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Notes on Current Books, Winter 2001


ISSUE:  Winter 2001

A sterling example of the new cultural history, this volume traces the development of a familiar institution from its origin in the 1760’s and ‘70’s (as a public room where the infirm or merely sensitive could drink rich, pure “restorative” bouillons), through the 1790’s (when it was co-opted by the Revolution as a venue of politically correct social solidarity), to the Napoleonic age of government-orchestrated extravagance. Spang skillfully spins out an episodic narrative whose strands include theories of economic reform, pseudo-scientific notions of food as medicine (or as toxin!), power plays among craft-guilds and their adversaries, and debates over luxury, as well as the changing nature of society and social class. Richly anecdotal and cleverly yet clearly as well as fluently styled, The Invention of the Restaurant is an exemplary work.

Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States, 1884—1920, by Joseph E. Spillane. Johns Hopkins $39.95

Cocaine’s impact on American society over the last 30 years is well-known: what is less understood is the early history of the substance. Though vilified at the end of the 20th century as a modern-day plague, cocaine, as Joseph E. Spillane explains in this refreshing study, was heralded for its medicinal properties when it was created in 1884. Within the span of four decades, however, perceptions of the narcotic, and its users, underwent a dramatic transformation. This shift, both in popular opinion and within the medical community, is the focus of Spillane’s work. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the country’s current “War on Drugs.”

Venice and the East, by Deborah Howard. Vale $60

This revelatory book sheds much light on the influence of the Islamic world on medieval Venice. By studying the travels of Venetian merchants to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine the author is able to illuminate the influences of Islamic culture on Venetian architecture. Not only is the book richly informative, it is also beautifully illustrated, frequently with color plates, which demonstrate Eastern influences. This important book should be read in relation to Paul Hill’s book Venetian Colour, which explores marble, mosaic, painting, glass, and Patricia Fortini Brown’s Venice and Antiquity, both also recently published by Yale. Howard’s book is a must for all devotées of Venice.

The Great Kanawha Navigation, by Emory Kemp. Pittsburgh $45

The alluring but ultimately unrealized dream of a continuous waterway that would enable shipping from the Atlantic to the Ohio River, and perhaps thence to the Rocky Mountains, captured the national imagination throughout the 19th century, and has persisted in abbreviated form as a sectional concern to the present day. Author Kemp, founder and director of the Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology at West Virginia University, has lucidly delineated the development of one regional link, traversing Appalachia. An insightful case study of an extensive transport system, this work admirably details the innovative movable dam technology employed, and places these ambitious public works within the broader context of social and industrial history.

America and the Japanese Miracle: The Cold War Context of Japan’s Postwar Economic Revival, 1950—1960, by Aaron Forsberg. North Carolina $45

The causes of Japan’s post-World War II economic growth and the reasons for its continuing trade surplus with the United States have been important topics of the rare academic debate that has immediate and substantial policy consequences. Aaron Forsberg’s book makes a significant contribution to that debate by exploring in rich detail a theme alluded to often but never before systematically studied: the role of the United States. With the onset of the Cold War, the United States embarked on the reconstruction of the Japanese economy and its reintegration into the global economy. Not only was Japan given special access to Western markets, but Japanese restrictions on imports and on investment were tolerated. American national security policy thus worked to the advantage of Japanese economic policy. Despite this collaboration, however, there were undercurrents of friction from the beginning. Americans were quick to notice the extraordinary benefits accruing to Japan from the Cold War partnership, while Japan responded by emphasizing the range of demands America placed on it. In the process, Forsberg provides a lucid example of the reasons why diplomatic and economic history need to be studied in the context of one another.

Intelligence and the War Against Japan: Britain, America and the Politics of Secret Service, by Richard J. Aldrich. Cambridge $34.95

During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill gave the impression that they and their governments were striving to achieve common goals. The author examines the politics of the British and American intelligence services in the Far East where they became the key players in the struggle between Churchill and Roosevelt over postwar Asia. The intelligence services were concerned more with the nature of the postwar settlement than with the enemy. Instead of being allies, the British and American secret services were too often rivals if not enemies in pursuit of their own foreign policies. Churchill was more concerned with reestablishing British authority in the Far East while Roosevelt wanted to achieve rapid independence for the colonies. This book is not only fascinating but often amusing.

Gender, Race, and Rank in a Revolutionary Age: The Georgia Lowcountry, 1750—1820, by Betty Wood. Georgia $25

Gender, Race, and Rank began as a series of lectures on the campus of Georgia Southern University. In these revised lectures, Betty Wood expands on some of her earlier research into the work and networks of women in early America. She discusses the relations between enslaved women and free women of color, between plantation mistresses and their slave women, and between benevolent women and their recipients. She questions the strength of a universal “women’s culture,” finding that women maintained stronger ties with family members than with women of other races and classes. By turning to early America and the Georgia low-country, Wood emphasizes the chronological and regional variation of women’s experiences. Gender, Race and. Rank is an interesting and accessible book.

The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way, by Lary May. Chicago $32.50

Lary May is a brilliant historian who reads Hollywood’s classic movies for what they tell us about the shape of the social milieu in which they appeared. In this sweeping history from the New Deal to the Cold War, May shows how film was closely tied to the political and social events of the era, how, for example, the road movies of Crosby and Hope set in place the social elements for the booming consumerist culture of the postwar period. This is a wonderful study that will surely shape the conceptions we have about film and its social impact for a long time to come.

