On the River with Lewis and Clark, by Verne Huser. Texas A&M, April 2004. $40 cloth, $17.95 paper
On the River with Lewis and Clark arrives as welcome new insight in the flood of publishing that is cresting during the bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 45 years as a river guide, Verne Huser has canoed, rafted, rowed, poled, and sailed on many of the 9,000 river miles navigated by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803–6. Now he couples his personal experiences with studious attention to the journals of Lewis and Clark to place the reader in the boatspulling against the current, dodging snags, running rapids, and rescuing the nonswimmers of the expedition (there were several!). Some of Huser’s detailed descriptions of the structure and handling of keelboats, pirogues, and canoes may duplicate information available elsewhere in Lewis and Clark literature, but his intimate knowledge of boats and the ways of wind and water expands our understanding of exactly how the boat crews managed to proceed and survive. Huser credits the expedition more with endurance than with heroism and more with luckat least in the early goingthan with skill. Readers will find relief from the necessary detail presented in this book through Huser’s insertion of lively anecdotes from his own adventures in river travel. Some readers, however, may not agree with critical comments Huser inserts in contrasting the natural environment of Lewis and Clark’s time with the much-altered environment of today. Still, it is hard to quarrel with a river-running historian who concludes that “Lewis and Clark would not recognize the landscape through which they traveled or the rivers that served them so well.” Huser looks at the slack water behind the many dams and the channeled streams and asks, How well do we think the myth of superabundance and the ideology of Manifest Destiny played out for the many Indian tribes, the vast herds of buffalo, the abundant grizzly bear, and the great runs of steelhead and salmon “discovered” by Lewis and Clark?
Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma, by Jeremy Bernstein. Ivan R. Dee, April 2004. $25
Living inside J. Robert Oppenheimer’s skin cannot have been easy, and telling the complex story of Oppenheimer’s life in an objective yet sympathetic manner has required the considerable talents and accomplishments of Bernsteinas writer, educator, and scientist. While a postdoc in physics at Princeton University, the author came to know Oppenheimer and began to gather the anecdotes and personal information that justify this intimate biography of the brilliant, troubled, and controversial man generally acknowledged as the father of the A-bomb. Bernstein develops several themes to portray Oppenheimer’s complex life. The dominant theme is that, contrary to outward appearances, Oppenheimer never quite grasped his own identity and, according to Bernstein, remained “captive to an element of self-destructiveness.” Precocious youth, socially isolated scholar, arrogant young genius, devotee of poetry in several languages, founder of the school of theoretical physics at the University of California, spellbinding lecturer, capricious friend, inspirational and intellectual leader of the Los Alamos scientists, political innocent, officially designated security risk, and a great researcher and teacherOppenheimer played these roles and more. The enigma of Oppenheimer is no more evident than in his own counsel’s statement at the conclusion of the six months of governmental hearings on Oppenheimer as a security risk. Though they were thrown together for many hours of every day, attorney Garrison remarked that he never got to know Oppenheimer: “He’s a puzzle to me.” That may be, but Bernstein reaffirms an identity that the name Oppenheimer now conjures to many people worldwide: he’s the great physicist who had the courage to say to the president of the United States, “We have blood on our hands.” And he’s the idealist (pragmatist?) who, at considerable personal cost, pleaded for international control of nuclear weapons. (This book is also enhanced by descriptions of atomic energy that are so clear even we lay readers can believe we understand them.)
Churchill at War: His “Finest Hour” in Photographs, 1940–1945, by Martin Gilbert. Norton, April 2004. $35
Perhaps no single person has been more photographed than Winston Churchill. As a subject, the legendary Churchill was always a remarkable study in contrasts. At a time when the survival of England and the fate of the Continent hung in the balancea time so demanding that rational and measured leadership would seem impossibleChurchill’s visage rarely betrayed the strains of war. Frequently determined, at times disarming, the image of the prime minister was both inspiring and reassuring. Churchill at War is an impressive collection of photographs taken of Churchill during the darkest hours of war. Famed historian and biographer Martin Gilbert presents Churchill at all stages of the conflict: from the beginning to the end, with citizens and leaders. At the start of each chapter, Gilbert offers brief introductory remarks which enable the reader to quickly place the images in context. This is a remarkable album, with vibrant and powerful photographs of one of the most charismatic leaders in the modern era.
Spencer D. Bakich
The Devil’s Disciples: Hitler’s Inner Circle, by Anthony Read. Norton, March 2004. $34.95
The Devil’s Disciples is the first major book for a general readership to examine the dynamics of the small group of military officers and public officials that constituted the inner circle of Hitler’s followers. This powerful chronological narrative shows how jealousies and constant intrigues in the inner circle affected the Third Reich, the war, and Hitler himself. The author demonstrates that rivalry for Hitler’s approval and for use of his authority was the root of many of the worst excesses of Nazi policy and war strategy, notably the treatment of European Jews and the conflict with the Soviet Union that proved disastrous for Germany. With liberal reference to diaries, letters, and official records, Anthony Read reveals how Göring, Himmler, Goebbels, Ribbentropand, from time to time, others who had wormed into the inner circleresorted to any measure, including murder, to advance their power and position. Hitler used this competition to extract from each lieutenant the last measure of devotion and obedience. Read quotes Himmler as saying, “If Hitler were to say I should shoot my mother, I would do it and be proud.” Between Hitler’s lieutenants, however, only situational loyalty prevailed. In the game of pleasing Hitler, every discovery of personal vice, every failure of a rival, was a trump card to be played at a moment of opportunity. The author’s mastery of vivid narration will hold the reader’s attention throughout the 923 pages of a book that may well rank in informational value and emotional impact with Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory, by Scot French. Houghton Mifflin, February 2004. $26
In 1950, Merrill Peterson tapped into a rich vein of historical gold. His pathbreaking The Jefferson Image in the American Mind took as its subject not the “history Thomas Jefferson made” but instead “what history made of Thomas Jefferson.” A fantastic look at those who manipulated, managed, and reveled in the mythology of Jefferson, Peterson’s work brought into focus the ways in which modern Americans saw themselves in dialogue with the Founding Fathers. While he has taken his cues from Peterson, Scot French has himself staked a fruitful claim in his study of what history has made of Nat Turner. Turner is an excellent choice: a polarizing figure and political football. Americans since 1831 have viewed the rebellious slave as either a revolutionary martyr or a bloodthirsty murderer. Although it too begins with Jefferson, French’s study hits its stride in the immediate aftermath of the 1831 “Southampton Insurrection,” the nation’s bloodiest slave rebellion, in which several dozen whites and blacks died and the entire slave system was shocked to its core. French is particularly strong in his analysis of the ways in which white and black Virginians initially made sense of and fashioned narratives about what had happened in Southampton County, a complicated process which ultimately led to the rebellion’s becoming forever synonymous with Turner himself. Another of the book’s strengths lies in French’s excellent discussion of the political and racial firestorm created when the image of Turner, the legacies of the civil rights revolution, and William Styron’s controversial novel The Confessions of Nat Turner all collided in the late 1960s. Overall, French’s Turner provides an excellent complement to Peterson’s Jefferson: both figures are at the epicenter of America’s central dilemma of the legacy of slavery. Understanding how Americans have shaped the image of the rebellious slave is as important as coming to grips with the Founding Fathers, whose inaction on the slavery question helped convince Turner that his method was just and necessary.
