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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1997


ISSUE:  Spring 1997

Specifically this inquiry deals with a large area—the Continent north of the Alps, the British Isles, and Scandinavia—that was lashed by heavy rains and endured harsh winters from 1315 to 1322.Superb detective work, as all good historical research should be, it is well organized, fast moving, and, above all else, persuasive. Jordan spins a horrifying tale, dealing, in turn, with the nature of the calamity and how it affected the nobility, peasants, and townfolk— starvation, disease, displacement, and death. One hundred eighty-eight pages of closely reasoned text are supplemented by more than 70 pages of notes and a 43-page bibliography. Yes, this is true scholarship but also a riveting tale as well.

The Great South Carolina Ku Klux Klan Trials, 1871—1872, by Lou Falkner Williams. Georgia $35

This is a swift-paced, cogent account of a bizarre moment in our history—bringing to heel rape, pillage, and masked terror in nine counties of South Carolina only a few years after outright rebellion was squashed. The author sees success but also failure, and some politicos of those years would agree. Instead of securing broad nationalization of the 14th and 15th amendments, thus conferring true citizenship upon black males, those conducting federal policy opted for restoration of public order and an end to Reconstruction. Since that is what a majority of the national electorate wanted at the time, the outcome seems inevitable. That is, after all, how democracy works. What voters of that era could not see clearly was the age of Jim Crow that would follow. And, even if able to discern the outlines of legal discrimination, it, too, might have won widespread endorsement. In any case, the struggle for civil rights was left to another generation —ours.

The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy, by Hans Mommsen. North Carolina $65

Mommsen has produced an impressive and important contribution to our understanding of this fateful period in modern history. The crucial argument is that the failure of Weimar was neither inevitable nor complete. The intense pressure of peculiar internal and international factors widened the cracks in the fragmented political culture of republican Germany, with devastating results. Mommsen wisely observes that Nazism was not the inevitable consequence of Weimarism, and further argues that the republican period produced positive results, even if these were later negated by the excesses of the succeeding regime.

The Quality of Mercy: Southern Baptists and Social Christianity, 1890—1920, by Keith Harper. Alabama $21.95

The need to challenge constantly old assumptions and schools of historical interpretation inspired the thesis of this book that Southern Baptists were involved in social gospel ministry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The use of social ministry came out of a worldview focused on the salvation of the soul and ministry to the poor on the behalf of Christ by his church. The theological limits were further constricted by the economic climate that pervaded much of the South during this period. Harper uses selected materials to show the need for a complete reinterpretation. This work is a good beginning point into the topic and will hopefully inspire others to flesh out the thesis with further research.

Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore. North Carolina $49. 95 cloth, $17. 95 paper

Glenda Gilmore’s use of gender, race, and class as tools of historical analysis enriches our understanding of political history in the period from 1890 to 1920.Her study suggests that we fashion a more nuanced meaning for the term “progressivism.” In bringing women, and in particular black women, central to the discussion, Gilmore effectively invites a reconsideration of power and its relationship to women of varying classes. Consequently, we can examine Southern history from the perspective of the disfranchised, For example, her treatment of community workers introduces readers to Jeanes teachers, club women, and student leaders. She also goes beyond the traditional categories with which women are associated and highlights gender-benders, such as Lula Spaulding who became known as the “debit man” when she entered the insurance business. She peoples her account with names and faces, filling in seemingly empty spaces and giving voice to silences that have been heretofore overlooked and unheard. Gilmore’s fresh approach offers new insights into African-American women’s interactions and participation in the political arena during this period.

Lyndon Johnson’s War: America’s Cold War Crusade in Vietnam, 1945—1965, by Michael H. Hunt. Hill and Wang $18

Why did Lyndon Johnson insist on fighting “that bitch of a war” in Vietnam? The answer lies in the context of the Cold War and the character and career of Johnson himself. He spoke with a Cold War vocabulary of cliches about falling dominos. His folksy Texan ways led him to believe that the Vietnamese were Asians with American dreams, and he felt he understood their hopes. He did not nor did the best and brightest of his advisors understand the long history of Vietnam. They preferred to couch its history as part of another larger story of Communist aggression and expansion. Had they bothered to understand Ho Chi Minh or the desires of the Vietnamese peasantry they might have proceeded differently. This is the heart of Michael H.Hunt’s slim volume about the tragedy of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson’s war. He made the deliberate decisions to commit American resources and troops to the jungles half a globe away. But Hunt aims higher than assigning blame; he offers lessons. Ideological insularity, hubris, and ignorance of our own and others’ history combine to create disaster. Hunt, a seasoned scholar of American foreign relations, has written a crisp, concise, and measured book on America and Vietnam. It is a quick read and a must read.

After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral Politics before the New Deal, by Kristi Andersen. Chicago $38 cloth, $13.95 paper

Andersen seeks to dispel the myth that nothing important happened between women’s suffrage and the revival of the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s. Indeed, she argues, the 1920’s were important years for renegotiating the boundaries for men’s and women’s roles in the political sphere. Moreover, the involvement of women in partisan politics marked a transformation in ideas about gender and citizenship. Though women only appeared in small numbers as candidates and elected officials, their role in lobbying for moral issues redefined the political to include issues beyond parties and elections, and allowed it to include the female political culture. Even the presence of small numbers of female candidates and women’s presence at the polling booths transformed the image of politics as exclusively masculine space. The 1920’s were not so uneventful after all.