Born in Bondage, by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. Harvard $35

This important study of slave childhood provides a new perspective on both the family life of American slaves and the ways in which slave owners disturbed that life. Basing her study on a fresh reading of the WPA interviews of former slaves, gathered in 1937, Schwartz breaks considerable new ground. As is often the case in ambitious and novel areas of historical research, this study tends to generalize, at times emphatically. There is a tendency to conclude that within the web of personal inter-relationships generated by the unnatural experience of slavery, the motives of owners were uniformly deleterious to the esteem of maturing slaves, with an insidious “paternalism” engendered by self-interest, fear, jealousy, and desire to dominate and exploit at minimal trouble and expense. The truth was undoubtedly more complex, although these destructive aspects of slavery clearly deserve the disturbing fresh attention received in this thoughtful study. Discernment of the ways in which slave parents and children may have compensated for such influences, perceived and real, is far the stronger part of this book, derived as it largely is from the spoken perspective of former slaves.

America’s Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800—2000, by James Conaway. Yale $45

This book is beautiful, not only for its abundant illustrations, its glossy presentation, and its rich stories of the Library of Congress, but also for its message that books and ideas are the lifeblood of the Republic. Conaway has written a thoroughly accessible text, one that distills the Library’s fascinating history and compliments perfectly the captivating examples of the institution’s holdings. Included are reproductions of Jefferson’s original library, photographs from the Civil War, original scetches of the Lincoln Memorial, and a printer’s proof of the title page of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass marked in the poet’s own hand. The book’s historical narrative is also peppered with asides that encourage and reward the casual reader.

Rude Republic: American and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century by Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin. Princeton $35

According to the accepted wisdom of most American political historians, the post-Jacksonian American political landscape was genuinely democratic: party commitments were clear and ran deep, support for candidates was public and widely enthusiastic, and electoral turnouts reached historically high levels. Compared with contemporary accounts of increased political alienation and dismally low voter participation, the 19th century appears as a golden age of American politics. Contrary to this conventional representation of 19th-century America, Altschuler and Blumin use new and (decidedly non-political) evidentiary sources to construct an alternative and fuller account of 19th-century Americans who now seem just as alienated and uninterested in engaging the political arena as their modern citizen cohorts are today.

The Irish War: The Hidden Conflict between the IRA and British Intelligence, by Torty Geraghty. Johns Hopkins $29.95

The undeclared war between the Irish Republican Army and the British security forces in northern Ireland is the subject of Torty Geraghty’s book. The author, a British subject as well as an Irish citizen, and also a decorated veteran of the Gulf War, has written a vivid history of this bloody conflict which killed and wounded thousands of men, women, and children. When the book was first published in 1998, Geraghty was arrested for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act, but the case was eventually dropped. The first section of this book details the secret history of the Irish War, 1962—1998. In the middle portion of his book, Geraghty describes in chilling detail the operations and brutal tactics used by the British military intelligence services and by the IRA in what had become a full-fledged urban war. In the final portion of the book Geraghty examines the roots of the Irish War, 1691 to 1921. This is a frightening history.

Homophobia: A History, by Byrne Fone. Metropolitan Books $32.50

Is hatred and/or fear of gay people “the last acceptable prejudice,” as the author asserts? Is it in fact the case that, as he states, “most warring factions—men and women, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, blacks and whites—have been united in one eternal hatred”? Perhaps not, if deceased Yale historian John Boswell is to be believed. Even if these premises are slightly overstated, homophobia has shown itself an intransigent and therefore striking cultural problem. Fone has tackled an immense topic and produced in this historical survey a highly informative, if somewhat partial, account of how hard it is to swim against this particular tide. His book is to be recommended, however short it may be on the distaff side of things. Written in clear, flowing prose, Fone’s history deserves a wide readership.

Silver, Trade, and War: Spain and America in the Making of Early Modern Europe, by Stanley J. Stein and Barbara H. Stein. Johns Hopkins $49.95

In Silver, Trade, and War, two eminent historians of Spanish imperial history take up one of the great historiographic questions of the early modern period. That question is what role American silver played in the development of the Spanish and, more generally, European market economy and nation-state. The authors of this truly international study argue that just as the Spanish search for riches dramatically re-shaped the economies of the principal native American peoples, the effects of the rise and decline of the silver-based transatlantic trading system established under the Spanish Hapsburgs were felt throughout Western Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. Particularly interesting is the second half of this book, which takes the story all the way up to the 1750’s. In the final chapters, Stein and Stein show how and why, under the Bourbons, Spanish policy makers finally—and unsuccessfully—found themselves in the position of trying to adapt French and English models of development to a stagnating Spanish colonial system.

Creating the Modern Man: American Magazines and Consumer Culture, 1900—1950, by Tom Pendergast. Missouri $34.95

In the first half of the 20th century, the production and circulation of leisure periodicals exploded, and for the first time, magazines were directed at a readership interested in the parameters of a changing masculinity. In this study Pendergast shows how several forces combined to create standard images of modern masculinity. Such forces included marketing executives eager to construct avid consumers, editors trying to shape contemporary social codes, readers hungry for instruction about masculine fashion and bearing, and even the effects of sexism and racism. Pendergast’s idea to scan the popular magazines of the early century is quite useful, but it does have its limits. For example, the author makes a fine argument for Ebony’s ability to mold African-American men in a fashion acceptable to white America, but his handling of typically white magazines raises more questions than it answers.

Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain, by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig. Simon & Schuster $27.50

Already published in Britain to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the American edition of this book has been released to coincide with the PBS television documentary of the same name that appeared in July 2000. Leaving aside the anniversary of the battle, there is perhaps little to justify another book on the subject, which has been treated in several excellent books published in the last 20 years. Clayton and Craig stake their claim to originality by basing their narrative largely on first-hand accounts from a wide variety of perspectives, including those of participants at sea and on the ground. The resultant work is reminiscent of Walter Lord’s classic works on Pearl Harbor and Midway, and, like Lord’s books, it is extremely readable. The fact that the majority of the accounts used in the book are based on recent interviews undertaken by the authors means that even readers familiar with the history of the Battle of Britain should find much new and interesting material.

LITERARY STUDIESMyth and Identity in the Epic of Imperial Spain, by Elizabeth B. Davis. Missouri $34.95

Who cares about the epic today? The epic poem in Spain was one of the dominant literary forms for centuries (it was the most prestigious genre during the Golden Age, when some 150 were published), but it fell out of favor with the public and critics by the early 19th century. Elizabeth B. Davis focuses on five long-overlooked Spanish epics in order to understand why they have not been granted their place in the literary canon and—perhaps even more importantly—to allow her readers to discover why they were so popular in the first place. In addition, her impressive erudition enables her to place them not only into their historical context but also to document their relevance to today’s beliefs and literary trends (in the conclusion we get a very good discussion of “Star Wars” as a failed modern epic!).

Shakespeare’s Dramatic Genres, by Lawrence Danson. Shakespeare and the Bible, by Steven Marx. Oxford $39.95 cloth, $18.95 paper

Each of these two volumes in the new series, Oxford Shakespeare Topics, which now lists 13 titles published or forthcoming in a pocket format of about 150 pages, provides the reader with a critical review and discussion of an important problem in Shakespeare scholarship, but according to quite different principles. Danson presents an interesting, useful, and often entertaining, survey of the ways in which thinking about genres has dominated the interpretation of the plays. In a book that is easily accessible to the layman, he forces us to reconsider the meaning of the traditional categories (why not Macbeth as history, as well as tragedy, or Richard III as tragedy instead of history?). Marx, on the other hand, has written a kind of exploratory monograph in dense prose that will frighten off all but the most hardened specialist. He considers only five plays and spends much of the time citing parallels and similarities which eventually trail off into dubious assertions and uncertain conclusions on the order of “Shakespeare might have been thinking.” Where the Biblical links are not obvious, the pages are filled up with a retelling of the plots. Such disparities are probably inevitable in a multi-author series, but if one aim is to capture the attention of the educated public, then let us hope that the other volumes will follow the example set by Danson.

The Information Bomb, by Paul Virilio. Verso $23

This is another installment of conservative cultural criticism from one of France’s most outspoken critics of postmodernity. In this short book, Virilio does again what he does best, namely, describe the contemporary world as a wasteland of scientific detritus, where mankind pays a huge cost for the so-called “advances” in technology it is increasingly enjoying. The culprits here are all too familiar ones: virtual reality, television, the Sony Walkman, and military technologies. Anyone who has read Virilio’s earlier work will find little of novelty here.

Practicing New Historicism, by Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt. Chicago $25

The problem with this book is that it speaks to and of a form of cultural and literary criticism that no one practices today except the founders, Gallagher and Greenblatt. This book strikes one as a vanity publication, full of self-referentiality and marked with a refusal to engage the serious criticisms that have been lodged against new historicism over the last 15 years. This book is best described as a swan song. It is very unlikely to have any impact of literary or cultural studies, which seem to have moved beyond the kind of criticism espoused here.

Reason, Grace, and Sentiment: A Study of the Language of Religion and Ethics in England, 1660—1780, Volume II: Shaftesbury to Hume, by Isabel Rivers. Cambridge $69.95

Rivers does an exceptional job in recreating the intellectual context in which 18th-century writers in England, Ireland, and Scotland responded to two questions: what is the role of reason in religion? What is the relation between ethics and religion? Rivers provides a masterful discussion of the complex array of answers that were offered to these questions. A particularly important role in Rivers’ intellectual history is played by Shaftesbury’s attempt in the Characteristicks to ground morality in the constitution of human nature. Rivers gives a very insightful account of Shaftesbury’s rhetorical strategies, and of the different interpretations of, and reactions to, his work. This richly detailed book makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of the moral philosophy and religious thought of the period.

The Mystery of Courage, by William Ian Miller. Harvard $29.95

A fascinating subject, courage is something most of us think about from time to time. A popular subject, courage has attracted the interest of many writers. The writer of this book refers to many others who have taken up his subject, but it is not at all clear that his book surpasses any of those that came before it. The writing does not carry much excitement, not even for an academic book. The section on chastity and courage held great promise, for example, but failed to get off the ground. Excessive references, often to obscure personalities, occasionally clutter the prose. People who relish soldier stories will be more likely to enjoy this book.

