Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1990

ISSUE:  Autumn 1990

In 1974 Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman published one of the most controversial books ever written by American historians. In Time on the Cross these two historians argued that their computerized evidence had revealed to them that slavery was economically healthy on the eve of the Civil War. They proceeded from that discovery to paint a picture of slavery that was far less damning in its portrayal of the institution than anything historians had been willing to accept for decades; after a brief moment of praise, the book was criticized more thoroughly than any book of American history ever produced. In some ways, this book is a rumination on that chastening experience, a thoughtful essay on morality and methodology. In other ways, it is a defiant elaboration of the previous book’s major themes. In yet other ways, it is an attempt to go beyond the last book into realms of politics and reform. All in all, it reveals the problems and dangers American slavery holds even now.

Spanish Imperialism and the Political Imagination, by Anthony Pagden. Yale $22.50

The book’s six chapters deal with the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Spain was the largest and most important political entity in much of the world and, with Venice, the most widely discussed, feared, and studied. Pagden focuses on how the perception of the Spanish Monarchy changed in the writings of political theorists who concentrated on the Italian territories and on the New World (including Bolívar). Spain, once admired as a powerful, universal entity, gradually became accused of being a despotic and restrictive force. By the mid-18th century, even Spaniards had become painfully aware of the great cost of maintaining their empire. The book is clearly written, skillfully documented, and interesting.

From Boycott to Annihilation: The Economic Struggle of German Jews, 1933—1943, by Avraham Barkai. Translated by William Templer. New England $25

The author argues that the Nazis declared economic war against the Jewish population not in 1938 but shortly after Hitler’s seizure of power in January 1933. This war, consisting of state-sponsored boycotts of Jewish businesses, the exclusion of Jews from most economic activities, the confiscation of their wealth, and the destruction of their property, made possible the creation of a “bureaucracy of annihilation” which led inexorably to the Final Solution. The most provocative part of this volume, however, deals with the attempts of Jewish communities not to succumb to these new external pressures. Barkai’s research should help to bury the image of German Jews as unresisting victims of the Nazi regime.

Black, White, and Southern: Race Relations and Southern Culture 1940 to the Present, by David R. Goldfield. Louisiana $24.95

The story of the Civil Rights Movement is often divorced from its full context and portrayed as a straightforward struggle of good versus evil in a South little changed since the end of slavery. David Goldfield has gone a long way toward setting that story where it belongs, in the crosscurrents of culture, economics, politics, and personalities of the 20th-century South. Fittingly, Goldfield picks up the story in 1930, when unheralded but dedicated people began changing the situation in the South, not in 1954 or 1965. It is also refreshing to see the story carried up to the present day, not merely truncated as a triumph accomplished or a hollow victory gained. No one has worked harder at connecting the South of our own time with the South of the past than David Goldfield. His book is a fine place to start for those who wonder how the struggle for black equality fits with the other strands of Southern history.

Politics and Public Health in Revolutionary Russia, 1890—1918, by John F. Hutchinson. Johns Hopkins $42

What role should the state play in maintaining public health? The Russian answer has historically been a small one. If—at least until the late 1960’s and Medicaid— physicians were practically demigods in America, they were second-class professionals in Russia. The state did not encourage youth to enter the profession and paid little attention to the prevention and control of epidemics. As Russia lurched toward the 20th century, however, this hands-off attitude began to alter, and John Hutchinson provides a scintillating account of this sea change.

Religion and Society in a Cotswold Vale, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire 1780—1865, by Albion M. Urdank. California $47.50

Industrialization seems to have brought many, not always beneficial, changes to England. Making use of letters, diaries, and sermons as well as statistical materials, Urdank argues in this interesting book, that nonconformist religion was an essential part of the transition to an industrial organization—cushioning social groups from the destructive aspects of industrial change.

The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century City, by Jodi Bilinkoff. Cornell $24.95

The name Teresa of Avila immediately evokes Bernini’s stone image of the saint in ecstasy. This lucid and readable study reveals another more public Teresa, the egalitarian monastic reformer. Tracing the development of Teresa’s ideals in the context of the religious and social ferment of 16th-century Avila, Bilinkoff demonstrates the interaction between urban pietistic reform movements and the rise of a nonnoble merchant class of largely Jewish descent. Teresa’s effort to reform the Carmelite order by founding small, unendowed convents dedicated to contemplative prayer, Bilinkoff argues, challenged class and racial prejudices as well as the traditional dependence of monastic institutions on the aristocracy. Balanced and well-researched, this volume will be welcomed by religious and social historians and scholars in women’s studies.

Imperial Russia, 1700—1917: State, Society, Opposition. Essays in Honor of Marc Raeff, edited by Ezra Mendelsohn and Marshall S. Shatz. Northern Illinois $35

One of the most distinguished interpreters of imperial Russian history, Marc Raeff of Columbia University richly merits this fine Festschrift. As is inevitable in such works, the quality of the essays varies greatly. Some, however, represent genuinely new approaches, and all are unfailingly interesting to the careful student of Russia’s imperial past.

Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America, by Harry L. Watson. Hill and Wang $25

This is a well-written and concise synthesis of Jacksonian politics that places the era’s social upheavals at center stage. By placing political discourse within the context of the revolutionary ideals of Republicanism, Watson explains that political turmoil as a vigorous debate over the policy and future of the Republic. In this way, the population explosion, technological, communication, and transportation revolutions (all wrapped up here as the Market Revolution) are central to the era’s political controversies. Andrew Jackson, of course, is the dominant political actor. But in the face of new economic and social developments, Jackson harked back to a simpler time, a time of republican virture. Ironically, Jackson sought this Arcadia by creating a mass-based party. Opposition figures appealed to their followers by defending liberties trampled on by heightened executive power. Out of this confrontation came the second party system.

Public Life in Toulouse, 1463—1789, by Robert A. Schneider. Cornell $49.95

Unlike the modern city, the early modern European town was an intensely local environment. National and international values and ideologies counted for much less than local ties. In this book Schneider describes the process by which a southern “municipal republic,” proud of its distinct linguistic and cultural traditions, was drawn into a national, French, culture with a resultant loosening of local political, economic, and cultural ties.

Peasant Russia, Civil War: The Volga Countryside in Revolution, 1917—1921, by Orlando Figes. Oxford $68

However fraudulent glasnost may be, it has brought new life to Western scholarship on Soviet history. Figes’ book is the first to make extensive use of Soviet archives on a 20th-century topic, and he puts those archives to superb use. No history of the Civil War can in the future fail to take Figes’ pioneering effort into account. He gives what appears to be the first full-length portrait of a rural area in the midst of cataclysm. An outstanding work.

Race, Class, and Politics in Southern History: Essays in Honor of Robert F. Durden, edited by Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Charles L. Flynn, Jr. Louisiana $35

Moderation is both valued and scorned by historians. While anyone who tries to make sense of the past can only be struck by its overwhelming complexity, we constantly celebrate those who can create the temporary illusion of simplicity. It is the simple statement forcefully made that gets our attention, wins our prizes. Robert Durden, on the other hand, has argued against taking sides and has instilled that value in his students. As eight of them reveal in this volume, the virtues of moderation and balance can produce exciting history. The essays here are of unusually high quality and address topics from the Ku Klux Klan to Populism to the apartheid proposed for the South early in this century. Robert Durden should be proud.

Texas Divided, by James Martin. Kentucky $25

Although thousands of Texans died on battlefields hundreds of miles to the East, the Civil War barely scratched the Confederate State of Texas compared to the devastation elsewhere. This excellent study describes the divided loyalties of the Texans in the most serious crisis in American history with special emphasis on the role played by the transplanted Virginian, Sam Houston, who was the former president, governor, and U.S. senator of the Lone Star State.

Images of English Puritanism: A Collection of Contemporary Sources, 1589—1646, edited by Lawrence A. Sasek. Louisiana $42.50

Sasek attacks the problem of historical definition directly, proffering working definitions of puritanism only long enough to obfuscate them, and then plunging into an exhausting, if not exhaustive, compilation of references. The entries range from entire tracts to brief excerpts from sermons and letters, each accompanied by a thorough note on circumstances. Aside from selection and introduction, the only structure Sasek has imposed on this mass of data is the division into “positive” and “negative” portrayals. The book is difficult to read but quite useful to plunder.

For God, Country, and the Thrill of It: Women Air Force Service Pilots in World War II, by Anne Noggle. Texas A&M $29.95

It was supposed to have been a man’s war—a war into which most of the men involved had volunteered to a large extent primarily for the purpose of proving their manhood. The fact that the little girl who filled out the Form Five and climbed out of the aircraft she had just delivered to a combat training unit probably could not do more than a single needle-width turn in it was lost completely on the dumbfounded line crews who watched her sling her parachute over her shoulder and saunter to the nearest jeep. But the adoration of the ground crews for their intrepid squadron pilots died on the vine at the same moment. And every masculine pilot sensed his loss of manhood, virility, and ego. From the very beginning when Jacqueline Cochran spread her political wings and brought this coterie of unneeded, out-of-place female fame-seekers onto the public payroll, it was clear that there would be costs in excess of results. The costs were not only in government property damaged and destroyed, the performance of missions which could have more appropriately been accomplished as training flights for combat-bound pilots, the lives of 38 of the women involved, but, more importantly, in the morale of the combat pilots and aircrews whose job it was to fly into battle against the enemy. This coffee-table tome is distinguished by its photographic evidence that feminine youth and beauty are brutally evanescent. The contrast between the exciting comeliness of the girls who fill the wartime snapshots and the misshapen hags and scarecrows whose portraits adorn the latter half of the book should make any young man contemplating marriage pause and reflect.

LITERARY STUDIES Victorian Connections, edited by Jerome J. McGann. Virginia $29.50

This volume pays tribute to Cecil Y. Lang, the distinguished scholar and editor who holds the John Stuart Bryan professorship of English literature at the University of Virginia. According to Jerome J. McGann, Lang’s career can be seen as a form of resistance to the critical and academic orthodoxies, the prevailing formalisms, of the postwar period. Lang’s resistance to formalism inspires much of the work appearing in this book. All of that work is lively and provocative, but two contributions stand out especially: David G. Reide’s account of Carlyle’s connection to the “romantic idealogy” and Karen Chase’s witty and subtle essay on the conflict “between female subjectivity and the fictive commentary that encloses it.” Though different in method and manner, both pieces take up Lang’s historical project—and both, by elaborating and extending that project, remind us of his formidable powers of resistance.

Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography, by Timothy Dow Adams. North Carolina $24.95

Recent theories of autobiography have stressed “design” and “truth.” Telling Lies, on the other hand, focuses on conspicuous deviations from “truth” as crucial to autobiographical technique. Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Richard Wright, Marcy McCarthy, and Lillian Hellman became to varying degrees objects of opprobrium for the discernible lies of their self-narrations. Adams argues that such lies in fact provide indices of their literary accomplishment. In his view, Stein tells a “tall tale” of a pseudo-mythic self; her friend Anderson cared about the authenticity of his legend rather than the facts of his life. Wright, in Black Boy, creates a generic story of American black experience as dooming its victims to lives of largely unsuccessful lying. A self-confessed childhood liar, McCarthy creates autobiography in the mode of technically exact “bad confessions.” Hellman’s infidelities to fact belong to an arduous process of self-creation and self-understanding. Defensiveness marks much of this study, the account of Hellman conspicuously dependent on attributed intentionality and other forms of special pleading. Readers need not feel persuaded that autobiographical lying inevitably constitutes art, but they may well profit from the detailed and convincing demonstration that autobiographical authenticity seldom derives from faithfulness to fact.

Oscar Wilde: The Works of a Conformist Rebel, by Norbert Kohl. Cambridge $59.50

This volume is part of a series recently inaugurated by Cambridge called European Studies in English Literature. The aim of the series is admirable: to bring the finest examples of European criticism of English literature to the attention of the Anglo-American scholarly world. Unfortunately, if this book is representative, we haven’t been missing much all these years by failing to look across the English Channel. Kohl provides a good, solid introduction to Wilde, particularly useful to students. Indeed, the main virtue of this book is that it supplies detailed commentary on virtually everything Wilde wrote. But the book is—one hesitates to say it—too Germanic. The analyses are very scholarly, with much attention to prior critics and textual questions, but they are also often labored and pedestrian, and often seem quite old-fashioned. Judging by this book, it would seem that just when the New Criticism had become nearly moribund in the United States, it was reaching Germany as the latest fad. Thus, although this book contains much valuable information, and includes, for example, an insightful chapter on The Importance of Being Earnest, readers will want to turn elsewhere for the latest word in Wilde criticism, for example, to the two brilliant chapters on Wilde in Canaille Paglia’s Sexual Personae.

Madness in Blake’s Myth, by Paul Youngquist. Pennsylvania State $24.95

This book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of a vexed topic in Blake scholarship. Youngquist displays genuine critical tact in steering a middle course between treating Blake as simply mad and dismissing any suggestion whatsoever of something unbalanced in his mind. Drawing in interesting ways upon clinical studies of disorders such as schizophrenia, Youngquist shows how Blake used poetic myth to come to terms with the peculiar psychological pressures of his age and his particular situation. Youngquist illuminates the relation of Blake to the so-called sensibility bards and elucidates the challenge Shakespeare presented to him as a poet. The book contains a particularly useful analysis of The Four Zoas in terms of the idea of psychic dissociation. Though often dealing with technical matters, Youngquist avoids jargon and writes a clear and effective prose. Given the entrenched resistance of Blake scholars to the slightest suggestion that their man may have been mad, this book is likely to prove controversial, but it is an important corrective to current received opinion on Blake.

Hamlet’s Mother and Other Women, by Carolyn C. Heilbrun. Columbia $29.95

Hamlet’s mother, Penelope, Harriet Vane, Margaret Mead, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Sarton are among the women, both real and fictional, who are the subjects of these gathered reviews, lectures, and essays from a period of more than 30 years. Some of the pieces are dated, since feminism has won various battles in academe, and what Heilbrun called for in the past has come to pass in the significant revisions of literary study. Nevertheless, certain questions and issues are still timely and unresolved. What, for example, of the still inadequately understood relations of mothers and daughters?

Irony and Ideology in Rabelais’ Structures of Subversion, by Jerome Schwartz. Cambridge $49.50

Every generation, it is said, rewrites the history of literature from its own point of view, in its own language. Here we read that “ideological discourse is deconstructed by counter-discourses,” that Rabelais’ “texts evade and defeat attempts at closure.” More plainly said, the author is telling us that Rabelais’ irony undercuts his apparent allegory. As Schwartz continues in this vein, dwelling on “discursive strategies” and “ideological arguments” the “playfulness of a comic genius” becomes very remote. There is a bit of humor, however, in seeing Rabelais transformed into a Renaissance deconstructionist—especially since we know that Rabelais would have been a mocker of post-structuralism’s somber pomposity.

Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia. Yale $35

This hefty volume is composed of cavalry charges: “Sex and Violence,” “Pagan Beauty,” “Shakespeare and Dionysus,” “Amherst’s Madame de Sade.” Paglia’s outrageous reinterpretations of Western art and literature are intended to shock, and she occasionally goes out of her way to attack conventional feminism and liberalism. But she is, above all, a critic of personality, and she has no interest in scholarly decorum. What is really valuable here is Paglia’s wide range of interests. She draws together art history, psychoanalytic theory, anthropology, philosophy, pop culture, and anything else that helps her illuminate her response to literature. The comparative study of Lord Byron and Elvis Presley is worth the price of the book.

Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, edited by Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey. Louisiana $29.95

Formal criticism refuses to go quietly away and leave the field open to deconstruction, feminism, and ethnicity. Proof abounds in this volume, which draws on such diverse and insistent sources as Chicago neo-Aristotelianism, stylistics, and Gestalt esthetics, as well as their linguistically-oriented derivatives. The net result is a provocative and almost invariably helpful reframing of basic issues (object, manner, means, and purpose), in the context of individual works, collections, and the history of both from the origins to the present day. A rare book that springs from the old, is nevertheless new, and opens perspectives for future inquiry, theoretical and above all practical.