Passchendaele: The Untold Story, by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson. Yale $30

Historians and enthusiasts of the First World War will welcome this new work by two distinguished Australian professors. Their subject, Passchendaele (or Third Ypres), has come to symbolize the horror and futility of trench warfare in World War I. In the autumn of 1917, the British High Command, led by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, decided to restore movement to the Western Front and launch an offensive to open up all of Flanders. By the end of the campaign, the British suffered 275,000 casualties and the Germans 200,000, and the Allies had only moved forward five miles. These gains were wiped out in only three days in the following March, as the Germans recaptured their earlier lines. Prior and Wilson eloquently demonstrate that the losses at Passchendaele were not inevitable and could have been avoided through a number of means (both military and political). The authors should be commended for writing a balanced, convincing work that reveals the devastation of the First World War and the failure of military and political leaders to recognize this horror.

Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia, by Jo Ann Kay McNamara. Harvard $35

This sweeping and definitive history of Catholic nuns in the Western world explores the rich world of the sisters’ convents from their obscure beginnings in the second century through their medieval zenith in Western Europe to the 20th century, when the religious communities appear to be on the wane, at least in America. The author highlights the importance of the nuns’ work and struggles in the Church by introducing us to mystics, artists, healers, teachers, scholars, and activists. The role of nuns through the centuries often has been minimized in history, but this groundbreaking work finally illuminates their importance in the Church and in the history of the West.

Sherman’s Horsemen, by David Evans. Indiana $40

This is a book by a native Georgian on the wanton destruction in the siege of Atlanta for seven weeks in the summer of 1864. He is a professional historian with a Ph. D.degree in military affairs who has authored many articles on the Civil War. Having engaged in meticulous research including a number of previously unpublished sources, the talented writer has produced a magnificent volume that is easily readable on an historical subject that has been neglected by other scholars. Voluminous footnote references; maps; drawings; photos; and a superb bibliography that is accompanied by a detailed index, add an authoritative touch to the text. Indeed, this first major publication on Sherman’s march may soon and well deservedly prove to be the seminal study and definitive account of this important event.

Hitler’s U-Boat War: The Hunters, 1939—1942, by Clay Blair. Random House $40

This book offers a definitive account of Germany’s submarine war against the Allies, the Battle of the Atlantic that lasted roughly six years. Blair’s scholarship is impeccable, thorough, and painstaking. He has unearthed for the first time long lost documents, and has gone well beyond the public, official register of war events. This is the first volume of two; the second will cover the last years of the war when the Allies overcame the U-boat threat. Anyone interested in the dramatic story of maritime warfare as it will never be again will find this monumental book deeply rewarding.

Venice and the Grand Tour, by Brace Redford. Yale $30

This splendid and attractive book portrays the Tour of the continent as the climactic phase in the formation of “the complete gentleman” as it certainly was throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Redford sets out wonderfully the complex but coherent web of educational, social, and political concerns which underlay the construction of the Tour’s itinerary—an itinerary that centered on Rome, where the traveler completed his transformation into gentleman-classicist, possessor of the past. The importance of the role of Venice on the Tour, by contrast, was that it helped to form the gentleman as contemporary cultural leader; it taught modern art, politics, economics, and sexuality. Redford succeeds in bringing out the ambivalence that surrounded the Tour in 18th-century culture, which viewed the experience of Venice as both deeply necessary and deeply dangerous, a prop of the hierarchial status quo and a subversive force within it. Redford’s book would make an ideal gift for college students contemplating a post-graduation trip to Europe.

British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars Through the Crimea, by Scott Hughes Myerly. Harvard $35

In this handsomely illustrated, well-written volume, Mr. Myerly demonstrates how the development of the adornments of an army both reflected British cultural concerns and military demands, and also established a pattern to be imitated by nonmartial institutions. A provocative interpretation that will be of interest to cultural as well as military historians.

Building the Nineteenth Century, by Tom F. Peters. MIT $40

Railway stations were the medieval cathedrals of the 19th century, underground tunnels its Roman aquaducts, and the Eiffel Tower and the Crystal Palace its Babylonian hanging gardens. All capture the essence of the Victorian era— wealth, stability, power—and serve as its monuments. This built environment also captured the spirit of Victorianism by successfully welding architectural form to engineering technology. Superbly illustrated and carefully exposited, this volume serves as an extremely useful introduction to its subject.

Two Months in the Confederate States, by W. C. Corsan, edited by Benjamin H. Trask. Louisiana $26.95

Corsan was a Sheffield steel maker and merchant, who crossed the Atlantic in the autumn of 1862 to investigate the impact of the Civil War on his business customers in the South. His report is well informed and insightful— especially on matters economic, business and industrial. Trask has provided a valuable introduction and detailed notes.

LITERARY STUDIESGothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain, by H. L. Malchow. Stanford $55 cloth, $18.95 paper

This book makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing process of rethinking 19th-century British literature in light of the issues of imperialism and race. Malchow demonstrates that the Gothic literary tradition provided powerful images for embodying the racial hatred and fears that were provoked by the increasingly tense encounters between Europeans and nonEuropeans in the course of the 19th century. At the same time, Malchow traces how experience on the imperial frontiers provided new images of horror for Gothic literature. The fact that Malchow is a historian gives his argument a detailed texture often lacking in the work of contemporary literary critics, even when they call themselves New Historicists. As Malchow himself writes at one point in his argument: “To a historian’s mind, making the case requires more than a deconstructionist assault on the text.” The most interesting chapters in the book are on “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” and indeed you will have to read it yourself to find out why the Frankenstein monster may have been a Jamaican slave or why Dracula may have been Jewish.

Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes, by Paul Strathern. Ivan R. Dee $12.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

This is one of a series of similar, very brief and amusing books on philosophers (Descartes, Kant, etc.) by a journalist and novelist trained in philosophy who, with his 90-minute series, is keeping pace with the speed of modern life. Wittgenstein in 90 minutes—imagine! After a brief summary essay on the philosopher’s life and works, which at best gives us the flavor or aroma of Wittgenstein’s thought, we are presented with some well-known quotations from his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; for example, “The world is all that is the case,” and “The facts in logical space are the world.” Not even 900 minutes will be enough for most of Strathern’s uninitiated readers to grasp Wittgenstein’s meaning.

Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon, by John Kerrigan. Oxford $70

At once literary criticism, anthropology, social theory, and moral philosophy, Kerrigan’s new book is arguably his most impressive work to date. Each chapter illuminates the theme of the vendetta from the perspective of one or more major works of literature—frequently Greek and Elizabethan tragedy—while simultaneously meditating on a variety of subjects, from the modern cinema of Pasolini to Malaysian funeral rites. Kerrigan’s scholarship always has been considerable and wide ranging, but never before has he held together so much so gracefully.

A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel. Viking $26.95

“We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages. . . . We read in gusts of sudden pleasure.” Thus, the Argentine-born, now Canadian, author in his learned, enchanting, discursive essay on the mysteries of reading. Among the chapter titles of this enticing book we find “Metaphors of Reading,” “The Author as Reader,” and “The Symbolic Reader.” Erudition and memoir are beautifully wed in this stimulating and provocative book.

Chaucer and the Universe of Learning, by Ann W. Astell. Cornell $35

This book attempts to contextualize Chaucer’s poetic oeuvre within the scholastic debates that were current at the end of the 14th century. Astell looks at the scholarly, bookish Chaucer in order to suggest that the Canterbury Tales is more like a philosophical and social treatise than a hodge-podge assemblage of stories. Astell then goes on to link Chaucer’s poetic project with those of two other prominent “philosophical” poets—Gower and Dante. The arguments in this book, if not always convincing, are surely provocative.

The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volume 5: The Works of Horace Translated into Verse, edited by Karina Williamson. Oxford $105

No 18th-century English poet has had stranger bouts with fortune than Christopher Smart. Dismissed as a madman during his lifetime, he was rediscovered in the 19th century precisely because of the enthusiasm and inspiration of his most radical poetic works. Today, Smart is still known principally as the author of Jubilate Agno and “A Song to David.” His more sedate but equally brilliant early poetry goes unappreciated, even by many 18th-century literary scholars. Yet his verse translations of Horace boast some of the best verse and finest translations in our language. Here they are, published for the first time since 1767.

Lament for the Makers, by W. S. Merwin. Counterpoint $19 cloth

Lament for the Makers begins with W. S. Merwin’s poem of the same name that honors 23 deceased modern poets who greatly influenced his own work. It continues with a short selection from and biography of each of these poets. Merwin’s choices for this “memorial anthology” are often not the most obvious and therein lies the unique interest of this slim volume. Each poem was selected not as representative of the work of a particular poet, but for the effect it had on Merwin’s poetry. Thus, we have the unusual opportunity to learn not only of Merwin’s broad artistic and intellectual genealogy, but also of the particular poems that had a profound impact on him. In each of the poems presented, whose authors range from Robert Frost to Howard Nemerov, we can hear strains that would echo both in Merwin’s poetry and in the many translations he has done. Despite a brevity that leaves you wanting more, this volume offers a rare glimpse into the making of one of the great poets of our time.

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. Norton $39.95

Utility is generally to be appreciated, and this volume is eminently useful. Here are collected various works of poetry, drama, short fiction, novels, slave narratives, and autobiography which remind us of the richness of African-American contributions to literary culture in the United States. Any teacher pondering a syllabus for a class in African-American literature will find this volume helpful, if not indispensable. A teacher should not necessarily be considered unimaginative for deciding ultimately to make this collection her syllabus, so vast is the scope of the volume, and so important are the different works it includes. The only serious criticism of the volume might be what it excludes; alas, even a work of this size must inevitably exclude some gems readers may discover missing here. This is not so much a flaw, ultimately, as a sign of the difficulty which the volume’s distinguished editors had to negotiate in the course of producing a most worthwhile book, bound to become an enormous success.

Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Intelligence, by Sander L. Gilman. Nebraska $35

This book explores the alleged linkage of race and intelligence by closely examining images of Jewish intellectualism in popular and scientific culture. Gilman lays bare the mechanics of racism and stereotyping with respect to what is otherwise a flattering attribution—superior intelligence. Gilman shows, however, that this attribution only worked to isolate and malign Jews. The “anxiety of genius” associated with Sigmund Freud is a case in point. This is an immensely learned and fresh book.