Fleeing for Freedom: Stories from the Underground Railroad, edited by George and Willene Hendrick. Ivan R. Dee, February 2004. $24.95 cloth, $14.95 paper
In this introduction to the Underground Railroad, the Hendricks have extracted stories and commentary from the writings of white Quaker Levi Coffin of Newport, Indiana, and black Presbyterian William Still of Philadelphia, both of whom were conductors on that road. Coffin, who helped over 2,000 slaves to freedom, dealt in the main with fugitives from Kentucky, who were sent to Canada. Still, a member of the free black community of Philadelphia, dealt largely with escapees from Virginia and Maryland, who were often sent to sanctuaries in upstate New York or Massachusetts. The voices and viewpoints of the two narrators are maintained through the editors’ choices. Fugitives described by Quaker Coffin are peaceful, oppressed people seeking freedom for themselves and their families, usually relying on the help of others; those described by Still are more often armed men and women willing to fight to the death, if necessary, to secure their freedom and who often escaped by ingenious and clever means that they themselves devised. Together the selections give a broad picture of those individuals who fled from slavery to freedom and of the supporters of the Underground Railroad who helped them on their way, violating state and federal statutes in the name of a higher good. Independent scholars, the Hendricks have provided a preface and introduction that give sufficient background for the casual reader to understand the settings of the stories presented here, as well as a short bibliography for those who wish to pursue the subject further. This is an excellent introduction to the history of the system that helped between 20,000 and 75,000 slaves to depart the “peculiar institution” of the American South during the antebellum period.
The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 11: September 1864–May 1865, edited by Lynda Lasswell Crist. LSU, January 2004. $85
Volume 11 completes the wartime epoch of the Davis Papers and maintains the superb editorial standards of preceding volumes. The unremitting pace of deterioration in Confederate military, economic, and political affairs detailed in the preceding volume accelerates and no longer includes any good news from Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Such good news as Davis receives all proves illusory in these final days. In desperation Davis returns his old enemy Joseph Johnston to command as Atlanta falls, but the result is only the gradual withering away of a retreating army with the loss of Georgia and then South Carolina. Despite his receipt of grim reports from all, Davis’s own letters retain dignity and energy, attention to detail and the evolution of a doomed strategy aimed at saving through negotiation some fragments of a vanishing government. As late as April 1, Davis writes to Lee of his plans to enlist slaves in the Confederate armies, theoretical “companies battalions or regiments” about which Lee responded hastily and distractedly even as he sought a line of retreat for the residue of his army from Petersburg toward Lynchburg. The next letter from Lee announced his surrender along that route at Appomattox. Much of the remaining correspondence in this volume is the loving and anxious correspondence between Davis and his wife, Varina, as they sought to find each other during their flight south. The volume ends with their capture on May 10, 1865. The rich explication of the content of all documents with superbly crafted footnotes greatly enriches this volume, as it has all preceding volumes of this series. One can only wonder at the extraordinary labor required to elucidate subjects ranging from the identification of casually mentioned minor figures, their homes, and family connections, to estimates of the cost of war and an accounting even to the smallest known sums of the specie of the Confederate treasury after it was deposited in a Washington, Georgia, bank vault, the largest portion of which was lost to robbery. A marvelous job has been done of placing each document within its immediate and in many cases longer-term context.
Robert S. Rust
Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anti-Communism in the South, 1948–1968, by Jeff Woods. LSU, January 2004. $59.95 cloth, $22.95 paper
This book details how die-hard segregationists enlisted anti-Communist sentiment in their struggle by accusing civil rights activists of Communist sympathies and civil rights groups of infiltration. The author seems torn between concluding that segregationists genuinely believed the civil rights movement was substantially “red” in nature and declaring that they were merely deploying this charge as one of many they hoped might aid their cause, in the spirit of the saying that election campaigns waste half their money but never know which half. It is also unclear that invoking the Communist issue had much effect on events. Woods shows that it forced civil rights leaders to cut ties with and repudiate Communists and Communism. Then again, instead of seeing this as a concession, we might find it eminently appropriate and advisable for a movement devoted to expanding individual rights to reject one which suppressed them everywhere it could. Woods also shows that segregationist officeholders used anti-Communist, antisubversive laws against civil rights activists. Here, too, we must ask how much this mattered, since segregationists in and out of office either used or created many means, legal and illegal, to harass integrationist initiatives. In the absence of the anti-Communist card, they would presumably have played another, just as campaigns attempting to delegitimize Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Communism at some points and other accusations at others. That said, Woods assembles a rich tale, based on archival and other sources from Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, and other states.
Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century, by Graham Robb. Norton, January 2004. $26.95
The accomplished British biographer of Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud shifts gears in this volume while remaining in the century he has documented so engagingly. Much as the Yale historian John Boswell tried to do, Robb argues that the Christian West (or at least one part of it) used to feel much more comfortable with gay people. The 20th century baffles and disappoints Robb, as westerners appeared to take a big step backwards, at least with regard to tolerance of sexual minorities. We like to think that the world keeps getting better as the centuries fly by, but evidence sometimes frustrates this hope. Robb, who is not gay, is at his best when showcasing the tortured writers, artists, and ordinary people who struggled to make themselves over as heterosexuals. With the exception of various suicides, these people failed. With considerable sensitivity and erudition, Robb evokes sympathy for a much-maligned class of people and, importantly, stirs us to consider what nastiness we westerners may be guilty of and oblivious to today. Given the divisive social debates over gay marriage in 2004, this book could hardly be better timed.
Loyalty on the Frontier; or, Sketches of Union Men of the South-West with Incidents and Adventures in Rebellion on the Border, by A. W. Bishop, edited by Kim Allen Scott. Arkansas, December 2003. $29.95
The Civil War in the trans-Mississippi theater, and more especially the conflict’s impact on Arkansas, has received relatively little attention. The University of Arkansas Press’s The Civil War in the West series seeks to expand understanding of the trans-Mississippi arena through both fresh scholarship and reprints of important earlier titles. Albert Webb Bishop’s narrative falls into the latter category. First published in 1863, it offers the ardently pro-Union observations of an officer who served in the Second Wisconsin Cavalry and later in the First Arkansas Cavalry (U.S.) and performed duties with these units in Missouri and Arkansas. Bishop emphasized the brutality of the war along the Missouri-Arkansas border, highlighting the ways in which Southern Unionists suffered at the hands of Confederates. “In no section of the country has the Great Rebellion created such intense personal hate, or separated more widely friends and relations,” he observed, “than in the South-West.” Bishop criticized the United States for not allocating more resources to the pacification of Arkansas, deplored Confederate transgressions, and insisted that latent Unionist sentiment existed even among slaveholders in Arkansas. His text includes sketches of Union men, a variety of documents, and other material that merits the attention of anyone interested in the war in Arkansas or Unionism in the Confederacy.
Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race: How the Presidency Paved the Road to Brown, by Kevin J. McMahon. Chicago, December 2003. $20
McMahon tries to challenge a quasi orthodoxy, the one that has long portrayed Franklin Roosevelt as weak on civil rightsat the very least because his electoral and legislative Democratic coalitions contained huge numbers of Southern segregationists. He argues that Roosevelt worked to advance the civil rights cause through the two institutional means he had at his disposal in the face of entrenched segregationist power in Congress. These were the presidency itself, which FDR consistently sought to strengthen at Congress’s expense, and his executive ability to nominate judges to the federal bench. McMahon’s treatment of both is skillful, as he adds innovative use of evidence to theoretical tools developed in political science. In particular, he echoes Stephen Skowronek’s emphasis on the “institutional creativity” of certain presidentsFDR foremost among themand the discipline’s gradually growing focus on public law as a key element in political processes in the U.S. (an earlier Skowronek book described the U.S. government in a previous period as “a state of courts and parties”). McMahon argues that FDR, by appointing “rights-centered liberal” judges and ones who were deferential to the executive branch, laid the crucial ground for the court-centered part of the later civil rights revolution. The book thus has two thrusts, both made overt. The first is to maintain researchers’ analytic attention on the presidency, which this study amply justifies. The second is to retrieve for FDR the reputation of a civil rights champion. Here, given the record, McMahon does not come as close to succeeding.
Liberty on the Waterfront: American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution, by Paul A. Gilje. Pennsylvania, December 2003. $29.95
Paul Gilje has assembled a fine crew. Piecing together disparate bits from an impressive number of marine collections, Liberty on the Waterfront provides a vibrant portrait of the people, places, and ideas that constituted an American maritime culture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Gilje uses the concept of “liberty” to illuminate his study. For most on the waterfront, “liberty” was a highly ambiguous concept: not only was it specific to each individual, but it also had geographic boundaries, meaning something very different on shore than it did on the high seas. Through this prism Gilje examines the culture of the waterfront from many different angles, including what sailors thought about the push and pull of home or family, the conflict between personal and national identities, the efforts of those who sought to reform sailors and their culture, and the stark dichotomy between unabashed freedom on shore and near slavery at sea. In all of these issues Gilje sees ambiguity, a sentiment that runs throughout the book and even competes with “liberty” as its main idea. Because Gilje’s analysis focuses on the contested and uncertain, at times readers themselves may feel a bit at sea. To cite just one example, his chapter on the War of 1812or the war for “Free Trade and Sailor’s Rights”interlaces stories of staunch, principled, patriotic sailors with those about other seamen who energetically shed their national allegiance and identity in search of the “main chance.” But this is no criticism: Gilje’s narration is in fact a fantastic mirroring of the book’s subject itself. Liberty on the Waterfront captures the multivalent and complex motivations that governed the docks in the midst of the sustained hurricane-force gusts of the “Age of Revolution.” More than just a scholarly achievement, Gilje’s book is great for the general public and, especially, for those who share Ishmael’s disdain for being “tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.”
The Eagle and the Rising Sun: The Japanese-American War, 1941–1943, by Alan Schom. Norton, December 2003. $28.95
In a new history of World War II in the Pacific, Alan Schom has written a revisionist account of the years 1941–43. He focuses first on internal turmoil in Japan as the military forced their demands for aggression on the politicians. Emperor Hirohito emerges as a willing participant in planning the war. Schom follows the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Midway, Savo Island, and the bloody campaign on Guadalcanal. The U.S. Navy had successfully “attacked” Pearl Harbor in three simulated attacks. There are vivid portraits of those who played the leading roles in this terrible conflict: Yamamoto, Ernest J. King, William Halsey, Chester Nimitz, and others. Schom’s sharpest criticism is reserved for Douglas MacArthur, who failed to take adequate precautions against the Japanese invasion. He even refused permission for American planes to bomb Japanese bases in Formosa after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eventually the “old boy” network protected MacArthur from a court-martial. Schom ends his book with the withdrawal of the Japanese forces from Guadalcanal after a long, bloody campaign. This is a brilliant history of the early years of the struggle to dominate the Pacific in World War II.
Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation, by Lynn Eden. Cornell, January 2004. $32.50
By virtue of its subject matter, Whole World on Fire is a sobering book. The empirical puzzle that Eden sets out to solve is, Why, after fifty-plus years of experience with nuclear war planning, did those charged with understanding the effects of nuclear weapons fail to directly consider the implications of mass fire that would have resulted in a nuclear exchange? By focusing solely on the effects of blast damage, the U.S. government has purchased far more nuclear weapons than it has otherwise “needed” and has systematically underestimated the consequences of engaging in nuclear crisis diplomacy. In short, while the subject matter is highly technical and arcane (though Eden’s presentation is neither), the implications are very real indeed. Eden’s path-dependent explanation for the focus on blast damage is highly convincing. At its foundation is the notion that the “science of destruction” is social. That is, the manner in which individuals—embedded in the organizations responsible for understanding the effects of nuclear weapons—interpret and understand the physical world is predicated on the “organizational frames” through which reality is judged. Organizational frames become reified through knowledge-laden routines or the processes of problem-solving activities adopted by organizations over time. Once reified, the ability of organizations to change the manner in which they plan for the future declines dramatically, especially when the consequences of failing to change are not substantial or immediately manifest. This book has been deeply researched and is written exceptionally well. Whole World on Fire will stand, alongside Diane Vaughn’s study of the Challenger disaster, among the best in-depth studies of how organizations interact with the physical world.
—Spencer D. Bakich
State of the World 2004, by the Worldwatch Institute. Norton, January 2004. $16.95
The Worldwatch Institute has earned an enviable reputation for its data compilation and survey work, even among those who criticize what they call the “doomsday” scenario or “collapse anxiety” that marks Worldwatch’s publications. The 2004 edition will extend its reputation in both categories. But 2004 has a couple of new wrinkles: a “special focus” which serves as a thematic linchpin for the diverse writers and perspectives within. Because of this focus on “The Consumer Society,” the 21st edition of this annual report is perhaps the best ever in terms of holding the reader’s attention. The focus is on a worldwide consumer class consisting of about 1.7 billion persons who consume more and more, with apparently less and less satisfaction, even as this consumption devastates natural systems and, arguably, social systems as well. This report suggests that even without the entry of the aspiring billions into this worldwide consumer class, immense social and ecological threats cast doubt on whether even the current “ecological footprint” imprinted on the planet by this consumption is sustainable. This reviewer has read State of the World annually since its inception. It is a rich, accurate source of environmental data and trends that is persuasive and depressing. Purchasing and reading the 2004 edition will not only provide information, compelling perspectives, and hopeful options; it will also help the foundations and individuals who contribute to its production assure that it will appear once again in 2005.
—Richard C. Collins
Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force, by Peter D. Feaver and Christopher Gelpi. Princeton, December 2003. $37.50
Choosing Your Battles is the capstone of a years-long research program focusing on the nature of American civil-military relations. Employing the rich TISS data set, Feaver and Gelpi offer important insights into the character of civil-military relations in the U.S. and into its effects on the nature of U.S. foreign policy. The book’s findings can be stated directly. Civilians and the military hold systematically distinct views concerning when and how military force should be used. Civilian elites who have never served in the armed forces have a strong tendency to support the use of force more readily than military officers. Military officers tend to support the use of force only in cases where the national interests of the U.S. are at stake (i.e., when the physical security of the U.S. is threatened, or for the maintenance of a particular geostrategic position). In addition to those criteria, civilian elites with no military experience frequently consider more “interventionist” uses of force as appropriate. However, when force is used, military officers prefer fewer limitations on its employment than do civilian elites. These findings are borne out historically: when the military had greater representation in the executive and legislative branches, the probability that force would be used declined by nearly 90 percent. When force was used, however, the greater number of veterans in government corresponded to a greater level of force employed. Finally, this book addresses one of the most persistent questions pertaining to American foreign-military policy: is the American public casualty-averse? The authors conclude that while the public is in fact not casualty-averse, leaders in the military and civilian government believe it to be so. This is an important work whose findings have wide-ranging policy implications.
—Spencer D. Bakich
Talking about Politics, by Katherine Cramer Walsh. Chicago, December 2003. $19
This publication emerges from a Ph.D. dissertation to “study informal talk in face-to-face settings” by a graduate student at the University of Michigan. Walsh was an observer-participant in two groups that met informally but regularly in Ann Arbor. Her experience and conclusions are summarized for the lay reader in a “Letter to Old Timers at End of Observation Period.” In that letter she shows her gratitude for the Old Timers’ acceptance of her inclusion in their conversations and gently signals her scholarly conclusions in lay terms that they could appreciate: informal group talk creates meaning and helps to shape identity, but the very inclusiveness perpetuates “us” and “them” factions, especially in racial matters.
The Old Timers are a group that meets in a restaurant, primarily just to get together, but the conversation necessarily involves reactions to news reports and current events. But political discussion is not the main staple of their conversations, and even when it is, their behavior does not mimic the public-regarding discourse that is sometimes idealistically imagined by some political scientists. Walsh seems to have lowered her hopes that informal groups, by themselves, would display the virtuous citizen of civic republican hopes.
The political scientist will find this book more valuable than the citizen-reader. It defends the methods used in the study as complements to other, more frequently used methods to learn more about political socialization, political communications, and political opinion formation. One is inclined to agree with the author’s criticism of other, supposedly more “scientific” studies, and one can also hope that this may be only one of many initiatives to lighten up on the pressure to conduct statistical and mathematical studies in order to be considered a true political scientist.
—Richard C. Collins
Twentieth-Century American Poetry, by Christopher MacGowen. Blackwell, March 2004. $36.95
Published in the Blackwell Guides to Literatures series, this volume will be a useful reference book, especially for students and teachers. Written by an editor of William Carlos Williams’s poetry, the book has at its center a biographical dictionary of significant poets, from Robert Frost and Langston Hughes to Adrienne Rich and Rita Dove. Another section includes accurate overviews of influential volumes, including McKay’s Harlem Shadows, Stevens’s Harmonium, and Plath’s Ariel. Among the most interesting features of this concisely written guide are brief essays at the beginning and end on transatlantic connections, poetry and the other arts, the long poem, the poetry wars, and anthologies. Cogent and clear, sound and well informed.