Bunyan in Our Time, edited by Robert G. Collmer. Kent State $26

Resurrected by the Victorians as an author in whose life and work they could easily find inspiration for their own emotional piety, moral fervor, and obedience to the “Rule of Ought,” John Bunyan has since slid into a kind of benign neglect at the hands of a reading public unencumbered by any of these virtues and, in regard to his most famous work, generally indifferent to the lengthy allegory of a spiritual folktale. Yet the strenous Puritanism of The Pilgrim’s Progress and its rich treasure-house of expressive phrases once gave it a wider audience than any other English book. But rarely does Bunyan appear on university reading lists today, and seldom is he quoted in the current literature. Let us hope, therefore, that this volume of eight essays issued on the tercentenary of the author’s death in 1688 rather than, say, on the anniversary of the first edition of his masterpiece in 1678, portends not a literary funeral, but is a sign of still another life for the much abused but stalwart Bedford genius. Of particular interest in the collection is the review of the Marxist interpretation of Bunyan by David Herreshoff, an historical essay on his attitude toward the Stuart government by Richard Greaves, and a discussion of his use of proverbs by George Walton, all of which touch upon many of the less well-known books and tracts.

Melancholy and the Secular Mind in Spanish Golden Age Literature, by Teresa Scott Soufas. Missouri $25

This intelligent book charts the importance of the various types of melancholia in Spanish Golden Age literature, setting its findings in a broader European context. Soufas studies figures from Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, Lope de Vega, Calderón, the picaresque novel, and G6ngora in order to reveal, as she writes, “the dialectical efforts of the majority of Spain’s publishing intellectuals who . . .endeavor to reaffirm the traditionally appropriate application of human thought in a God-centered universe through the medium of superiority and distemper known as melancholy.” The significance of melancholy to the Baroque mind, and how belief in or rejection of its power influenced many great artistic endeavors, is the focus of the study.

The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon, edited by Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky. Massachusetts $45 cloth, $16.95 paper

Gender-sensitive criticism of Renaissance literature has made some important statements in the last decade; this miscellany of essays demonstrates how quickly the innovative can become ordinary and formulaic. With a few exceptions, the contributions are repetitive, blandly tendentious, and (despite some theoretical posturing) intellectually unventuresome. The most useful entry is a fresh bibliography of writings in English by women between 1500 and 1640.

Borges and His Successors, edited by Edna Aizenberg. Missouri $30

The multiple influences on Borges’ startling prose and poetry have been studied for years (Chesterton, Cervantes, the Cabala, Nordic Myth, and a long etcetera), but the 17 studies in this volume (three previously published) focus on his “impact on literature and the arts,” as the subtitle reads. The essays seek to establish “his centrality to the contemporary imagination,” and do so, in most cases, successfully. Borges’ progeny are everywhere: Argentina, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Cuba, Mexico, the U.S. He is one of the grand masters of the century for many readers and critics, and this assessment of his work and his impact should add to those already considerable numbers. The volume also contains two of Borges’ lectures on the Book of Job and on Spinoza, translated into English for the first time.

LIVES AND LETTERS The Formation of a Planter Elite, by Alan Galley. Georgia $35

Sometimes the best way to understand “elusive” transformations is to see them through the eyes of a participant. Alan Galley does exactly that by tracing the life of Jonathan Bryan (1708—1788) to illustrate the formation of a planter elite in colonial Georgia. Bryan spent the first half of his life on South Carolina’s southern frontier. When Georgia came under the Crown’s control in the mid-1700’s, Bryan was a pivotal figure in the rise of a new order— with slaveholding a foregone conclusion. While Bryan and his fellow planters sought to tame the frontier, they, in turn, were shaped by it. The author contends that “the frontier experience . . .was the most important factor in the creation of the South,” and this reader is hard-pressed to disagree. Bryan was equally comfortable negotiating land treaties with the Indians as he was debating the needs of the fledgling colony while dining at the governor’s table. The winds of change that swept the Atlantic seaboard during the First Great Awakening even reached as far south as Georgia. All were affected, including Bryan and other members of the ruling class. Struggling with the pursuit of profit at piety’s sake, evangelicalism encouraged moral Christian patriarchs like Jonathan Bryan to justify their right to exploit and rule over others, especially black slaves. Anyone seeking to understand how the Southern master class emerged, need look no further than this important book.

Olivia Shakespear and W. B. Yeats, by John Harwood. St. Martins $35

There are many things of interest in this book besides the role Olivia Tucker Shakespear played in Yeats’ life. She may be considered as more important, perhaps, than Maud Gonne. Her family background is made clear, as is her marriage to Hope Shakespear, with its resulting single child, Dorothy, who married Ezra Pound and who was a girlhood friend of Georgie Hyde-Lees whom Yeats married. Olivia’s favorite cousin was Lionel Johnson, whose disintegration and death she deplored. Her relationship with Yeats is fully explored, as is her writing life. Her novels are perhaps too fully described. The reader is left with little or no desire to read any one of them. Her life spanned two centuries (1863—1938) but she herself comes across as a 19th-century person. If this review seems flat and drab, so is the book. And that is a pity.