The Politics of Motherhood: British Writing and Culture 1680—1760, by Toni Bowers. Cambridge $55

Through detailed examination of a variety of novels, plays, sermons, songs, popular engravings, portraiture, and propaganda, the author brings out the 18th-century struggle to develop new ideals for virtuous motherhood. Bowers argues that Western motherhood traditionally has been, and still is, defined and contained by patriarchal privilege. She asks how influential Augustan writers imposed specific limits on motherhood by representing it in particular ways. Most interesting is her effort to point up the incompleteness that frustrates the processes of cultural containment. The book is ultimately an experiment in doubting that maternity must necessarily exist in relation to primary patriarchal power. Although many influential Augustan writers labored to produce and enforce a particular, limited set of norms for virtuous motherhood, the ideals engendered in their discourse never entirely eliminated maternal difference. Bowers is perhaps at her best in this admirably well-written book in her discussion of monstrous motherhood.

Tyranny of the Normal, by Leslie Fiedler. Godine $22.95

Fast approaching 80, Leslie Fielder continues to break fresh ground. These nine “essays on bioethics, theology, and myth” cover such unexpected topics as child abuse, organ transplants, and our images of doctors, nurses, and the disabled. Fiedler addresses these topics through literature as well as popular culture. The chapter on organ transplant programs offers a brilliant reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.Throughout, Fiedler helps us see our present moment in mythic terms. Particularly memorable are two largely’autobiographical chapters on aging and sexuality.

Harlem’s Glory: Black Women Writing, 1900—1950, edited by Lorraine Elena Roses and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph. Harvard $29.95

The editors of this collection of black women’s fiction writing have picked up where they left off after they completed Harlem Renaissance and Beyond: Literary Biographies of 100 Black Women Writers, 1900—1945. They continue to trace the predecessors of today’s well-known black women authors by presenting the work of early pioneers. This volume is an impressive one, full of rare samples of their writings and including as much biographical information as the editors could find on the lives of these women, many of whom were not famous, but who contributed so much to their communities through their writing and activism. These authors recognized the conflicting dualities—black and female —which constructed their identities and defined them as American women. They addressed the significance of racism and sexism in their lives, developed survival skills in order to cope, and dreamed of a better world where they would no longer experience discrimination. They fought the stereotypes which typecasted them and limited their potential.

F. Scott Fitzgerald on Authorship, edited by Matthew J.Bruccoli with Judith S. Baughman. South Carolina $29.95

“The wise writer . . . writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next and the school-masters of ever afterward,” declared F. Scott Fitzgerald in a mock-interview with himself after his first novel was published, at age 24.This is a lively collection of observations about writers, writing, and the literary life culled from Fitzgerald’s articles, book reviews, letters, and notebooks. Aspiring authors will take heart from his cheerful perseverance in the face of “one hundred and twenty-two rejection slips pinned in a frieze about my room,” followed suddenly by “that first wild wind of success.” Later there is a melancholy note when the middle-aged professional faces dwindling royalties (even Gatsby was “taken out of the Modern Library because it didn’t sell, which was a blow”), fails at Hollywood hack-work and must eke out a living with short stories “picking over an already well-picked past.” Bruccoli and Baughman have done a superb job of selection and annotation and (as Fitzgerald said reviewing a book of poetry) “. . .the only pity is that [the] book is so small.”

Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction, by William A. Cohen. Duke $16.95

Remarkably well written, thoroughly researched, titilating, tantalizing, and sober, Cohen’s study takes the reader on a joyride through a handful of turn-of-the-century sex scandals, including the Cleveland Street affair, the Mordaunt divorce, and the Oscar Wilde trials. The book opens with a useful and intelligent definition of scandal—particularly timely at the current fin de siecle— which distinguishes it from the less sexual connotations of sensation and gossip, and ends with a brillant chapter on Wilde and James and the conflation of literary and sexual discourse. While Cohen does discuss in a limited way the conflicts of class and celebrity that often brought outrage to Victorian England, his chief concern here is sexual identity and transgression, and, more specifically, the furor caused by rumors of male homosexuality.Sex Scandal’s footnote-laden style is oftentimes demanding on the reader’s attention, but the work is packed with useful citations and references, not to mention clever insights. For the “Works Cited” alone, but also for the author’s perceptiveness, Cohen’s book is well worth the price of admission.

LIVES AND LETTERSThe Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785—1800, by Conor Cruise O’Brien. Chicago $29.95

The Long Affair is a polemic operating on several levels. It offers meditations on Jefferson’s support for the French Revolution, combined with harsh indictments of his thinking about race and slavery O’Brien is also critical of the tendency he detects in some of Jefferson’s biographers and editors to mislead their readers about the true import of Jefferson’s writings. This line of argument leads O’Brien to reinterpret the Virginian as an ideological terrorist, who, ‘were he alive today, would support the deeds of Pol Pot in Cambodia. In turn, this conclusion justifies O’Brien’s call for Jefferson’s expulsion from the temple of American “civil religion” on the grounds that his racism and his defense of terror make him an unfit icon for a multicultural society. O’Brien thus emerges as a latter-day Edmund Burke, rehashing the debate with Thomas Paine about the merits of radical change as opposed to the orderly preservation of valuable traditions. Jefferson scholars will find little that is new in this book, except the rhetorical extravagance of its author’s more extreme claims. Other readers may be provoked into debating O’Brien’s arguments, but few, ultimately, will be persuaded by them.