The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects, by Charles Altieri. Cornell, January 2004. $49.95 cloth, $22.50 paper
This book is so ambitious and intriguing that carping at occasional tautologies and unwarranted assumptions seems petty. Charles Altieri challenges the tendency in contemporary philosophy and literary theory to subsume affect into a cognitivist project that locates value in ethics, knowledge, or action. With a sustained attack on an epistemic colonization of affect, Altieri promotes expressivity, with its own modes of agency and involvement, as an inherently valuable activity apart from any insight it might allow. Altieri focuses on the agent’s “manner” and “attitude”—terms that index not “what agents believe about what moves them” but rather “how they perform who they become by virtue of the attitude they have been constructing” (110).
Altieri everywhere identifies affect with aesthetics. An aesthetic perspective, he argues, “invites us to ask what states, roles, identifications, and social bonds become possible by virtue of our efforts to dwell fully within these dispositions of energies and the modes of self-reflection they sustain” (5). The mind/feeling dichotomy Altieri establishes finds its objective correlative in the body of his text; each chapter articulates his argument about affect by engaging contemporary thinking in philosophy and literary criticism, but each chapter also contains careful explications of paintings and poetry in order to mobilize the affects of his reader. He intends the axioms of philosophy to be proved on the pulses. Bridging the dichotomy between philosophy and art are hypothetical real-world examples of how agents might try out, own, or shift their engagement with complex emotional states such as jealousy or anger.
Altieri’s own values pervade the book not only in his solid argument for attending to the importance of emotional expressivity, but also in his valorization of the modernist project that suspects self-aggrandizing (Victorian) emotional identifications. Only the fundamental disruption of narrative and social scripts found in a minimalist art can return the subject to an authentic, primary engagement with feeling. In the assumption that social scripts ought to be challenged and that feeling provides the optimal means, Altieri comes dangerously close to positing a realm of freedom in affect engagement that he is unwilling to allow rationality. His stance curiously blends a Romantic investment in feeling and imagination with a modernist suspicion of normativity.
The most impressive aspect of the book is Altieri’s ability to replicate the provocative subtlety of feeling while writing at a sufficiently abstract level of generalization. The book abounds in careful distinctions and a thorough engagement with the abundance of contemporary work on affect from two fields: philosophy and literary criticism. Thirty-five pages of footnotes further elucidating his argument in relation to others extend the book’s substantial attention to contemporary theorists, providing a valuable resource for anyone interested in current thinking on emotions.
Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture, by Tony Bolden. Illinois, January 2004. $29.95
This book about modern and contemporary African American poetry and culture interprets its subject from within what Houston Baker Jr. has termed the “blues matrix”—a sensibility and style shaped by the sociohistorical experience of African Americans. Like Baker and, before him, Amiri Baraka, Bolden takes the blues to be the master trope for African American poetry and culture, and he offers several distinct models of the relation of the blues to the poetry. Some poets, such as Sterling Brown in The Southern Road, are seen as mimicking and riffing on oral forms. Others, such as Langston Hughes in Montage of a Dream Deferred, are said to emphasize cultural “(re)memory,” as evident in their blues repetitions. Still others, such as Jayne Cortez, are thought to embody in poetry the musical qualities of blues and jazz forms. Useful for its synoptic engagement with blues theory and its survey of Black Arts Movement criticism, this clearly written book—shaped by the political postulates of the Black Arts Movement yet attentive to intricacies of form—will be of interest to students and readers of African American poetry.
Make It New: The Rise of Modernism, edited by Kurt Heinzelman. Texas, January 2004. $29.95
This is the catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the same name at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, October 21, 2003, to March 7, 2004. The organizers admit that the story of modernism has been celebrated many times, but the particular premise of their exhibition was to use some 300 objects (drawn from the Ransom Center’s collection) “to provoke epiphany,” to encourage viewers to understand, beyond the sum of the exhibition’s parts, something of the “energy that made the early twentieth-century world modern” (6). The 127 color plates reproduce some art objects, but more are devoted to artifacts and fragments—posters, letters, maps, advertisements, and the like. Accompanying texts include a dozen essays by artists whose collections are housed at the Ransom Center, a substantial essay (by Daniel Albright) of scholarly synthesis on the many strands of modernist thought and work, and seven short scholarly essays on selected objects from the exhibition. Although these texts move back and forth across the line separating celebration and analysis (as one expects in an exhibition catalogue), this is a fascinating and “new” glimpse into the worlds of modernism.
A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes, edited by Steven C. Tracy. Oxford, December 2003. $45
This book of new essays by several hands offers a useful introduction to the “Shakespeare of Harlem.” It firmly returns Hughes’s prose and poetry to their historical and biographical contexts. One such context is the development, recording, and dissemination of African American musical forms, such as jazz and the blues, and their profound influence on Hughes. Others are Hughes’s engagements with place in America and abroad, his leftist political affiliations, and his cross-gender identifications. Together with the included biography, timeline, and bibliographic essay, these essays will be a helpful resource for college students.
Gender and Nation in the Spanish Modernist Novel, by Roberta Johnson. Vanderbilt, December 2003. $69.95 cloth, $29.95 paper
Johnson’s fresh and exciting look at the Spanish novel from the Generation of 1898 to the onset of the civil war in 1936 moves beyond her groundbreaking Crossfire: Philosophy and the Novel in Spain, 1900–1934 by focusing on the mostly forgotten (even previously by her) women novelists of that period. She employs her considerable analytical skills to look at the work of Carmen de Burgos, Concha Espina, Blanca de los Ríos, Sofía Casanova, María Martínez Sierra, Margarita Nelken, Federica Montseny, Rosa Chacel, and María Zambrano. What we learn is that the women novelists merit study not because they are “forgotten women” but rather because they made a real contribution to the modernist novel in Spain. But Johnson goes further than mere description and recuperation of the work of these women; she cleverly links it to the ongoing debate (normally credited to the writers of the Generation of 1898) concerning the essence of “Spain,” the country’s place in the world, and the anxiety generated by endless self-analysis. Two excellent chapters on the development of “the soul of Spain” in the figures of Don Quijote and Don Juan set the reader up to comprehend as never before the role women played in the redefinition of a Spain in which women were taken seriously, allowed to vote, and treated as equals. Alas, the utopia never came into being, as Franco’s long dictatorship attempted to return women to the home and hearth.