The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva, edited by Jennifer Radden. Oxford $35

With skill, Radden brings together in a single volume a marvelous collection of essays, excerpts, and writings on what is now usually called “depression.” We now know more about this awful and awfully prevalent mental condition, yet it continues to hound many. It will likely remain central to the human condition, and this book may be the best medicine for it. Coming to know melancholy—dissecting it, classifying it, illuminating it—must be one of the best ways of controlling it. Radden has written a penetrating and lengthy introduction to a volume which wisely steers away from philosophical palaver. She precedes each essay with an introduction that helps young readers place these writers, largely canonical, according to place, time, and contribution to knowledge. Handsome illustrations complement this serious yet inviting work of scholarship.

Altered States: Creativity Under the Influence, by James Hughes. Watson-Guptill $29.95

Bright neon colors might mark this book for some as a too-hip, postmodern guide to trippy, trance-like states of being, or a paean to drug-culture. But it would be a shame if these people never got past the admittedly garish pink cover. For Altered States is actually an interesting exploration of creativity and the often “abnormal” states of consciousness that attend various sorts of aesthetic expression. Its several chapters—loaded with illustrations and photographs—are well-written, everyman introductions to such complex topics as “structures of the mind,” “dreams and the unconsciousness,” and “creativity and chemistry.” Hughes’s broad, trans-historical approach touches diverse figures including Sigmund Freud, singer Ray Charles, poets S.T. Coleridge and W.H. Auden, choreographer Martha Graham, guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, and provides a thoroughgoing account of artistic production as well as the social appropriation/ manipulation of the artist and his or her work. A concise bibliography provides the reader with several avenues for further research.

New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, by Noam Chomsky. Cambridge $54.95

Noam Chomsky, one of the great innovative thinkers of the 20th century, has long been famous (or notorious) for his contention that a substantial part of our language ability is genetically determined. Nonetheless, it is far easier for us to “know,” say, the structure of an atomic nucleus than to know ourselves. Humans are, so to speak, opaque to themselves. In this new series of essays, Chomsky explores the possibility of relating our knowledge of language to the rest of our cognition. The essays are difficult, dense, and tremendously rewarding for the persevering reader.

Chinese American Literature Since the 1850s, by Xiao-Huang Yin. Illinois $34.95

Xiao-Huang Yin surveys Chinese American literature from the 1850’s to the present. Largely excluded from many discussions of American literature, writings by such authors as Sui Sin Far, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Amy Tan, reveal much about a people still regarded as “others” in American society. Xiao-Huang Yin moves beyond these authors’ texts to examine their sociohistorical contexts. As a result, Xiao-Huang Yin illuminates much about the experiences of the Chinese in America. Arranged chronologically, Xiao-Huang Yin’s chapters chart the development of a Chinese American consciousness. Throughout the book, Xiao-Huang Yin keeps in mind the struggles of the acculturation process. More of a compilation than an in-depth analysis, Chinese American Literature Since the 1850s serves well as an introduction to this worthwhile subject.

Fernando de Rojas and the Renaissance Vision, by Ricardo Castells. Penn State $45

The Spanish play Celestina (1499—1502) tells the tale of the tragic lovers Calisto and Melibea, and their dealings with the crafty, witch-like bawd, Celestina. Castells analyzes this complex work from the perspective of late medieval views on dreams, phantasmagoric visions, lovesickness, and melancholy, and thus highlights Celestina’s connections to various European literary and medical traditions. His attempt to resolve some of the work’s many contradictions displays solid erudition and spirited logic. This is a useful study which will enliven the on-going debate about this Spanish masterpiece.

Quarrel & Quandary, by Cynthia Ozick. Knopf $25

Another volume of essays from this prolific American author signals fun ahead. You either like Cynthia Ozick or you don’t; those who do are in store for a new round of fresh insights and irreverent humor in this new collection. She turns her attention to Kafka’s brilliance and the difficulty of translating him, to “Dostoyevsky’s Unabomber,” and to “The Selfishness of Art.” The secret to Ozick’s literary success, I think, is her sense of timing. In virtually every essay, she knows when she has said just enough and should press forward. If she assumes you already know a lot about Western culture, she also drops frequent hints and context clues as to how you can make out what she means. This is the thinking person’s companion on long train rides or plane flights.

Shakespeare in the Movies, by Douglas Brode. Oxford $25

The abundance of recent adaptations of Shakespeare to film attests to the extraordinary persistence of interest in the Bard and his work. The almost unlimited variation in interpretation of the plays to be found in films dating back as far as the silent era attests to the inspirational richness of theme to be found in the plays. Film professor Douglas Brode provides an entertaining and quite insightful review of the history of this fascination and adaptation, with considerable selected information about the film-makers and actors that have figured in the production of these films. The account is engaging, the details are fascinating, the analysis is perceptive. There is less to learn here about Shakespeare than about ourselves as his audience, for after all the emphasis is cinematographic. Here Shakespeare’s influence peeps through, for among the chief ends of his plays was to help us learn of ourselves. Here in the cellulloid shadows and light of his achievement is yet another way to do so.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and The Game That Must Be Lost, by Jerome McGann. Yale $30

Jerome McGann’s books tend to be shattered wholes that explode our conception of subjects we once thought stable. They are broken mirrors: each chapter a shard of glass reflecting its subject from a unique if somewhat restricted angle. This approach, while perhaps a less sustained effort than typical books of criticism, has its advantages, and McGann, like the subjects on which he writes, is anything but typical. His latest effort to reclaim the often maligned Dante Gabriel Rossetti is no exception, and in the founder and leading light of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, McGann has found a kindred spirit. Rossetti, as McGann lucidly explains, fused his distinctive aesthetics with his uniquely multi-media approach to representation. Rossetti was a man of many parts. In The Game That Must Be Lost, McGann proves once again that the parts can yield more than the whole.