One Dry Season, by Caroline Alexander. Knopf $18.95

Caroline Alexander was motivated to follow in Mary Kingsley’s footsteps through West Africa by a sentence in her Travels in West Africa: “If you go there, you will find things as I have said.” To some extent she did, but toward the end she found that “this had become my own journey.” It was in some ways easier for Alexander: she was not burdened by long skirts and high-necked blouses. But she did not have Kingsley’s scientific motivation, and she had not thought and planned for as long a time to make a journey of this nature. Both women have an easy narrative style, but, all things considered, Kingsley is the better and more interesting writer.

W. B. Yeats: A New Biography., by A. Norman Jeffares. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $30

The subtitle, A New Biography, emphasizes Jeffares’ wish to dissociate this book from his earlier work published in 1949. It is true that there are many new facets of Yeats’s life revealed here, but essentially the books are very similar. A life of Yeats may be long-drawn-out, but it can never be dull. The illustrations are one of the major features here, ranging from Yeats as a baby, drawn by his father, to his grave at Roquebrune and the later funeral procession entering Sligo.

Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham, By Robert Calder. St. Martin’s $22.95

The very title, Willie, tells you that this is going to be a book about the whole man, not just the writer. To a large extent it is. Maugham is shown from his birth in 1874 in Paris to his early traumatic childhood, his development as a writer, his encounters with others, both male and female, transient and long-lasting, his successes and failures, his loves and hates, his long decline and death at 91. This is a thorough, well-balanced, and sympathetic account of a remarkable man and writer, not a giant above all others, but certainly superior to most.

The Labyrinth of Exile: A Life of Theodor Herzl, by Ernst Pawel. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $30

Motivated by “an exalted sense of his own historic mission,” Herzl conceived, organized, and inspired political Zionism, the life force of modern Israel. To explain the life of the man who tried to lead Diaspora Jews out of the labyrinth of exile is a daunting task, but this scholarly biography succeeds admirably. Far from hagiography, Pawel describes a man who could be as despicable in private as he was inspiring in public. He portrays in detail the metamorphosis of this callow Viennese playwright and poet into an urbane political correspondent for an esteemed liberal newspaper and then into a political force who attempted to convince emperors and sultans of the righteousness of his cause. Here we have the whole man—intense and arrogant, brilliant and vain—whom Pawel sees as the first and only Jewish leader of modern times. His successors have been mere politicians.

Baudelaire, by Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler. Viking $24.95

Charles Baudelaire has bedeviled biographers for more than a century. In many respects a disagreeable man, he had many loyal friends. So given to the pleasures of the flesh that he developed the syphilis that would kill him in his early twenties, he believed in a rigorous morality. Often squandering huge blocks of time scribbling idle verse, he produced some of the most enduring poetry in the French language. Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler have captured the genius of the man in this new study.

The Papers of Andrew Johnson: Volume 8, May-August 1865, edited by Paul H. Bergeron. Tennessee $45

This is the eighth volume in this distinguished series, but the first since Paul Bergeron succeeded the near-legendary LeRoy Graf and the first since the creation of the Tennessee Presidential Center brought the Polk and Jackson projects to join the Johnson project at the University of Tennessee. Like its predecessors, this is a handsome volume, but most readers and researchers will regret Bergeron’s abandonment of the Graf (or Graf-Haskins) tradition of providing lengthy narrative and analytical introductions. One learns little of Johnson here; he was not much of a correspondent, and most items from Johnson are brief telegrams. The summer of 1865 was, however, a critical period for the new president, a time in which, since Congress was not in session, Johnson controlled Reconstruction policy from the appointment of powerful provisional governors to the granting of individual pardons. Despite the omission (unfortunately necessary) of hundreds of letters (such as pardon applications) this 700-page book is still filled with fascinating items from the famous and the obscure. This volume joins the previous seven as part of a vital historical resource.

P. T. Barnum: the Legend and the Man, by A.H. Saxon. Columbia $32.95

Mention the name Barnum, and you are sure to illicit a sneer. Among others, Southerners hate this quintessential Yankee, the “polite” point to him as the epitome of crassness, and critics of American materialism abhor this incarnation of exploitation. In this respectful biography, Saxon goes to extraordinary lengths to show that Barnum was really a sympathetic figure—a reform-minded, spiritual sort—who has been misrepresented and misunderstood. This rich and lavishly researched book leaves no issue of Barnum’s career unresolved. Unfortunately, this strength is also a weakness. In trying to set the record straight, Saxon gets lost in a minutiae of detail. While it is important to be true to Barnum, it is also revealing to explore the cultural context that sponsored the misconceptions in the first place.

Staking a Claim, by Jonathan Greenberg. Atheneum $19.95

This marvelous book tells the story of the black Oklahoma oil baron Jake Simmons, Jr. Simmons, the grandson of Cow Tom, the only black to be chief of an American Indian tribe, launched a career in oil during the 1920’s and became wildly successful. Despite living in an era of hostile segregation, Simmons used his wealth and position to fight for black empowerment. Though unsuccessful in the political arena, he wielded considerable clout in Oklahoma due to his status, and he used that clout to affect positive changes for blacks. Greenberg has beautifully melded traditional research methods with copious interviews of Simmons’s family to weave a compelling story that needs telling.