—David T. Gies
Poetry’s Touch: On Lyric Address, by William Waters. Cornell, November 2003. $37.50
Poetry’s Touch presents a beautifully lucid argument for turning our attention to a poem’s “you” to complement the preponderance of criticism focused on the lyric “I.” While J. S. Mill famously described poetry as “overheard”—the poet talking to himself—William Waters takes as his guiding metaphor Osip Mandelstam’s “message in a bottle,” a free-floating utterance but one unequivocally intended for a person, whose “reading intelligence is palpable just on the other side of each word the poet writes” (125). In this compact volume, Waters examines poems explicitly addressed to other human beings (the poets’ contemporaries, historical figures, and “you”) in order to elucidate the different relationships they build with their readers. The wide range of selected verse—Greek inscriptions, as well as poems by Horace, Keats, Mörike, Whitman, Dickinson, Cavafy, Rilke, Celan, Bishop, and Ashbery, among others—helps isolate address as a formal feature in lyric poetry and implicitly reinforces Waters’s claim for its centrality to the genre. Because the academic engagement with contemporary criticism, theory, and linguistics is carried out largely in footnotes, Waters is able to dedicate the body of his text to a series of thoughtful and thoroughly knowledgeable analyses of the poems, which uncover a variety of techniques poets use to reach out to the addressee. The elegance of Poetry’s Touch lies in Waters’s ability to both present and exploit those techniques as he renders the meaningful urgency of poetic address.
Some Great Thing, by Colin McAdam. Harcourt, April 2004. $24.00
The heart of this first novel about a building boom in 1970s Ottawa is Jerry McGuinty, a pugnacious dreamer and master plasterer, who starts with a loan, a bit of land, and a commitment to building homes that will “defy the fist of time” and ends with a legacy written across the map of the city. While he is occupied with building a construction empire with a clear eye for the subtleties of buildings and workers he is blind to his beloved wife’s descent into alcoholism and infidelity, and his son’s corresponding disillusionment. Jerry’s first-person narrative alternates with Simon Struthers’, who prefers to speak of himself in the third, an old-money bureaucrat in the national government. Simon considers himself a harmless rake and voluptuary but his self-absorption ensures his legacy will be little besides heartbreak, although it’s his quixotic gesture towards the future of Ottawa that gives the novel its satisfying conclusion. The loose plot turns on a contested piece of land over which Simon has licensing authority and on which Jerry and his “angel demons” (investors) would like to build. Some Great Thing is tightly structured and delicately written throughout, with frequent bursts of humor. McAdam has a rare gift for creating a rich surface of voices with darker currents gathering strength below.
Boomtown, by Greg Williams. Overlook Press, March 2004. $24.95
This masterful second novel by the author of Younger Than Springtime captures New York City and the nation at a time of unprecedented, crazy prosperity. It’s the year 2000. Optimism and confidence drive an economy that can suddenly do no wrong. In the new, hothouse atmosphere of the Internet, dot-coms spring up, flourish, and multiply. Having ridden the stock market bubble to astronomical (if chimerical) success, Allminder.com, the company at the story’s center, inevitably tumbles along with so many others, and in a hilarious domino effect, all its secrets—financial, ethical, sexual, technological—come out, exposing the arrogance that sustained such big-spending but profitless business ventures. In addition to its cast of vivid characters—among them the stripper-turned-corporate-ladder-climber, the dishonest young CEO, the hard-working actress, the secretive computer guy—the delights of this novel include the graceful interweaving of multiple plot lines with the threads of a love story that points to real happiness beyond the pipe dreams.
The Yellow Rain, by Julio Llamazares. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. Harcourt, January 2004. $22
Llamazares (b. 1955), one of Spain’s best modern novelists, is well known in his native country for powerful novels such as Luna de lobos (Wolf Moon), Escenas del cine mudo (Scenes from Silent Films), and El río del olvido (River of Oblivion). The “yellow rain” of the title of this short novel is the last leaves of autumn falling on the abandoned village of Ainielle in the Spanish Pyrenees. Andrés, too attached to the village (and too old) to leave, watches the leaves and remembers the way things used to be, the people who inhabited the village, and the daily rhythm of existence. His subtle story is at once sad and powerful, a tale of decline, emptiness, death, and loss. But it is at the same time oddly uplifting in the old man’s stoic acceptance of his solitude and his sweet memories of the lost Sabina.
—David T. Gies
Here Comes the Roar, by Dave Shaw. North Texas, December 2003. $12.95
Winner of the Katherine Ann Porter Prize in Short Fiction in 2003, Shaw’s collection contains three short stories and a novella. His first story is about a man whose wife has just left him. Shaw expertly describes conversations the man has with his young son, how he handles meeting a former love interest, his response when a lascivious babysitter tries to seduce him. When the husband arrives at a neighborhood cocktail party, he observes, “Already I wear around my neck a sign screaming Cuckold.’” By the end of the piece, Shaw’s intimate portrayal of everyday events gives the reader a good idea of what it must feel like to be abandoned by your spouse. The piece has a moving and beautiful ending.
Shaw’s writing is both sensual and lyrical, creating evocative and poetic prose. On rare occasions, it seems Shaw tries too hard, winding up with a convoluted sentence that obscures his meaning, but overall, his prose is a pleasure to read. All four stories take place in radically different settings: a small, tight Cape Cod community, streets outside of D.C. National, the Caribbean, a USAF hospital. Shaw is skilled at creating a strong sense of place in each piece. His vivid descriptions linger long after you have put his book down.