Stories with a Moral: Literature and Society in Nineteenth-Century Georgia, by Michael E. Price. Georgia $45

Suggesting that literary works are a viable gauge in which to measure fundamental social change, Stories with a Moral explores what Southern historian Edward Ayers has called “the elusive emotional geography” of Old and New South. In his examination of 19th-century Georgian writers, author Michael Price sets out to explore the ways changes in economics, governance, sexuality, race, and urbanization were conveyed and shaped by the literary culture of the state. Like other historians of the region, Price argues that the archetype of the “plantation society” and all of its associated morays dominated the cultural landscape of Georgia throughout the 19th century. Thus the author concludes, the capitalist transformation of the countryside witnessed during this period was one that was met with stiff resistance and, at times, had ironic even tragic consequences for its participants. While Price’s argument is sound, it breaks no new ground in terms of historiography; however, his use of “literature”—applied in the broadest sense of the term—to frame his argument does give students of history a much fuller picture of 19th-century life. Ironically, the work’s greatest strength also proves to be its most troubling weakness. While the sheer breadth of local literary sources considered by Price is an impressive feat, the audience is left to wonder how truly reflective of Georgian society these obscure resources were. By delimiting his primary evidence to a geographically defined region, the author then attempts to make assertions about “the South” and “Georgians”—terms of cultural significance shaped by factors far beyond the geographical boundaries of the state. This method, in particular, proves to be problematic in Price’s somewhat superficial treatment of the latter-half of the century when the author asserts that the King Cotton culture of the Old South was resurrected and came to dominate the Georgian cultural landscape into the 20th century.

The Purest of Bastards: Works of Mourning, Art, and Affirmation in the Thought of Jacques Derrida, by David Farrell Krell. Penn State $45 cloth, $17.95 paper

David F. Krell sets out for himself the difficult and precarious task of thematizing the work of Derrida who has, through his practice of deconstruction, resisted such a project. Still, The Purest of Bastards—the title an allusion to an epithet Derrida used to describe himself—does an admirable job of explicating Derrida’s thought and showing how its reliance on mourning can allow it to be read as a conflicted and complex affirmation of memory. While the insistence on affirmation seems to be Krell’s wish rather than Derrida’s, this generous reading is well worthwhile for anyone interested in teasing out the relation of Derrida’s thought to artistic production.

Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West, by Suzanne Clark. Southern Illinois $34.95

The tensions of the Cold War mandated that American masculine identity appear tough, ready, and unified. While the success of such a presentation continues to be debated in the academic and popular press, Clark has embarked on an engaging study that exposes the literary collaboration in this effort. To some degree, that collaboration was not voluntary. Novelists of the late 1940’s and ‘50’s, she argues, both men and women, risked falling off the national radar if they did not conform to the political needs of the country. This well-researched text is successful in starting a discussion that pulls together effective literary criticism, Men’s Studies, and American political culture..

Outlandish: Writing Between Exile and Diaspora, by Nico Israel. Stanford $45

In Outlandish, Nico Israel details, through a close examination of Joseph Conrad, Theodor Adorno, and Salman Rushdie, how authorship in the 20th century has been constructed between the phenomena of exile and diaspora, arguing that identity is defined negatively, by displacement. After showing how each form of geographical displacement infers a different level of will or autonomy, Israel uses the work of the three men to show how each represents different moments in the construction and deconstruction of subjectivity. Conrad’s displacement and cultural production represents a modernist construction of identity; Adorno’s tenure in Los Angeles reflects an anti-racist reaction to fascism; and Rushdie’s early writings up until the Fatwa signal a celebration of hybridity and flow. With their refreshing scrutiny of the texts produced under these signatures, Israel’s nuanced and extremely insightful readings will be of use not only to those interested in these three figures, but for all interested in the changing contours of difference in the 20th century.

LIVES & LETTERSEducating the U. S. Army: Arthur L. Wagner and Reform, 1875—1905, by T.R. Brereton. Nebraska $45

In much the same way that the end of the Cold War left America’s military without a clearly defined sense of purpose, the defeat of the Great Plains’ Indians and the inability of any foreign nation to pose a serious military threat to the United States left the late-19th-century army without a mission. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, some officers determined to use the experience of past American and European wars to train for future conflict. Increasingly, satisfactory performance at a succession of formal military schools—where theoretical and practical work redefined officership to be a “science” rather than an “art”—became the sine qua non for professional advancement in the army. Arthur L. Wagner (1853—1905) was at the center of this transformation. His ten-year tenure at the Infantry and Cavalry School (now the Command and General Staff College), at Leavenworth, Kansas, validated the utility of what an older generation of officers continued to deride as “book soldiering” and established Wagner’s credentials as the leading army intellectual of his era. Wagner has never been entirely forgotten, but Brereton’s biography (albeit slim and overpriced) of this here-to-fore obscure officer fills a long-time void in the literature of the turn-of-the-century reform movement to which the modern United States Army traces its professional origins.

