of the black male in today’s society. Cudjoe, the narrator, returns to West Philadelphia after ten years of self-imposed exile on an island in the Aegean: ten years of running from his roots, from his failure as a black (he married a white woman), his failure as a man (he left his wife and children); ten years of trying not to think, trying to do nothing other than make love and soak up the sun. Then one May morning in 1985 a bomb is dropped on a house in West Philly; 11 people die, all members of the cult MOVE. Bystanders say that a small boy was seen running from the fire; for this boy Cudjoe returns home. In his search for the youngster he relives his past, remembers old friends, until he becomes the voice of black experience searching for an identity within the modern city. Wideman’s prose pulsates with an inner passion, now lyrical, now ringing with sounds from the street. It surges forward, taking the reader with it, asking questions, demanding to be heard, and providing pause for thought. A strong and moving novel.

Bad Desire, by Gary Devon. Random House $18.95

Mayor Henry Lee Slater, successful, sophisticated, and suave, has a serious problem. He is desperately in love with a 17-year-old girl. And Henry can’t just say no. While other guys are having a quiet fling on the side—enjoying their mid-life crises, as it were—Henry turns his into a nightmare of violence and death. Devon may be a little shaky on the details, but his characters turn in convincing performances in what is surely one of the greatest liasons dangereuse.

Traffic and Laughter, by Ted Mooney. Knopf $19.95

Ted Mooney is a talent in search of a genre. His Easy Travel to Other Planets marked him as a writer to watch, and watch we do as Traffic and Laughter takes dead aim at the busiest intersection in modern fiction. There’s a devastating canyon fire east of Los Angeles that somehow spreads to Africa, a female disc jockey with a voice that sets the atmosphere ablaze, and a diplomat—father of the lady with the voice—who has it in his power to bust up the world . . .literally. It adds up to a complicated psychological-political-social thriller, but some readers may find themselves, after some hours of sorting this out, in gridlock.

The Devil is Dead, by Roy Lewis. St. Martins $15.95

Arnold Landon, the hero of this, and four previous mysteries, is a man of inordinate sensitivity. So much so, that he spends most of this book with the hair standing up on his neck in a frisson of horror. Overdone? Just a trifle. Landon is drawn into a murder case by the artful suggestions of a university professor and his own suggestibility when he senses evil during a visit to an old abandoned church. In his job as a city planner, Landon also runs afoul of a gypsy camp and a suspicious religious group worshiping under the moniker of the Vicars of Jehovah. The story is well-told— red herrings abound—but as a protagonist, Landon leaves a good deal to be desired.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSSee How They Run: Electing the President in an Age of Mediocracy, by Paul Taylor. Knopf $22.95

Paul Taylor’s thesis in explaining the bankruptcy of presidential elections is that the media, the consultants, the politicians, the electorate, and the political system bring out the worst in one another. The thesis is characteristic of Taylor’s approach. With David Broder as his acknowledged role model, the young Washington Post political reporter predictably thinks more deeply than the partisan pundit. He affirms that the campaign of 1988 was coarse and bad-mannered, but so was 1828, 1840,1860, and 1884. The difference is that with the decline of political parties and clear ideologies, campaigns are more important and must carry more of the burdens of democracy. Public interest and participation go steadily down. Taylor’s remedy is “a five minute fix.” Beginning in 1992, each major candidate would have five minutes of free time on alternating nights simultaneously on every television and radio station in the country for the final five weeks of the campaign. Only the candidate or his running mate could appear. No surrogate. No Willie Horton. Taylor’s solution has its problems, but it ought to be tried.

Revolutions: Reflections on American Equality and Foreign Liberations, by David Brion Davis. Harvard University Press $19.95

A distinguished Yale historian and prize-winning author, Sterling Professor David Brion Davis devotes his Harvard Massey Lectures to a discourse on the American ambivalence about revolutions. He asks why a nation born in revolution has both expressed fears of a revolutionary world and the expectation that foreign liberations were likely to usher in the Americanization of the world. He examines the American Revolution and equality and America’s response to the French Revolution and wars of liberation in Latin America. The student of history will find few treatises richer in historical content and philosophical detail. The hard-pressed practitioner of American foreign policy will receive little direct guidance on how to deal with revolutions in the late 20th century.

The End of the Line: The Failure of Communism in the Soviet Union and China, by Christopher S. Wren. Simon & Schuster $22.95

Somewhere out there, a good book on the chaos in Russia and the agony in China lurks. This is not it. A respected New York Times correspondent who reported from both Moscow and Beijing, Wren has put together a string of anecdotes, more than a few in questionable taste, which adds up to nothing so much as superficial travel account. There is almost no serious analysis in this book, hot even much marginally useful information.

Legislating Together: The White House and Capitol Hill from Eisenhower to Reagan, by Mark A. Peterson. Harvard $32.50

When Republicans control the presidency, they discover that the Constitution assigns supreme power to the president, especially in foreign policy. When Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans warn of an imperial presidency while Democrats resist all challenges to the primacy of executive powers. Mark Peterson, who is an associate professor of government at Harvard, offers an alternative concept to explain executive-legislative relations which he calls the tandem-institutions perspective. It is intended to provide a more coherent view of the patterns of relationships than the presidency perspective which Peterson associates with the late Edward S. Corwin. While offered with the élan of a Harvard prophet and buttressed by a mass of imperical data reinforced by sophisticated methodologies, it is not easy to see how this concept differs from Richard Neustadt’s idea of “shared powers.”

Henry M. Jackson and World Affairs: Selected Speeches, 1953—83, edited by Dorothy Fosdick. Washington $30

The collection of “Scoop” Jackson’s speeches by Dorothy Fosdick is a labor of love. Having served for four years as a member of the Policy Planning Staff chaired by George F. Kennan and Paul H. Nitze, she signed on as Jackson’s foreign policy expert in 1954. Her carefully selected and edited collection of his speeches helps dispel the image of him as a mere “cold warrior” or the “Senator from Boeing.” The speeches range from arms control to military powe and from human rights to Central America. They refle

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