Rebecca West: A Life, by Carl Rollyson. Scribner $35

Best known in America for her magnificent book on Yugoslavia (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon) and her long-term affair with H.G.Wells, Rebecca West led a life remarkable for its sheer intelligent vivacity. Too conservative for the left and too liberal for the right, she won the admiration of both for her sheer brilliance and uncompromising intellectual honesty. Overshadowed to some extent by Hannah Arendt as a commentator on postwar politics, she nevertheless preserved a place of honor in a variety of intellectual and cultural circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Rollyson has done well by her.

The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive, edited by Richard Pipes. Yale $27.50

If there are still any unreconstructed Leninists around, they ought to read the unvarnished truth in this book. No one with any sense at all has doubted that Lenin could be ruthless, but there are still many people, including at least threequarters of the American academic establishment, who believe he really did mean well. He did not. He was one of history’s all-time champions of murder on a mass scale, and Pipes has unearthed the documents to prove that.

The Great Chief Justice, by Charles F. Hobson. Kansas $35

A well-worn anecdote about John Marshall, whose 34 years as chief justice of the United States Supreme Court make him the longest ever to hold that post, concerns the use of legal authorities and precedent cases. Marshall is reported to have reached his own conclusion on a particularly difficult case without reference to any previous decisions. His conclusion was merely an assertion, made to Associate Justice Joseph Story with the declaration: “Now, Story, that is the law: you find the precedents for it.” On such commentary was built Marshall’s reputation as a practical judge, unencumbered by the weight of legal scholarship. But the impression left by the anecdote is false, according to Charles Hobson, documentary historian and expert in early American statecraft. He argues that far from being an untutored pragmatist, Marshall was a master of the common law tradition. His judicial opinions were an attempt to synthesize that tradition and engraft it onto the structure of constitutional government that required an independent judiciary. As history has shown, Marshall was largely successful, and Hobson’s study should succeed in restoring one feature of the reputation of the man known as “the great chief justice.”

John Stuart and the Struggle for Empire on the Southern Frontier, by J. Russell Snapp. Louisiana $42.50

John Stuart served as superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern district of British North America from 1762 onward. The widening gap between the interests of crown and colonists created tensions on the Southern frontier; Stuart’s policies and attitudes further exacerbated matters. Snapp has crafted a careful assessment of John Stuart’s role in shaping the revolutionary South.

Tomorrow, God Willing: Self-made Destinies in Cairo, by Unni Wikan. Chicago $50 cloth, $17.95 paper

In her ethnography of women struggling against the crushing poverty of Cairo’s back streets, Unni Wikan presents an account of perseverance amidst tragedy and hardship. By avoiding bulky anthropological methods and allowing Cairene women to tell their stories, the book achieves a breadth and sincerity rare in anthropological writing. The core of the work centers on Umm Ali and her family, tracing their stories through 25 years of intimate friendship with Wikan. In the tradition of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, this novel-like book remains accessible to anyone interested and contains valuable material for the specialist. Living in an era where Arab women’s voices desperately need to be heard, we owe our thanks to Wikan for her intimate presentation.

Provincial Families of the Renaissance, by James S. Grubb. Johns Hopkins $45

The author, a social historian who also wrote Firstborn of Venice, continues his exploration of family history of the Veneto with this richly documented scholarly monograph on private and public life in the Venetian territory. Using memoirs and other primary sources, Grubb writes a straightforward technical monograph, which examines the life-cycle from birth to marriage to death.”Decidedly empirical” as the author calls it, this book investigates issues of spirituality, agricultural history, and the political elite in an effort to unveil the minute history of everyday life during the Renaissance.

The Life of Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies, 1917—1918, by George H. Nash. Norton $45

This is the third volume in the life of a man often reviled. In 509 pages of text and 124 more of footnotes, Nash provides an insider’s view of the intricacies of wartime Washington from May 1917 to November 1918.Hoover’s work as national food administrator is meticulously examined from every conceivable angle; but, in the end, this is really a tale of skillful bureaucratic footwork—steps and stratagems to placate, appease, and get along with Congress, consumers, farmers, big business interests, our Allies, and—oh yes—the White House. Apparently Hoover was ALL business during these 18 months, had virtually no personal life, never told a joke, rarely looked directly at anyone he was addressing, and yet somehow gained the respect of many, even their devotion. Why is not clear. Perhaps the pages of a future volume will explain how this colorless “work-a-holic” won the hearts and votes of millions a decade later.

Wagner, by Michael Tanner. Princeton $19.95

In his quietly magnificent study of one of the most controversial figures in modern music, Michael Tanner strips Richard Wagner bare of the layers of interpretation by which his fierce critics have separated him from us, almost as a form of revenge. In the course of assessing Wagner’s contribution to music in the West, Tanner addresses with an abiding sense of fairness the alleged megalomania, genuine antiSemitism, and varying political extremism of the composer, Wagner, whose artistic energies aimed at questioning whether the decisions we have made in order to be civilized were the right ones, will likely continue to offend, fascinate, or at the very least engage us for generations to come. Tanner’s expert analysis, admirably accessible to non-specialists, usefully contextualizes Wagner’s life work—his continuous effort to show how we might gain or regain the dimensions of mystery and potentiality which are lost on this, a decidedly secular age.

Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others, by Kim Townsend. Norton $29.95

Engaging, original, and timely, Manhood at Harvard traces the development of the masculine ideal as it was played out at one of the country’s premier institutions of higher education from the Civil War through World War I. Although Townsend’s thoughtful research takes off in several directions—he considers manhood’s dependence on athletics and religion, the rise of Teddy Roosevelt and the cowboys of the West, the various definitions of manliness in politics and family life—his study never really leaves the ground of Harvard, where students seemed to have worked harder to attain the “patriotism of American manhood” than any serious scholarly direction. Townsend’s project is a pleasure to read because it weaves pop culture with social history, gender studies with pedagogy. The result is a fascinating look at the tapestry of American masculinity at the turn of the century, a tapestry that is surprisingly large and polychromatic and even a bit frayed around the edges.

The Gorbachev Factor, by Archie Brown.Oxford $30

Brown is perhaps the leading authority on Russia in the English-speaking world; he is also, after the man himself, the world’s leading champion of Mikhail Gorbachev. It was Brown, who teaches at Oxford, to whom Margaret Thatcher turned for advice about the young Soviet leader. We know the rest: she could do business with him. Gorbachev did indeed do business, on a monumental scale, ultimately bringing down the system he swore to defend. He is one of the great figures of this century and thus Brown’s enthusiasm, if a bit wearisome at times, is understandable.

Wilhelm II. Volume 2, Emperor and Exile, 1900—1941, by Lamar Cecil. North Carolina $39.95

With this volume, Lamar Cecil completes his scholarly biography of Wilhelm II, emperor of Germany (1888—1918). Cecil details Wilhelm’s many failings as ruler and his blunders in the pre-war years when he tried to play the statesman but too often played the fool. After, war broke out in 1914, as a would-be warlord, Wilhelm had little to contribute. By the time of the Armistice, he had become a cipher, ignored by nearly everyone. In exile after 1918, awaiting a call to restore the Hohenzollern empire, he failed to realize that no one cared about him. This well-researched biography makes fascinating reading.

Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, by Nell Irvin Painter. Norton $28

Painter takes on the difficult task of tracing the life of the woman best known for linking race and gender. With her famous speech, “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” Truth “inserts blackness into feminism and gender into racial identity.” What Truth is best known for, however, is the conundrum of Painter’s effort. As she convincingly shows, the moving words associated with Truth most likely were not spoken by her at all. They were probably the invention of a contemporary abolitionist-feminist, who penned them with an agenda of her own 12 years after the famous convention in 1851.Painter’s biography then goes beyond the historical importance of Truth to encompass the myth that surrounds her. The words of a strong black woman allegedly thundering across the gathering in Akron silence dissent. Sojourner Truth defies containment within what can be historically proven about her. Ultimately, we prefer the symbol over the life because it gives us the woman as we would like her to have been.

FICTIONSanta Evita, by Tomás Eloy Martínez. Knopf $23

This weird and mesmerizing book captures perfectly the weird and mesmerizing life and death of Eva Peron, the starlette-dictator’s wifesaint who has haunted Argentine politics since the early 1940’s. Like Pamela Harriman, Evita slept her way to the top; like Nixon, she refuses to die. Vilified by her enemies as a manipulative power broker and sanctified by her supporters as the defender of the downtrodden, Evita became even more enigmatic in death. Her body, embalmed by a Spanish expert and (perhaps) copied as many as three times, journeyed out of Argentina and back again, a pawn in the hands of those who would use its talismanic power to control the country. Martínez plots the deadly serious game of hide and seek with the body, told in jump cuts and flashbacks, ruminations on researching and writing this “novel,” interviews with the protagonists, bits and pieces of radio scripts, historical narratives, myth, and gossip. Is there a “truth” in Evita’s story? Hard to tell. Eva, Evita, Santa Evita . . . and now Madonna Evita. Despite her protestations, Argentina does cry for her. Martinez has written a startling and unnerving comic novel to remind us of the dangers that lurk at the intersection of superstition and politics.

Robert Graves: Complete Short Stories, edited by Lucia Graves. St. Martin’s $39.95

Covering almost 60 years and a range of publications from Encounter, The London Magazine, and The New Yorker, to Playboy, Punch, and Family Circle, these stories attest to Graves’s perfect style, his taste for ironic and perverse plotting, as well as his absolute control of narrative and description. If he plumbs few depths, Graves never fails to engage, amuse, and surprise. Especially noteworthy are three tales set in ancient Rome (pendants to the Claudius novels?) and a parodic biography of the poet Gnaeus Robertulus Gravesa attributed to Suetonius.

Tabloid Dreams: Stories, by Robert Olen Butler. Henry Holt $22.50

Robert Olen Butler’s latest volume of short stories deserves much more than the passing glance one might give the supermarket scandal sheets that are his muse. Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his previous story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, finds inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, a dozen tabloid headlines that in his hands become titles for first-person vignettes: “Boy Born with Tattoo of Elvis,” “Every Man She Kisses Dies,” “JFK Secretly Attends Jackie Auction,” and so on. Rather than merely capitalize on the inherent absurdity of the headlines, as one might expect, Butler generates throughout a surprisingly compelling mix of fantasy and pathos, particularly in those stories that frame the collection, “Titanic Victim Speaks through Waterbed” and “Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle.” His results have the feel of improvisations by a master.