The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, by Retha M. Warnicke. Cambridge $29.95

The value of Warnicke’s study lies in her description of the English Reformation from the point of view of Anne Boleyn’s life. Warnicke also debunks the myths of Anne Boleyn’s deformities—such as her alleged sixth finger—which have surrounded accounts of her life since “the great Tudor poet, Sander, chose to give her the features of a witch . . .” Her chapter, “Sexual Heresy,” is illuminating in a similar way, inasmuch as it explains for the modern reader the logic which Henry would have followed in determining that it was Anne’s fault that she had not conceived a male heir. Unfortunately, much of the worthwhile material is too often sandwiched between tedious descriptions of Anne’s clothing and her surroundings.

Edward Sapir: Linguist, Anthropologist, Humanist, by Regna Darnell. California $29.95

Edward Sapir (1884—1939) was the most important anthropological linguist of the first half of the 20th century. He was a brilliant scholar who contributed essays on psychology, literature, and aesthetics as well as masterful studies of American Indian languages and seminal papers on linguistic and cultural theory. Darnell has sifted through a mass of material to produce a detailed account of Sapir’s career. She is less successful in portraying Sapir’s inner life and in placing him in the context of social and cultural history. Thus this biography will interest specialists but will hold less appeal for the general reader.

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, by Edward Rice. Scribners $35

One wonders just who Sir Richard Francis Burton was. A Sufi master? Lord high priest of pornography? A modern Columbus? Victorians charged him with all this and much more, little of it flattering and much of it illegal. No one—least of all his prissy wife—knew what to make of a man of such exotic, varied interests and such incredible talents. The safest course was as always to ostracize him. There hasn’t been a biography of this remarkable man in some time, and Edward Rice’s interesting attempt to capture Burton’s untamable spirit is well worth reading.

Benjamin Franklin: His Life as He Wrote It, by Esmond Wright. Harvard $25

This selection of Franklin’s writings is a useful companion to Wright’s award-winning biography, Franklin of Philadelphia. Franklin was a prolific writer. The published volumes of his correspondence already number 27, and they run only to 1778. His Autobiography is perhaps the best known by any American author. In this relatively short book, Wright has provided a nice cross section of Franklin’s works. The entries, which span Franklin’s 84 years, range from politics to science to personal matters. A “Who’s Who” at the book’s end identifies the major characters mentioned in the materials. A more detailed index would have made the writings more accessible to the reader.

Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence, by Marianne Elliott. Yale $35.

Elliott has attempted to depict the Irish patriot Wolfe Tone not as an Irish hero but rather as a man who fought for the cause that he believed in. To a degree, she has succeeded, for Tone, as presented in this work, has been stripped of his attendant mythology. For her destruction of Tone mythology, Elliott has drawn upon many primary sources, but the presentation of her analysis of Tone’s life lacks grace, wit, or charm. It is badly written, overly detailed, and, in many places, shallow. What could have been an excellent and scholarly addition to Irish political history is in fact a tedious and unenlightening tome.

FICTION The Music Room, by Dennis McFarland. Houghton Mifflin $19.95

McFarland’s protagonist, Martin Lambert, holds the reader’s interest as he narrates his journey of self-discovery. Martin leaves a shaky marriage in Los Angeles to travel to New York City, where he hopes to find reasons for his brother Perry’s suicide. In his quest he recalls their “privileged” childhood, offspring of a wealthy frustrated pianist and a former show girl, both alcoholics. The skillfully handled flashbacks offer vivid scenes of their elegant home and their bored, self-absorbed parents and provide Martin with insight into himself, while revealing clues to Perry’s death. However sympathetic the reader is to Martin’s obsessive search, his petulant self-preoccupation becomes tedious. Eventually the reader learns about Perry’s final months, a touch of heavy-handed symbolism, but the reasons for his suicide remain murky. In this, his first novel, McFarland, a short story writer and writing teacher, addresses several issues: the psychological and emotional abuse that results when parents are alcoholics; the complexities of sibling rivalry; the need for friends to ease loneliness; the ways in which we deal with grief. But his prose has the ring of the writer’s workshop; he has the talent to write a first-rate book if the overblown success of this one—a six-figure movie option—doesn’t go to his head.

Clover, by Dori Sanders. Algonquin $13.95

Clover fits the stereotypical first-novel mold. When it’s good, it’s very good, and when it’s bad, it’s dreadful. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad as Ms. Sanders has the gift of using a child’s voice and point of view without awkwardness or affectation. Clover is a young black girl whose father dies shortly after he marries a white woman. The new stepmother is determined to do her duty by Clover even as Clover’s hostile family clan is determined to do theirs; Clover becomes a kind of bewildered hostage as she struggles with her own loss and identity. Ms. Sanders’ greatest problem is in her dialogue, which she often contrives in order to further the plot. But, Clover is an authentic and credible piece of writing, introducing a new novelist with a great deal of promise.

Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England, by Rose Tremain. Viking $19.95

Restoration, set in England during the reign of Charles II, provides fascinating insights into a people consumed with luxury and excess. England, pious and sober under Cromwell, burst into a riot of color after the Stuart line returned with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the story is narrated by Robert Merivel, a good example of a Stuart England personality but a rather uninteresting one. He receives royal favor with King Charles II for saving one of the royal spaniels, then finds himself married to the King’s beloved mistress. All fares well until Merivel actually falls in love with his arranged wife and thus becomes an outcast. He embarks on a long, arduous, and boring voyage of self-discovery, roaming from London, to Norfolk, to the Fens and back again. It’s a pity that Ms. Tremain didn’t focus more on intriguing Charles II, who lurks in the background as an ingenious Machiavellian puppeteer, pulling the strings of an England all too ready to be played with after the dismal Puritan years.