—Deborah M. Prum
Trouble in Mind, by Lucie Brock-Broido. Knopf, January 2004. $23
In an uncharacteristically declarative moment, this melancholic volume of poems announces the occasion of its grief-ensnared murmurings: “First, my father died. Then my mother / Did.” Brock-Broido’s poetic mourning strangely fuses a harsh asceticism—a refusal to yield to the consolations of narrative, religion, compensatory substitution—and a florid abundance—a mannered figurative surface, an imagery awash in fire and gold. Indeed, the language of these poems hovers somewhere between Emily Dickinson’s pain-stubbed restraint and Shakespeare’s opulence and extravagance, between Wallace Stevens’s abstractions and Gerard Manley Hopkins’s densely clustered sonorities—four poets evoked amid Brock-Broido’s allusive brocade. The landscape of these elegies and self-elegies is no less bleak—a harsh New England winter, with scattered topographical references to the northerly climes of Scotland, Denmark, Germany, and Canada. For all the unrelieved despair of Brock-Broido’s poems, the darkness visible of this volume is curiously resplendent.
Brightwood: Poems, by R. T. Smith. LSU, December 2003. $22.95 cloth, $15.95 paper
Grounded in place, rich in vernacular, the poems in Brightwood not only read like local news heard at, say, “Horton’s Store” but look like the columns in a local gazette as they scroll down the slightly yellow pages. We’re in the South, the South of yesterday and today, and there is a store full of characters, Sudie and Silas, Daddy Grace, Jimmy Nickels, who remember the lynchings and betrayals, long, hot days on a survey crew, but also family car trips and the way to find a hidden spring. Healing, or the need of it, threads through the collection and has as much of a presence as the brightwood fiddle of the title poem. Sometimes the healing comes in the form of music or dance, as in “Flat-Footing, Summer Evening, Rockbridge County, VA.” Sometimes a simple reassurance is enough, as in “Beulah.” In “Voices, Traces, the Whip-poor-will’s Plea,” healing comes in the form of a break, a rejection of the past. (“What this used to mean no longer matters.”) Smith’s narrators also find healing, whether of a historical or personal nature, by reconnecting with the natural world, as in “Throwing the Coachman,” when the speaker realizes that though “nothing / is feeding, and nothing is in his creel / at least he’s knee-deep / in a living river and he can feel.” Smith’s poems, rich with “the taste of iron and cherries,” are beautifully crafted, but it is his distinctive voice, the hand that holds the bow, which makes these poems possess “the gospel glow … the knack, every bittersweet / technique that moved a tongue to utter amen.” Hopefully, the last poem in this collection does not allude to Smith’s own health, but if it does, another book from him would be, as he avows, the best medicine for us all.
—Carol C. McIntosh
The Room Where I Was Born, by Brian Teare. Wisconsin, November 2003. $14.95
A book that takes its organizing principle from the layout of a childhood home has its work cut out for it: one expects the standard nickel tour through a series of half-poignant reminiscences. But when we learn early in Brian Teare’s first book that “First person plural is a house / where I put myself in the third person in a bed I know / his older brother’s hands will visit,” we recognize that the unfolding treatment of childhood sexual abuse and the search for homosexual identity in the rural American South is not going to have a comfortable floor plan. The speaker’s frequent changes of viewpoint and person add depth to the scenes: “When I say I’ I mean eye, sum of my watching.” Teare’s house has a “Library of the Fairy Tale,” with all the pages about the incestuous figures dog-eared. Teare’s house has mother in the kitchen wringing her hands “to clean them of song,” father in the living room, napkin-nursing a teething baby with whiskey. Combining elements of autobiography, Greek mythology and tragedy, European folktale, linguistics, literary theory, set design, and biblical lore, this house is going to appear busy. Some of the structures—like a series of four lyric fragments all called “Circa”—appear to be as random and roundabout as their title, spiral staircases leading to brick walls. The begged question is whether each room or scene is actually the same room described differently—the one in which childhood abuse occurred, the one whose uneasy legacy can be felt in any room or scene thereafter. It’s a haunting possibility and one The Room Where I Was Born explores intelligently and provocatively. On the Williams scale (Tennessee or William Carlos), Teare takes the Streetcar line, not the road to the contagious hospital; his cultural rebuke of “the size and shape of not-telling, not-hearing” demonstrates his allegiance to uncovering and unearthing the painful inheritance of the past.
“I Am”: The Selected Poetry of John Clare, edited by Jonathan Bate. FSG, November 2003. $17
For too long has John Clare labored under the heavy hands of his editors. The recently completed collection published by Oxford under the guidance of Eric Robinson is a valuable scholarly aid, transcribing Clare’s prodigious output from his confusing manuscripts. But the idiosyncrasies of Clare’s verse and the collaborative nature of his production (he often enlisted the aid of his editor, John Taylor, in shaping the final version of poems for press) make Robinson’s edition of little use in the undergraduate classroom or for the casual reader. Like most writers working in the 19th century, Clare demands light editing. Such was the nature of literary production. Clare knew it, and he wrote with this in mind, often leaving his manuscripts in an unfinished state. Jonathan Bate’s new collection offers a judicious sampling of Clare’s work in exactly this lightly edited form. He chooses some of Clare’s most frequently anthologized pieces but supplements these with a large selection that proves an excellent introduction to the range, the diversity, and the dense complexity of Clare’s mature work. This volume is likely to do more for Clare’s reputation than the companion biography, which, at over 600 pages, is likely to remain fodder for critics and graduate students.
—J. N. Goldsmith
The Fate of Family Farming, by Ronald Jager. New England, April 2004. $26
What do you get when a former Yale philosophy professor with a boyhood on a Michigan family farm, described in an earlier book entitled Eighty Acres: An Elegy for a Family Farm, retires to a place he loves in New Hampshire and has an itch to understand how family farms he reads about in his local paper are doing? You get a lively and readable book that includes insights into classical mythology, contemporary agrarian literature, case studies of “niche farming,” and a penetrating analysis of agribusiness that will deeply disturb the reader, even if there are some hopeful signs of change. The author, Ronald Jager, handles all the various facets of this book with confidence. It would be hard to find anything comparable to this small volume even in an edited anthology on farming. He observes that the experience at Jamestown shows that it “was a death sentence to come to America without the capacity to farm, even with generous Natives to help.” He notes that the history of American farming usually begins sometime after that woeful start.