Same Place, Same Things, by Tim Gautreaux. St. Martin’s $20.95

For some years serious fans of the American short story have been aware of the art and craft of Tim Gautreaux as his stories have appeared in the literary magazines and, as well, in Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, GQ and in prize-winning anthologies. A native of south Louisiana, he writes about Cajun culture in the 12 stories that make up this debut collection. Most are linked together by a compassionate concern with the lives and work of these people and marked by (in Gautreaux’s words) “soot and blue-collar angst.” Strong advance praise from the likes of Shirley Ann Grau, Andre Dubus, Robert Olen Butler, and Susan Dodd (James Lee Burke calls him “a Renaissance humanist with a Cajun accent.”) ought to help to bring this book to the attention of the wider audience it deserves. Meanwhile, those who have been following the author’s work will be well pleased to have this representative selection between hard covers.

I Am Dangerous: Stories, by Greg Johnson. Johns Hopkins $13.95

Johnson’s third collection of short stories (he is also a poet and novelist and critic) offers 13 stories, all but one previously published in a variety of literary magazines and quarterlies. In strong, straightforward, clean-cut prose, he tells basically domestic stories in a manner and voice characterized by wit, irony, and insight. In the title story a young man, a graduate student, goes to an afternoon movie and shares the theater and the film and, briefly, his life, with a young woman who is, as it happens, the only other member of the audience. There is no typical Johnson story, but these are all well-made, well-turned, and unflinchingly honest.

New Stories from the South, The Year’s Best 1996, edited by Shannon Ravenel. Algonquin $10.95

The 12th year of convincing selections by the editorial director of Algonquin Books who screens one hundred literary journals annually to select just over a dozen stories set in the South or written by authors from the region. This year’s anthology includes a never-before-published story by William Faulkner as well as new work by well-known and emerging writers. Especially haunting and well-told is a story by Susan Perabo. A must-see collection.

After Rain, by William Trevor. Viking $22.95

The characters in these 12 short stories are small-time thieves, children coping with their parents’ divorces, spouses remaining married to unfaithful partners, a mother with a possibly sociopathic son, an uncle dealing with his niece’s unexpected pregnancy by reporting that “Mulreavy would marry her if they paid him.” To match this range of personalities—and Trevor’s characters quickly acquire fully-formed personalities —comes a variety of voices. Trevor is bittersweet, for example, when children act out some of the sordid adult doings: “ ‘Cold evening, Mrs. Edwina.’ I hope you’re not planning a love nest. I don’t want no filth in my house.’” He is equally convincing with rural Irish brogue as with London cockney. Yet though these are people one feels one knows, they remain essentially inscrutable—to each other as well as to the reader. By turns warm, humorous, nostalgic, and chilling, these stories are superbly Grafted and memorable.

The Singing Sword, by Jack Whyte. Forge $23.95

This is the second book of The Camulod Chronicles, a six-book series which is being published in the U.S.for the first time. It recounts the Arthurian legend as it may well have happened, from its beginnings in Roman Britain into the bloody chaos of the Roman Empire’s fall. This volume continues the story of the retired Roman legionary and ironsmith Publius Varrus and the creation of a colony in southwestern England that will provide a haven against the onslaughts of barbarians from the north. This is story-telling on a grand scale, full of great characters and exciting tales told with a discriminating eye for detail.

House of Guilt, by Robert Rosenberg. Scribner’s $22

This is the third mystery in a series featuring retired detective chief Avram Cohen of Jerusalem. Cohen reluctantly undertakes a sensitive missing person case—he is to look for the rich and spoiled heir of an international banking family—and in the process solves an open case from his distant past. Written with economy and pace, the author tells a good story well, and in the meantime convincingly explores the social fragmentation and tumultuous politics of present-day Israel.

About Schmidt, by Louis Begley. Knopf $23

In About Schmidt, Louis Begley offers a masterful examination of an individual life, that of Albert Schmidt.”Schmidtie,” as he is known to his friends, has just been pushed into early retirement from his law firm shortly after the death of his wife. His only daughter is about to marry one of the aggressive younger lawyers who helped remove him. His future son-in-law also happens to be a Jew, and Schmidt cannot get beyond a tinge of anti-Semitism, though his oldest and closest friend is himself Jewish. Begley offers a warts-and-all look at this man who now finds himself a misfit in the more open egalitarian present. While Schmidt has his unattractive features, Begley makes sure that we understand his vulnerabilities and illusions. This, ultimately, makes one sympathetic to Schmidt. In this novel we see a man reviewing his past and trying to figure out how to make sense of his future, but having little success. As he tries to come to grips with his life as a single retired man, Schmidt puts himself into various untenable situations—making a pass at his future son-in-law’s mother, beginning a relationship with a Hispanic waitress younger than his daughter, trying to shelter himself from an objective understanding of himself. But in his fallibility is his humanity.About Schmidt shows us again that Louis Begley is one of our very best writers. He writes with a clarity and fluidity that are rarely matched. He creates characters who are subtle and three dimensional. And he shies away from no subject matter at all.

The Tears of Things, by Ralph McInerny. St. Martin’s $24.95

As the protagonist of 17 previous mysteries and a television series, Father Dowling has become a celebrated figure among this genre’s fans. His latest adventure does not disappoint. Ostensibly about the murder of a retired parishioner, its true subject is the dilemmas posed by adoption and the often painful search for birth mothers and fathers. Flawed himself, Father Dowling sees and understands the flaws in others and that makes him particularly qualified to delve into the mysteries of human nature and the crimes that so often result from the seven deadly sins.