Sweet La-La Land, by Robert Campbell. Poseidon $18.95

There is no denying that Campbell can tell a good story. It’s just that his depiction of Hollywood underlife is so unrelievedly bleak, so without hope, that the reader is almost ashamed to witness such pain. Inch Younger, a convicted murderer, is released from prison with revenge on his mind. His former wife and abandoned son have drifted back to the streets—the former out to save runaway children, the latter peddling himself to keep body and soul together. Younger’s targets are a successful director of horror schlock films and a celebrity witch whose day is past. To battle the forces of evil are a reformed drunk and a vice cop haunted by the death of his child. It is not enough. Campbell strives for an oedipal web of coincidence and a concomitant sense of tragedy. But there is nothing tragic about the squalid, unthinking violence in La-La land. It’s a good tale, but watch out: Campbell will rub your nose in it.

Behind the Curtains, by Carmen Martin Gaite. Columbia $29.50

This novel won Spain’s prestigious Nadal Prize when it first appeared in 1958, It recounts, with exquisite detail and sensitivity, the coming of age of several young girls in a provincial town (Salamanca) who struggle to reach maturity and understand themselves and the world around them. That world is a particularly repressed one, since women in Franco’s Spain had most roles assigned to them by social strictures, yet Natalia, Gertru, Elvira, and the others nevertheless capture the joy, heartbreak, and tension of adolescence. Their friends, parents, and teachers unwittingly conspire against them as they search for meaning in Spain’s authoritarian fifties. Beautifully written by Martín Gaite, and expertly translated by Frances López-Morillas.

If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, by Sharyn McCrumb. Scribners $17.95

There are mysteries that give you a damn good read—and there are novels that give you that and a whole lot more. McCrumb’s first hardback release delivers on a whole set of promises. The centerpiece of the novel is the reunion of the class of 1966. Along with the reappraisals and reminiscences that usually accompany such an event are the unresolved issues of the 1960’s—especially Vietnam. The war plays a crucial role in the lives of these characters even though for most it hovers on the periphery of consciousness. The mystery revolves around a newcomer to town—a folksinger whose star rose briefly in the 1960’s and who plans to stage a comeback from her quiet retreat. But threatening notes and violence disturb her country idyll. Artfully mixed with the tightening twang of suspense are the slower, gentler rhythms of small-town life. McCrumb depicts these with humor, affection, and without nostalgia.

Rough Red, by Martin Sylvester. Villard $17.95

Feminists beware. William Warner, an English wine merchant and bon vivant, is from the old school. With a lovely (and dutiful) wife on his farm in Bordeaux, and a gorgeous mistress willing to join him anywhere at a moment’s bidding, Warner has his gâteau, and can pig it down, too. That doesn’t prevent him from bouts of ennui, which he cures in this third adventure by investigating the kidnapping of a teenage girl. The hunt takes him to Barcelona and the sun-drenched villages of the Spanish coast, where he tussles with an English villain and dashes hither and yon between gourmet lunches. All this bustle produces the girl, but by the end readers will be looking forward to a siesta of their own. Literate, if a bit smarmy, Sylvester’s mystery is pitched to the charming, urbane, and understated chauvinist in us all. Dear, run and fetch the ‘61 Lafitte, that’s a good girl.

The Grown-ups, by Victoria Glendinning. Knopf $18.95

Victoria Glendinning is a better biographer than novelist, though The Grown-ups is superior to a number of modern works of fiction. Episodic novels are very hard to carry off, and this one is entirely too episodic for easy reading. Perhaps Glendinning should try a more traditional novel— or turn back to biography where she has been eminently successful.

Savings and Loam, by Ralph McInery. Atheneum $17.95

Small-town Indiana lawyer Andrew Broom has a knack for getting involved in unsavory situations. This time his car is stolen as he is satisfying his curiosity at a crime scene. A well-known artist has been shot, purportedly by a random killer. An isolated incident turns into a crime wave, however, when Broom’s car turns up with a strangled woman in the back seat. The story is enjoyable enough with a number of nice twists. Mercifully, there is little of what passed for wit in the previous two Broom mysteries. And as the bodies pile up, McInery ties things together nicely by the end. Still, this is lite mystery at its least potent—the mystery to read when you’re reading more than one.

Mambo, by Campbell Armstrong. Harper & Row $18.95

This is the final volume in a successful trilogy of suspense thrillers by a former publisher and professor who has successfully shifted to a full-time literary career. Its plot is the failed attempt by a corrupt cartel of ruthless financeers to overthrow Fidel Castro at the expense of the United States. We can eagerly look forward to his next novel, which will deal with the American intelligence involvement during the final days of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

Blind Trust, by Linda Grant. Scribner’s $18.95

Catherine Sayler, a Bay-area detective who specializes in corporate shenanigans, has all the makings of a winner. She’s smart, witty and politically correct. Her business is modern and realistically driven by the bottom line. And her story is a good one. So why was it so difficult to finish this book? Sayler is called in on a hush-hush bank caper—an official believes the bank is about to be defrauded to the tune of $5 million by a missing employee. Sayler and her gang must find the embezzler, a computer whiz by the name of James Mendoza, in 14 days. Of course the minute they set on the trail, all kinds of mayhem are let loose. While information is pried reluctantly from Mendoza’s family and friends, blood is spilled generously on the way to a none-too-surprising ending. Grant moves her characters from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss, but economy in writing does not a mystery make.