The field work and interviews with the New Hampshire orchardists, dairy farmers, and maple syrup producers will probably be the highlight of this book for most readers. Real people struggling and succeeding in a “niche” farming operation. But for this reviewer the best part of the book is the last chapter, in which Jager punctures the idea that the U.S. achievement of “cheap food” is a “success.” As he dissects the corporate integration of farms, processors, and distributors, he rightly warns that it leads irresistibly to an unsustainable agriculture that depopulates the countryside, depletes the soil, raises serious health and food safety issues, and pollutes the water. The word “success” for this cheap food does seem a little partial.
—Richard C. Collins
September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ‘64 Phillies, and Racial Integration, by William C. Kashatus. Penn State, March 2004. $29.95
This is a marvelous little book about a sliver of time in baseball’s history. But like the best baseball scholarship of the last two decades, this book uses baseball, America’s Game, the National Pastime, as a lens through which to examine larger society. For Kashatus the problematic question is race. Like Howard Bryant’s Shut Out, another recent book on baseball and race that explored the vexing history of the Boston Red Sox, September Swoon explores a snakebitten franchise. The Phillies of 1964 suffered the worst collapse in baseball history. Leading by 6 games with 12 games to go, the team managed somehow to lose the pennant by going on a 10-game losing streak. This collapse would haunt the franchise until 1980, when it finally exorcised the ghosts of futility by winning the World Series.
If losing the pennant would be the 1964 team’s legacy, its subtext would be the question of race, the great shame in the National Pastime’s history even after Jackie Robinson’s April 15, 1947, debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Phillies were the last national league team to integrate, and they only did so in desultory fashion in 1957, when infielder John Kennedy appeared in five games. In 1964 a slugger by the name of Richie Allen, who preferred to be called “Dick,” became rookie of the year. More important, he was the Phillies’ first black superstar. However, in years to come, Allen would be a lightning rod for controversy. Philadelphia, like many cities across the United States, was beset by racial difficulties throughout the 1960s, and the overwhelmingly white fan base often aimed its frustration at the Phillies’ abject mediocrity at Allen throughout the remainder of the decade. Allen’s abrasive, inflammatory, and occasionally “me first” attitude did not much help matters, and after many years of trying to get the Phillies to trade him, Allen was finally successful in 1969, when he was part of a multiplayer deal that included Curt Flood, a St. Louis Cardinal player who would challenge his trade to the Phillies, eventually leading to a new era in baseball that would allow for free agency and thus change the landscape of major league baseball.
Kashatus deals with the baseball issues with a seasoned journalist’s eye and with the racial ramifications with a historian’s sensibility (he is both a journalist and a professional historian). Smart baseball fans will want to read this book, though Phillies fans will probably cringe throughout, at both the failings of the team on the field and its even more substantial shortcomings on the question of race. Historians of modern America, race, and urban life will also find much of use in this relatively brief and largely successful treatment of the September Swoon and its underlying ramifications.
Colonial Virginia’s Cooking Dynasty, by Katharine E. Harbury. South Carolina, February 2004. $59.95
Katharine Harbury’s scholarly study of cooking and eating in 18th-century Virginia examines life in the colony and traces the development of the roles, responsibilities, and power of women in this society. Harbury has organized her study in three sections. The first provides the social background and physical setting for food and dining. The second examines the ingredients themselves by category: meats, seafood, condiments, corn and other grains, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, sugar, desserts, beverages, tobacco, and medicines. Each chapter in the first two sections begins with a series of epigraphs drawn from contemporary letters and diaries. They praise and criticize meals, describe dining rooms and tableware, and recount conversations over meals. Most were written by men in the colonies, but numerous citations from Samuel Pepys provide a contemporary En-glish point of comparison. The third section presents the recipe books (actually domestic manuals) of two “dynastic” women: “Unidentified cookbook, c. 1700—Anonymous,” and “Jane (Bolling) Randolph Her Cookery Book, 1743.” These two compilations are related to each other, and they form the basis of Mary Randolph’s 1824 classic, The Virginia Housewife. The transcribed recipes (with 18th-century spelling) give ingredients and directions (very sketchy by modern standards) for cooking foods and concocting medicines. What the recipes leave out as assumed knowledge tells us much about the women’s expertise. The recipes give the modern reader a vivid sense of the difficulty of daily domestic life, from butchery to curing meats, and mending china to doctoring. No convenience foods here! Most interesting to the modern reader is the record the book provides of colonial women’s responsibilities and behavior. While men’s lives took them into the public and political spheres, women (who generally had less formal education than the men) remained in the private sphere. Despite their lack of visibility and recognition, women in colonial Virginia amassed a wide range of complicated and demanding skills to run their households; and in their roles as hostesses, women wielded great power in helping their families’ progress and social standing.
—Joan B. Fry
The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, by David Callahan. Harcourt, January 2004. $26
The University of Virginia made national newspapers early in this new century when a physics professor caught an astonishing number of his students cheating in a class called “How Things Work.” The young and prolific author David Callahan does not mention this incident in a riveting study of contemporary American deception, yet the UVa incident would serve his purposes well. Cheating works, which explains in part why so many high school and college students turn to it. Not just students, though: we have only to think of Enron and Tyco, among other firms, to see that the corporate world also believes that cheating works. In a winner-take-all economy such as America’s, more and more citizens and illegal aliens risk getting caught in order to get ahead. And those who choose not to cheat become more and more cynical. Callahan writes beautifully, thinking always of his reader’s patience and interest. Ideally he would have addressed infidelity, which appears to be on the rise as well, but one can’t do everything. How sincere he really is in concluding the book on an optimistic note (we can stop cheating!) only prompts us to think even harder about a phenomenon that affects nearly all Americans.