The Christmas Letters, by Lee Smith. Algonquin $12.95

The latest from Lee Smith, ‘one of our finest Southern writers, is The Christmas Letters, an epistolary novella that tells the story.of three generations of women in the Pickett family from North Carolina: Birdie Pickett; her first daughter, Mary; and one of Mary’s twin daughters, Melanie. Spanning 50 years, the book consists of 17 Christmas letters, those all-purpose, factfilled yearly updates filled with the news of friends and family, anecdotes and advice, births and deaths, triumphs and hardships, and—of course—recipes. Birdie begins the collection in 1944, while her husband is fighting in World War II and she is living with his parents, and continues her letters through the flood of 1955, the opening of her dime store, and the death of her husband in 1967.Her daughter, Mary, picks up the book in part two, with the birth of her first child, and we follow her from trailer park to a full and rich family life to—in the longest and richest letter in the book—the collapse of her marriage in 1993.A letter from Melanie, the granddaughter, closes the book in 1996, with her mother in the Peace Corps and herself a budding professional writer. Just as the form of the letters evolves through carbon copies, mimeographs, photocopies, and computer printouts, so does the story these letters tell reflect the changing lives of their authors.

You’re So Beautiful, by Eileen Fitzgerald. St. Martin’s $21.95

Eileen Fitzgerald takes her readers on a journey into the lives of ordinary people’s desires and frustrations. She wonders about how we deal with them, and what happens to us when we ignore them. If we ignore them, they don’t go away, but become manifested through inappropriate behavior. When we are thwarted and denied what we want the most, our desires haunt us and make us obsessive. Fitzgerald contrasts the inner turmoiland the outer manifestation. Her stories explore the negative and positive aspects of meeting expectations, both our own and those of others: those with whom we are in relationship, and those of society. Relationship is the unifying theme of her stories, which suggests that all our desires and goals are dependent upon our wants and our ability to find satisfaction from the outer world.

Malice Prepense, by Kate Wilhelm. St. Martin’s $24.95

For mystery and trial fans, this book is a good read but not exceptional. Wilhelm writes about rather weird cases and characters, and her main character’s love affairs are simply unbelievable. She doesn’t have the spark that another writer like Cromwell or Grisham has, but for prolific readers of this type of mystery, Wilhelm would be enjoyable for her simple plots and characters.

Photocopies, by John Berger. Pantheon $22

To those familiar with his style, this collection of short stories, with its surprising perspectives, meditations on words and people and its fascination with what seems at first to be the minutiae of life will be a welcome reminder of why people continue to read this eclectic writer. Each story is a “photocopy” of the life of a person who made an impression on Berger’s own life. These “reproductions” of lives each have a unique resonance that brings the reader into a wholly new world. Separate as these worlds are, however, there are hidden strands that tie these stories together as well and it is these strands, not the facts and figures of daily life, that comprise the true biography of any life in this world among people. Like Henry Miller’s similarly conceived book of people he loved, this portrait of Berger’s human connections reveals more about him than it does about the people themselves and we are treated to a fleeting, yet profound autobiographical insight impossible when writers sit down to write about themselves.

I Want’ to Buy a Vowel: A Novel of Illegal Alienation, by John Welter. Algonquin $18.95

This lively novel recounts Alfredo Santayana’s introduction to American culture. Landing in Waxahachie, Texas, after fleeing Guatemala and acquainted with English only through television commercials and syndicated programs such as “Wheel of Fortune,” Alfredo struggles to find his anticipated land of “cash and prizes.” He alternately is befriended by Eva Galt (the level-headed seven-year-old daughter of a level-headed town minister) and arrested for a rash of farcical attempts at Satanic rituals (actually the work of the delinquent son of a fundamentalist preacher). A delightful, enterprising character, Eva copes with her inability to envision God by offering prayers to Ted Williams, closing with the sign to “hit away.” Perhaps equally enterprising, the aspiring Satanist makes sacrifices of Vienna sausages and pork brains because he lacks more appropriate fodder. Sermons on “Theological evidence of Satan as regards grocery stores” and a subplot about visions of the Virgin in a stamp vending machine round out the novel.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSSpy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage, by Norma Polmar and Thomas B. Allen. Random House $30

Meticulously researched and thoroughly cross-referenced, yet accessibly written, this volume focuses chiefly on 20th-century espionage. Highlighted are the sponsoring agencies (OSS, CIA; Cheka, GRU, KGB; MI5 and 6; Shin Bet, Mossad; Deuxieme Bureau), the major rings (Cambridge, Lucy, Red Orchestra), and key personalities (such as Donovan, Masterman, and Dulles, Sidney Reilly, Admiral Canaris, and the Rosenbergs). Still other articles explain cryptanalysis, tradecraft, and special uses of conventional military hardware.Spy Book is completely up-to-date, presenting the recently declassified Venona evidence against Alger Hiss and Thomas Hall, clarifying John Cairncross’s role as the first atomic spy and a major source of information about NATO, and showing the extent and ramifications of Jonathan Pollard’s and Aldrich Ames’s betrayals. No less valuable are entries on literary and cinematic spies, in which the authors lucidly separate the fluff from substance.(John Le Carre wins, hands down.)

The Republicans: From Lincoln to Bush, by Robert Allen Rutland. Missouri $19.95.

In this survey of the Republican presidents, historian Robert Alien Rutland once again shows his ability to write clear, accessible history. Like Rutland’s earlier work, The Democrats: From Jefferson to Clinton, this volume eschews partyline judgment in favor of “letting the facts speak for themselves.” Rutland’s admiration of Lincoln in particul

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