Women and Men in Renaissance Venice: Twelve Essays on Patrician Society, by Stanley Chojnacki. Johns Hopkins $39.95 cloth, $15.95 paper

Stanley Chojnacki, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, has assembled in this book 12 essays written over the course of his academic career. They amount to the summa of his work on renaissance Venice. Exploring the role played by women in Venetian patrician society, the essays are thoughtful and illuminating. They discuss fundamental topics such as gender and the state; women, marriage and motherhood; and issues in masculinity. This is an important book for scholars of the Renaissance and of gender.

The Papers of Henry Laurens, Vol. XV: December 11, 1778-August 31, 1782, edited by David R. Chesnutt and C. James Taylor. South Carolina $49.95

This volume covers an eventful and ultimately tragic period in the life of Henry Laurens. At the volume’s beginning in December 1778, Laurens had just resigned as president of the Continental Congress. Laurens continued to serve as a delegate representing South Carolina until November 1779, when his colleagues appointed him minister to the Netherlands. He then returned to South Carolina to prepare for his diplomatic mission, but the British siege of Charleston prevented him from departing for Europe until August 1780. Laurens’s vessel was captured at sea and the British transported their prisoner to London, where he was incarcerated in the Tower of London for 15 months. Laurens wrote a journal and a narrative of his imprisonment that documented the harsh treatment he received and the unsuccessful British efforts to persuade him to renounce the Revolution. After his release on Dec.31, 1781, Laurens spent the next months attempting to recover his health and became unofficially involved in the initial peace negotiations with Britain. The volume ends in August 1782, with a report of the tragic death of Laurens’s eldest child, John, in a skirmish near Charleston. With the publication of Volume 15, the Laurens Papers continues to serve as a model for other documentary editing projects. Project director C. James Taylor and his staff are to be commended for producing an accurate text that comes as close as possible to duplicating the original documents and for providing readers with a thorough index. Historians interested in political wrangling in Congress, military operations in the lower South, and the ordeals experienced by Britain’s most prominent prisoner of war will find this volume an invaluable resource.

Troubled Memory: Ann Levy, the Holocaust and David Duke’s Louisiana, by Lawrence N. Powell. North Carolina $34.95

This is a powerful story of a remarkable Jewish family’s struggle not only to survive in German occupied Poland during World War II but eventually to escape the Holocaust. The Storecki family, Mark, Ruth, Anne and Lila, endured persecution while fighting to keep alive in the Warsaw ghetto. Not only did they somehow have to earn a living, but they had to keep the children hidden and evade being shipped to Treblinka. After escaping from the ghetto, they were able to pass themselves off as Aryans in Warsaw. When anti-Semitism erupted in Russian-occupied Poland after the end of the war, the Storecki family made their way across Czechoslovakia to a displaced persons camp in Germany. Eventually they settled in New Orleans and started a new life. But soon the eldest daughter, Anna Storecki Levy, found that she had to confront a new danger in the person of David Duke, the neo-Nazi gubernatorial candidate in 1991.

Berlioz: Volume I, Making of an Artist; Volume II: Servitude and Greatness, by David Cairns. California $40/volume

If 30 years were required for the completion of this monumental work, they were 30 years well-spent. Despite its size, the reader can scarcely put this work aside, for it is a compelling portrait of a most interesting, important, ultimately tragic life. Struggle, pain, beauty, doubt loyalty, kindness, mean-spirits, pettiness, jealousy, ignorance, sensitivity, vision, and exhaustion all find their places in this brilliantly written, honest, painstakingly accurate account. Only with new information can this true masterwork of biography be improved upon. One learns to appreciate not only the manner in which Berlioz (who, as Paganini would have it, alone extended the artistic vision of Beethoven), one learns at what cost Berlioz achieved that triumph. Only a gala performance in Paris of Trojans on the composer’s birth bicententennial (2003) could provide a more fitting tribute to this great composer than Cairn’s biography. But for most, this biography will engender altogether greater understanding of the man, his works and times, than even such an overdue and richly merited musical tribute.

Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx, by Stefan Kanfer. Knopf $45

A slick and breezy rehash of its sources, this volume’s sole merit is to foreground two important facts. First is Julius Henry Marx’s total creative responsibility for the Groucho persona. Writers such as George S. Kauffman and S.J. Perelman merely elaborated and refined the invention. Like that creation, moreover, the most effective elements of the best Marx Brothers’ films were unremittingly tested and perfected before vaudeville audiences throughout the country. Though Kanfer does not draw a conclusion, both facts testify, paradoxically, to a discipline behind the chaos and nonsense.

Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, by Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock. Norton $29.95

Fairness is the principal question that issues from this account of intellectual celebrity Susan Sontag’s life. One of the various friends Sontag discarded on her literary path is quoted as asserting, “I say this with great respect. Susan has used America better than anyone.” If he is right, then perhaps the authors have done an honest job of documenting the life of a woman who quickly leaped from humble circumstances in Arizona to cerebral stardom in New York and Paris in the 1960’s. We do not know for certain, as the reclusive writer, nearly 70 now, steadfastly refused any cooperation with this biography (indeed, she seems to have actively thwarted the project). Even if it is true that searing ambition and a touch of narcissism prompted all of Sontag’s life choices through the years, surely the same can be said of other prominent personalities. In a world awash with professors, humanities graduate students, and budding writers who yearn for even a sliver of her fame, Sontag has beaten the odds. That is a story in itself.

“If You Love That Lady Don’t Marry Her,” edited by Thomas E. Buckley. Missouri $29.95

Thomas Buckley has collected the courtship letters of Sally McDowell and John Miller. McDowell, a wealthy plantation mistress and daughter of a former governor of Virginia, and Buckley, a Presbyterian minister from Philadelphia, first began exchanging letters in 1854 and continued until their marriage in 1856. The letters chart the development of their relationship from McDowell’s rejection of Buckley’s suit to their tentative steps to understand one another to the dawning of their mutual love and affection. The collection may be of particular interest to scholars of women’s studies and women’s history. The letters reveal McDowell’s attempts to reconcile the independence of her divorced status with its accompanying social stigma in a rigidly patriarchal society.

The Papers of General Nathanael Green, Vol. 11: 7 April-30 September 1782, edited by Dennis M. Conrad and Roger N. Parks. North Carolina $95

This volume of the correspondence of the Quaker commander of the Continental Army’s southern department continues an admirable edition published by the Rhode Island Historical Society and will prove valuable to scholars of the American Revolution. The 1,032 documents (almost three-quarters of which are abstracted) chiefly concern the military stalemate in South Carolina after Yorktown. Despite Gen. Anthony Wayne’s successful campaign in Georgia, forcing the British evacuation of Savannah in July, and the raid led by Andrew Pickens against the Cherokee and Chickamauga in September, Greene’s main force was unable to assault the British Army in Charleston because of inadequate supply and the earlier defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Saints. An introduction, chronology, glossary of military terms, contemporary portraits and other illustrations, maps, and a detailed index enhance the volume’s utility.

Myra Inman: A Diary of the Civil War in East Tennessee, edited by William R. Snell. Mercer $35

This unique document records from January 1859 to January 1866 the daily activities of a young lady, Myra Adeline Inman (1845—1914), who came of age in Cleveland, the seat of Bradley County, Tennessee, near the Georgia state line. The family owned nine slaves and was relatively well to do, even after the 1851 death of her father, who owned a hotel. Inman’s brief diary entries are chiefly concerned with (even after the outbreak of war), the weather, chores, church attendance, visiting, friendships, shopping, sewing and needlework, and reading and schoolwork (she was a student at the Cleveland Masonic Female Institute). A sympathizer of the Confederate cause and supporter of its war effort (she knitted stockings for its soldiers and sewed flags and banners for their units), Inman occasionally records military news and political views, but her diary is more valuable for the evidence it provides about the workings of the important social sphere that historian Karen V. Hansen described operating in the lives of antebellum New England working-class women.

Letters from the Pacific: A Combat Chaplain in World War II, by Russell Cartwright Stroup. Edited and with an introduction by Richard Cartwright Austin. Missouri $24.95

On June 6, 1944, Russell Stroup was a 39-year-old army chaplain on leave of absence from his church in Lynchburg, Virginia, ministering to soldiers wounded days earlier in a battle with Japanese forces on New Guinea when word arrived that Allied troops had landed in France. He commented that the men should tell their families to look “back among the ads” for news of the Southwest Pacific “now that things have opened up in Western Europe.” How right he was. Who today has not heard of Normandy? How many know the names Biak, Hollandia, or Sansapor Mar? Stroup’s letters help redress that imbalance. They commence in December 1942, when Stroup joined an infantry regiment in South Carolina, continue through his service with combat units in New Guinea, and end in January 1945, when Stroup returned to the United States from the Philippines. The letters interest at various levels: along with reflections on men in battle, Stroup recalls the tedium of shipboard life and the temptations of liberty in Australia, contrasts the environmental impact of Japanese and American cantonments, and discusses the roles of religion and of chaplains in the soldiers’ lives. The letters could have been further contextualized by reference to histories of the army chaplaincy. Stroup’s experiences might have seemed a little less exceptional, for example, had the editor pointed out that his uncle’s bronze star was only one of 2,453 personal decorations awarded to 1,783 Army chaplains during World War II.

Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, by Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder. Yale $75

Anyone who has ever visited the Bijenkorf building in Rotterdam and there stood beneath the 25-meter Construction—swirling arches of stainless steel, bronze wire and marble—must feel intuitively the brilliance of its artist. And yet, the revolutionary Russian-born Naum Gabo’s contribution to 20th-century art and social theory has remained, until now, under-acknowledged. Until now, I repeat. Drawing on an extensive array of unpublished material— letters, diaries, sketchbooks-—the authors here develop a thoroughly wide-ranging and revealing analysis of Gabo’s life and practice, which is always cogently located within the larger ideological discourses then shaping what we know as Modernity. We are, like Gabo’s aptly named later work, Constructions in Space: Suspended. This is, then, how we know ourselves.

Diana Mosley, by Jan Dalley. Knopf $27.50

The life of Diana Mosley, sister of the novelist Nancy Mitford and wife of the British fascist Oswald Mosley, is notable as a microcosm of life among the British social elites from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. Jan Dalley, realizing this, devotes most of her attention to the period in this interesting biography of a lady important not so much for who she was as for who she knew. Privileged and beautiful, Diana associated with luminaries like Winston Churchill and Evelyn Waugh; but it was her marriage to Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists that brought her into contact with the anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi circles that made up a significant part of the British aristocracy in the years before World War II. Dalley does a good job of recreating this almost surreal world in all its most charming and chilling aspects.

Angus: A Memoir, by Charles Siebert. Crown $18.95

This therapeutic memoir is an imaginative yet believable account of the short life of a Jack Russel terrier. It tugs at your heart while exploring desires and motivations from the canine point of view. The author captures the confusion that must be present during a struggle to sustain one’s life in the face of imminent death and offers some solace by alluding to a future for Angus’ soul. The epilogue is essential for closing the story and in providing another voice gives the book a sense of balance, which it otherwise would lack. The glimpses of Angus’ life as he remembers it provide delightful insight into the inner workings of a dog’s mind. Although this is no easy read for those who have recently survived a beloved pet, it is highly recommended.

Lenin: A Biography, by Robert Service. Harvard $35

Robert Service, an Oxford historian, has succeeded in writing the best one-volume biography of Lenin to date. Making use of a wide range of archival sources, Service cuts through the many myths of Lenin as a political leader in this readable account. Even more impressive is Service’s synthesis of Lenin’s private life, made possible by the author’s access to previously unavailable correspondence and memoirs. Lenin in these pages comes across as a ruthless, at times vicious, politician, but also as a three-dimensional human being whose upbringing and education helped to shape his career as a revolutionary. Rich with detail and analysis, Service’s biography is sure to interest a wide audience.

FICTIONA Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, by Amy Bloom. Random House $22.95

One mark of a skillfully crafted tale is the creation of both memorable and believable characters. In her short story collection, Amy Bloom deftly portrays people who continue to visit a reader’s thoughts long after the volume is back on the shelf. A reader can almost hear her characters laugh, weep, argue. They are folks who remind you of the woman who delivers your mail or the man who teaches your child at school. However, that is not to say her characters are uncomplicated people who find themselves in commonplace circumstances. Bloom’s stories about love deal with transsexuality, lesbianism, incest, and adultery. She presents jarring situations, such as one story in which a stepson sleeps with his stepmother the day after his father’s funeral. In another story, a single mother grapples with the discovery that her beloved daughter is psychologically male. Bloom creates real people for whom a reader feels both sympathy and empathy. Yet, they are characters whose behavior and circumstances place them outside what some people may view as the norm. By doing this, Bloom challenges presuppositions about love and asks for a re-definition of the parameters of normal.

Be the One, by April Smith. Knopf $24

Cassidy Sanderson is a baseball scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers—a good one, and the only female scout in the major leagues. Though blessed with athleticism and a feel for the game, she has to leave the life of the game lived between the lines for the messy life outside them. While signing a major league prospect in the Dominican Republic, she meets Joe Galinas, a high-flying L.A. dealmaker and developer, and the two become an item. When the prospect begins to get blackmail threats, Cassidy’s professional judgment is questioned, as is her involvement with Galinas, And when the situation turns violent, there is more at stake than just her hard-won position in the baseball world. This is a beautifully written and crisply paced thriller with believable characters. As Yogi would say, “You could look it up.”

After Life, by Rhian Ellis. Viking $23.95

Although this novel is played with cumbersome passages of dialogue (with simply far too many conversations complete from beginning to end), the prose is otherwise sterling. In Ellis’ hands the fictional town of Train Line, New York, founded by a community of spiritualists and home also to a more recently-arrived New Age set, becomes the setting of a psychological thriller. Ellis manages to draw the reader into the combined magic and deceit of the medium’s trade while simultaneously building a truly suspenseful story.

Marrying the Mistress, by Joanna Trollope. Viking $23.95

Guy Stockdale, a prominent judge in his 50’s, has a chance meeting on a train with a bright, young lawyer named Merrion. In time she becomes his mistress. Seven years later, Guy decides to leave his wife Laura of 40 years to wed Merrion, and his family struggles to come to grips with this new arrangement. Laura is needy and clings to her grown sons—one of whom feels he must take care of his mother at the risk of alienating his wife. Everyone involved must make difficult decisions. Trollope writes with her usual sensitivity about a subject that is rarely black and white. Somewhat darker than many of Trollope’s other novels, Marrying the Mistress is unusual too in focussing so deeply on a male character. We like Guy, but what is more, through the clarity and precision of Trollope’s prose we feel that we understand him. Highly recommended.

Sam the Cat and Other Stories, by Matthew Klam. Random House $23

This debut collection is sure to raise the eyebrows and possibly the ire of readers as it precariously treads a fine literary line between “unflinching honesty” and simple misogyny. “I love, love women. I like to see them bark for me,” says Sam, the title story’s narrator. These sentiments, though quickly followed by the disclaimer, “That’s a joke,” firmly set the tone for the rest of the book. All of Klam’s main characters are hideously (and sometimes laughably) self-absorbed young men “in love with love,” who reveal equal amounts of disgust and genuine hatred for the females who (inexplicably) love them back. Each of the fairly interchangeable narrators initially finds women irresistible thanks to “tits like a dirty video” and to the ubiquitous “heart-shaped ass”; however, penises quickly droop and wither as previously attractive women, who become tired or clingy or pregnant or even simply sexually responsive, now mysteriously sport breasts like “deflated bags of water- . . . the consistency of chunky soup” and faces like that of “an unborn squirrel.” “Maybe intimacy was inherently putrid,” the narrator of the final story decides, replaying with deadening similarity a now familiar refrain. Although the title story plays nicely (and surprisingly) with gender role reversals, and Klam’s male-to-male dialogue is often pitch perfect, the collection’s cumulative effect is a wearying one, a feeling further heightened by the often narrow focus of an insistent first person narration. By the end, readers may feel merely bludgeoned by the characters’ deliberate cruelty and their one note faucet-drip droning.

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