Race of Scorpions, by Dorothy Dunnett. Knopf $19.95

History professors would serve their students and society better if they substituted superb historical novels such as this sweeping saga for the musty tomes presently on their required reading lists. This one is a fascinating picture of life on the 15th century Mediterannean shores in the conquest of Cyprus by a Venetian merchant/adventurer.

The Lady of the Labyrinth, By Caroline Llewellyn. Scribner’s $19.95

A well-told tale wherein the setting nearly eclipses the thread of the story. The authoress treats the background of villages in Sicily with fine poetic writing, combined with the skilled weaving of the ancient mythological lore into the present-day action of the novel. The paradox of modern life is also highlighted against the stark setting of the evil eye as well as of the practice of the vendetta. The plot itself, even with the sustained theme of suspense throughout, suffers because of the frenzied Gothic adventures inside the prehistoric caves, which action is more likely to appeal to fans of Nancy Drew and Jack Armstrong than to adults.

Foreign Studies, by Shusako Endo, translated by Mark Williams. Simon & Schuster $18.95

Published in English translation in 1989, this 1965 novel by the great Japanese fiction writer explores in three chronologically separate, but thematically linked, sections the encounters of Japanese intellectuals with Western culture. France is the place chosen for the encounters; Catholicism and art provide focal points, but the true struggle is enacted in the protagonists’ minds. Tanaka, the sober student of French literature abroad in the sixties, learns more about himself and his ambitions than about his object of study, the Marquis de Sade. This is a sensitive novel written from experience, a timeless contribution to intercultural understanding which provides substantive but unpedantic reading pleasure.

Night of Reunion, by Michael Allegretto. Scribner’s $17.95

The author of three workman-like mysteries, Allegretto decided to stake out a piece of Stephen King’s turf and produce a terror/suspense novel. King has nothing to worry about. Alex Whitaker, his wife Sarah, and stepson Brian live in Colorado Springs. After unhappy marriages, they are just getting it all together, spending their first Christmas in their new home, an old, massive Victorian house. Hear the skeletons rattling in the closet? Alex’s first family, a wife and adopted son, were murdered by the boy’s natural mother, who has escaped from a mental asylum and is on her way west to murder Alex. From this premise, the novel waddles from scene to scene, overburdened with detail and slowed nearly to a halt by its depiction of the family’s cloying relationships. If Stephen King’s talent is to make the implausible real, Allegretto has managed to make the real, and banal, implausible.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The Population Explosion, by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich. Simon & Schuster $18.95

The Ehrlichs have gathered together in this one ecological primer the root cause of all of the perils facing the earth’s health and survival. Expanding on the original Malthusian Theory positing the earth’s human population growing geometrically while its food could grow only arithmetically, they discuss global warming, acid rain, garbage crises, AIDS epidemics, deforestation, and the destruction of eco-systems, all bringing the earth closer to suicidal cataclysm than most people realize. The key is that a long history of exponential growth in no way implies a long future of exponential growth. The graph has already spiked. Poles apart from the views of economists, the Ehrlichs hold that “perpetual growth is the creed of the cancer cell,” and “production” causes ecological destruction which will, in less time than most anticipate, spell Armageddon to the earth and its population. Carefully spelled out are the reasons why overpopulation in rich countries is, from the standpoint of earth’s habitability, more serious than rapid population growth in poor countries. That the population explosion currently in operation will end soon is not in question. In doubt, only, is whether the end will come humanely because birthrates have been lowered or tragically through rises in death rates.

Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America, by Page Smith. Viking $19.95

Higher education in the United States is in a deplorable state. It has reached this level because (1) little “teaching” actually takes place in America’s ivory towers, and (2) what research is conducted is of dubious quality. Smith probingly argues that, in the name of objectivity, American scholars have abdicated their social responsibilities. He offers several earth-shattering suggestions to rekindle this spirit, including the elimination of tenure, the adoption of standards of relevance in research, a new approach to teaching which involves response, and the dissolution of academic departments. Are American scholars capable of heeding Page’s call?

Working-Class Organization and the Return to Democracy in Spain, by Robert M. Fishman. Cornell $34.95

Fishman studies the role of the labor movement in Spain’s impressive transition from the dictatorship of Franco to the present Socialist democracy. Labor unions—suppressed and banned for decades—slowly realized that they had a stake in the process and learned to support integrated reform rather than push for a radical break with the country’s past. By contributing to that process, they infused Spain’s democracy with additional stability. As long as labor was willing “to accept the democratic rules of the game,” peaceful and consolidated transition could (and did) occur.

Intifada: The Palestinian UprisingIsrael’s Third Front, by Zeev Schiff and Ehud Yaari. Simon & Schuster $22.95

In this gregarious contribution, Schiff and Yaari provide a detailed account of the Palestinian uprising in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They distinguish themselves in identifying potential threats to Israel’s existence, including the rise of fundamentalist extremists among Jews and Muslims alike. Yet, for all their analytical prowess, they offer a meager “administrative” autonomy for the Palestinians. Intifada is a useful chronicle but adds little to our menu of choices to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Awaken


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading