Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1992

ISSUE:  Autumn 1992

This is the story of how the canal-building boom of the early 19th century spurred U. S. economic development and national pride and independence. The Erie and its associated canals opened up western New York state and propelled New York City to its position as America’s premier port. Not to be outdone, Pennsylvania and Maryland followed close behind, but with mixed results. Bourne is particularly good when describing the engineering problems surmounted, and in portraying the lives of the people who built and later ran the canals. While lauding their achievements, the author is quick to note that the progress represented by the canals was not an unmixed blessing, that the benefits were unevenly spread, and that there were social and environmental costs in these grand undertakings. Despite some factual errors, (the described meeting of the presidents in New York in 1825 never took place), this is a fascinating story, told with passion and wit, and accompanied by a number of intriguing photographs.

Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain, edited by Anne J. Cruz and Mary Elizabeth Perry. Minnesota $14.95

This collection of articles (number 7 in the Hispanic Issues series published by Minnesota) looks at the twin issues of power and cultural hegemony in Spain from the late 15th to the end of the 17th century. For the authors of these pieces, culture is a “social construct” which binds minority expression to that of the dominant majority. Hence, religious oratory, oral “performance” of prayer, gender repression, class struggles, the rich mixture of ethnic and religious groups (Christians, Jews, Muslims), religious demonology, and the climate of repression which marked Spain’s Counter-Reformation are the subjects of studies by the editors and nine other distinguished scholars from the U. S. and Europe. The most provocative and interesting essays are those which focus on the complex role of women in a notoriously intolerant society, who nonetheless were frequently able “to resist repression and preserve cultural heterogeneity within the dominant society,”

Khrushchev and the First Russian Spring, by Fedor Burlatsky. Scribners $24

Fedor Burlatsky is one of the best-known of the old Communist apparatchiks to weigh in with a Yeltsin-era rewriting of history a la Stalin. In this astonishing book, one will find no admission of Khrushchev’s sins, let alone those of Burlatsky, who was one of his minor aides. Nothing about the Terror in the Ukraine, nothing about the antireligion campaign, nothing about the chemical poisoning of the land, nothing about the persecution of the writers, Burlatsky has forgotten it all, and the greater pity is that naïve American academics will probably let him get away with it.

Women Writing History, 1640—1740, edited by Isobel Grundy and Susan Wiseman. Georgia $40 cloth, $18 paper

The title of this solid but unexciting anthology efficiently summarizes its contents; the essays collected deal specifically with the connections among writing, gender, and history. The writers analyze a variety of topics, from elegy to prophecy to reputation, but all examine the terms “writing” and “women”; all eventually ask if women write their ways into or out of history. While not groundbreaking, the work is solid and interesting.

Lee’s Terrible Swift Sword: From Antietam to Chancellorsville, by Richard Wheeler. Harper Collins $30

“Mr. Lincoln, sitting there with his hat off, head bent, and seemingly meditating, suddenly turned to me and said, “General Crouch, what do you suppose will become of all these men when the war is over?” And it struck me as very pleasant that somebody had an idea that the war would sometime end.” This from the seventh volume of the author’s popular “eyewitness history” series is typical of contemporary accounts, which contribute to the liveliness of his narrative. The author is sure to gain many new readers with this poignant and colorful work.

Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, by William D. Snider. North Carolina $24.95

This history comes to life by way of Snider’s accessible prose style and comprehensive coverage, which illuminates a large number of the university’s most interesting facets: the idealistic, architectural, political, social, militaristic, artistic, humanistic, environmental, naturalistic, etc. Particularly interesting is the section on Reconstruction, during which time the university was considered to be “an institution so degraded.” Snider’s historical account sustains reader interest by transforming sound research into a chronology which blends intelligent and terse storytelling with pertinent and vivid historical quotations. Also of interest is the way in which the history moves forward on the strength of Snider’s concise but lively portraits of university presidents. And the volume contains a valuable selection of photographs from the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill.

A History of the Jews in America, by Howard M. Sachar. Knopf $40

Although this vast, sprawling book (more than 1,000 pages) presents itself as a history of the Jews in America, it is, in fact, primarily a history of the Jews in America in the 20th century. There is only a brief, briskly-paced account of the Jews in the previous centuries in the first 200 pages that brings us to the main topic. This work is less a sustained history (or “saga,” as it is called on the dusrjacket) than a sort of highly readable encyclopedia of topics in the social, political, intellectual, and cultural life of American Jews in this century. Fortunately, both the table of contents and index are detailed and useful, and the reader can quickly find entries ranging from the Yiddish Press to Woody Allen, Henry Kissinger, and Leonard Bernstein, to the recently arrived Russian Jews, and much more.

Soldiers of the Sun, by Meirion and Susie Harries. Random House $30

The Harries’ English-language history of the Imperial Japanese Army closes what has been a yawning gap in contemporary military historiography. While telling a compelling tale of this military force’s history from its foundation in 1868 until its dissolution in 1945, the authors persuasively argue that “the Imperial Army was suffused with a spirit of feudal origins. In many ways the soldiers of the sun were in the twentieth century, but not of it” The army reestablished the tie between nation and emperor to serve its own goal of creating a nation-state strong enough to withstand the imperialist expansion of European countries into the Far East. Unfortunately, as in the Germany of the same period, civilian authority declined while that of the army rose to inordinate and unhealthy levels. This volume strives to tell the story of the Imperial Japanese Army in as dispassionate a fashion as possible, a difficult undertaking given both the early successes and later failures compounded by the horrendous atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers. In so doing, they have broken through the wartime stereotype of the Japanese soldier as a brutal automation by uncovering for us the great diversity that existed within the Japanese Army of the Second World War. Both serious students of military history and veterans of the Pacific campaigns will discover much worthy of serious thought in this volume.

The Family Romance of the French Revolution, by Lynn Hunt. California $20

It is a tribute both to the ease of her style and the strength of Hunt’s previous work that this book seems less astonishing that it is. Hunt has become one of the premier historians of the Revolution by concentrating not on the brute facts of who did what but on the symbolism of what those people were doing, their modes of self-presentation and description. Hence her thesis that the radicals followed in the 18th-century habit of seeing their monarchs as heads of the family and thus figured their revolution as a family drama of parricide. Their attempts to remake the state resembled attempts to reconfigure the family. One does not have to agree with Hunt’s methodology or with all her conclusions: the wealth of material she adduces and her discussions are vigorous and stimulating.

China: A New History, by John King Fairbank. Belknap/Harvard $27.95

This posthumous book by the late doyen of American historians of China was expressly meant by its author as a survey covering all the country’s millenary history (starting with its prehistory). Its text, completed immediately before Fairbank’s death in 1991, has profited from considerable editorial care, thanks to which it reaches readers with a full bibliographical apparatus (though no footnotes). The authority and directness of the author’s style are fully in evidence in the text, and may turn it into the standard one-volume history of China for undergraduates and general readers.

British Politics and the Great War, by John Turner. Yale $40

Turner sets himself the twin tasks of describing the changes in the British party system during the First World War and explaining why the more things changed in British politics, the more they stayed the same. He argues that the Liberal Party lost control of the British middle class during the war and divided into the factions present in that party before the outbreak of war. The two surviving parties, Conservative and Labour, did not seize the opportunity presented by the war to effect radical change in British society. Instead, the parties representing the ruling classes reached an accommodation with Labour that resulted in the war having “a conservative or even reactionary effect which nullified changes which might otherwise have occurred.”

How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922—1945, by Victoria De Grazia. California $29.95

A thoroughly researched and well-written account of a previously under-explored aspect of the Mussolini regime: its ideology and its policies concerning women. Both were expressly antifeminist; yet the study suggests that they could not entirely forestall some degree of modernization of gender relations. By the end of the ventennio Italian women were rather more mobilized politically and more educated than they had been at the beginning of it. Another paradox, the political force which most benefited from this was the Catholic Church, which had largely conspired with fascism to maintain patriarchy.

LITERARY STUDIES Giotto’s Father and the Family of Vasari’s “Lives,” by Paul Barolsky. Penn State $22.50

With this volume, Paul Barolsky completes his very unmonumental and in fact delightfully lively trilogy of books on Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. The third volume lives up to the high standards established by the first two in everything but its title: one wishes Barolsky had been able to equal the cleverness of Michelangelo’s Nose and Why Mono Lisa Smiles. This time Barolsky focuses on the importance of the family in Vasari’s creation of his narratives about artists. As he writes, “the concept of family permeates Vasari’s thinking—from the notion of “disegno” as the “father” of art to his description of families in paintings, above all, the Holy Family. The glory of artists is the glory of their families, just as the fame of their art reflects the fame of the families for whom it was made.” In this volume, Barolsky goes through Vasari chronologically, thus giving him a chance to illustrate another aspect of Vasari’s art, the way he builds one life upon another, in effect cross-referencing his narratives. Now at last completed, Barolsky’s trilogy constitutes a major contribution to the appreciation of a central figure in the Italian Renaissance, as well as to the understanding of Italian Renaissance art in general, and, by extension, of the Renaissance as a whole. Incidentally, Penn State is to be complimented for designing the handsome and distinctive look of all three volumes, miniature works of art in themselves.

Passions of the Mind, by A. S. Byatt. Random House $25

A. S. Byatt, author of Possession, is as fine an essayist as novelist, with a limitless range of interests. Whether discoursing on George Eliot or Georgette Heyer, Robert Browning or Van Gogh, she lures the reader with her relaxed, personal style. “I was given The House in Paris by my father when I was quite a small child,” she confesses in her essay on Elizabeth Bowen, admitting that her father assumed it was an historical novel, and goes on to describe the book’s effect on her at age ten. Toni Mornson’s Beloved gave her nightmares, but she rates it “an American masterpiece.” Georgette Heyer is “a superlatively good writer of honourable escape,” but Byatt confesses that at boarding school she was dismissed from the Library Committee for having vetoed purchase of Hyer’s books. Byatt observes that one of the “central characteristics” of Barbara Pym’s novels is malice, and wonders why Pym’s work is given so much serious critical attention. Her essay on Monique Wittig’s The Lesbian Body concludes with an admission that “having written this review, I am liberated to read something else.” Byatt’s provocative essays, free of the critic’s tone of supercilious detachment, will stimulate the reader to return to works she discusses with such originality.

Interpretation and Overinterpretation, by Umberto Eco, with Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler, and Christine Brooke-Rose; edited by Stefan Coilini. Cambridge $14.95

The hermeneutic wars continue unabated, but with a difference. While his respondents repeat well-honed arguments for the indeterminate and a kind of free-for-all multiplicity-cum-relativism, Umberto Eco now insists on rather strict limits to interpretation. Also distinguishing this book from earlier treatments is the clarity and forcefulness of its presentations—a far cry from the murky, tortuous overreaching of Derrida and de Man. By privileging accessibility, Eco and Company have accomplished precisely what their less secure predecessors consistently shied away from: engagement of the educated non-specialist by the sheer force of evidence and reasoning. The millennium has not come, but the end of dark ages may well be at hand.

Ekphrasis: The Illusion of the Natural Sign, by Murray Krieger. Johns Hopkins $38

Since he published his wonderful 1967 essay on ekphrasis, or the literary depiction of visual art, Krieger has been wrestling with the larger implications of this genre for a theory of how it manifests itself. In this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, he forcefully grapples with the ancient paradox that words in time can seem to create images in space. While one might hope for more discussion of literature and less of theory, this work of abundant intelligence patiently unfolds the many puzzles and contradictions of ekphrasis, from the shield of Achilles to post-modernism.

Pierre Corneille: Poetics and Political Drama under Louis XIII, by David Clarke. Cambridge $54.95

Among the unexamined clichés memorized by every French Iycée student is that Corneille was the last great literary spokesman of feudal individualism in early Bourbon France. In this meticulously researched, closely argued study, David Clarke goes back to the sources—historical, critical, and poetic—to reconstruct the ideological and institutional crisis of the period. His particular focus is Normandy, where Corneille was a magistrate with allegiances to his province as strong as his ties to his Paris patron, the imperious cardinal de Richelieu. In this context, Clarke reassesses Corneille’s original dramaturgy as a half-compliant, half-defiant response to central government pressures for verisimilitude, decorum, and all that they entail. Finally, Clarke argues that in their plotting, characterization, and set speeches, Le Cid, Horace, Cinna, Polyeucte, and La Mort de Pompée faithfully mirror current tensions between individual and national ambitions. If Clark does not sweep away many of the received ideas that make up an important facet of French cultural literacy, he enriches them exquisitely by showing countless new connections between texts and now forgotten trends of political thought.

Strong Representations: Narratives and Circumstantial Evidence in England, by Alexander Welsh. Johns Hopkins $29.95

The fields of law and literature are intersecting in many interesting ways these days, as the careers of figures as antithetical as Richard Posner and Stanley Fish testify. In his latest book, Alexander Welsh has significantly added to our sense of how the study of literature can be enriched by paying attention to developments in legal theory. Welsh correlates the new interest in the power of circumstantial evidence that developed in 18th- and 19th-century England with new ways of representing reality in English fiction, as well as new forms of literary criticism, especially the character analysis that came to dominate 19th-century Shakespeare studies, culminating in the work of A. C. Bradley. Stated this baldly, Welsh’s thesis may sound like just one more example of the kind of gimmicky New Historicism that prevails in the American academy today. But Welsh’s book is far superior to run-of-the-mill New Historicist studies. His analysis is grounded in solid historical research and genuine insights into the material; one cannot appreciate the seriousness of his argument unless one reads through it carefully and pays attention to the subtlety- of his observations. And before dismissing what may seem like a simplistic analogy between law and literature, one would do well to recall that both Henry Fielding and Walter Scott—two of the authors Welsh covers—were trained in the law.

Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crévecoeur, and the Rhetoric of Natural History, by Pamela Regis. Northern Illinois $30

This admirable study in historical criticism places William Bartram’s Travels, Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer more firmly in the world of 18th-century scientific literature. Regis is especially good at showing how the Linnaean classification scheme influenced the style of Bartram, Jefferson, and Crèvecoeur, each of whom aspired to a “sharp-edged, delineated, concrete description” of the New World. Her approach to the “literature of place” allows us to judge these writers in a more appropriate context. Another benefit of her work is that scholars now have a model for assessing contemporaries like William Smith, Robert Rogers, William Stork, James Adair, and Jonathan Carver, forgotten writers in our literary landscape.

Gendered Spaces, by Daphne Spain. Carolina $39.95 cloth, $14.95 paper

Daphne Spain makes an important contribution to feminist readings of knowledge and power in this clearly written interpretation of gender segregation in institutional space. Drawing upon recent work in anthropology, architectural history, geography, history, and sociology, Spain argues that spatial segregation parallels status inequalities between men and women. She reads each of these disciplines as one language capable of describing gender differences; each language can be translated into, or correlated with, the others. While concentrating on American colleges and workplaces, she also establishes cross-cultural and trans-historical precedents and analogies. Spain concludes with a call to architecture schools, specifically, and all disciplines, generally to degender space. By “mak[ing] gendered spaces and their links with knowledge visible” (239) in order to challenge their persistence, Spain hopes to alter imbalances of knowledge perpetuated by spatial segregations. North

Satire or Evasion? Black Perspectives on “Huckleberry Finn,” edited by James S. Leonard, Thomas A. Tenney, and Thadious M. Davis. Duke $45 cloth, $17.95 paper

In 15 essays with a convenient annotated bibliography from other sources, this collection gives a reader a fair view of some of the perceived problems of Twain’s novel. The focus is, of course, on Jim and the general idea of the black depicted as minstrel or buffoon or degraded human. All in all, most of the ideas are not pursued with much depth, especially when the critics split their attention between the potential audiences of Huck Finn, the adult or the child. But there are good things here that get one thinking seriously. In general, however, a reader is most conscious of a missed opportunity for a new perspective in depth.

Art in the Light of Conscience, by Marina Tsvetaeva. Harvard $27.95

“In Russia they forgave me everything because I was a poet: here, they forgive me for being a poet.” Tsvetaeva, contemporary of Akhmatova, Pasternak and Mandelshtam, is one of the greatest, though (in America) one of the least known poets of our century. This collection of prose pieces only adds to the aura and the mystery: a fierce writer, Tsvetaeva delights in gnomic aphorisms and violent juxtapositions which are gorgeously inspiring and deeply foreign to our own democratic, demographic vistas. All fire and air, this book is welcome.

Engendered Greatness, by Alison Booth. Cornell $14.95

This is a fascinating, feminist study of George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. It describes the different ways they mothered each other, a process which Booth shows us can go forward as well as backward in the world of literary invention. As the pun in the title suggests, the author focuses on how their relationship helped redefine the boundaries for women writers in a society where greatness was an exclusive male prerogative. Booth’s wit and insight mark this book of criticism as one of real sensibility.

LIVES & LETTERS Thomas Jefferson Passionate Pilgrim: The Presidency, the Founding of the University and the Private Battle, by Alf J. Mapp, Jr. Madison Books $24.95

In Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity, the first volume in a two-volume series, Alf Mapp told the story of the very human and complex Virginian in whom the tensions between tradition and change found expression. With matchless skill, Mapp, who holds the Louis I. Jaffe chair at Old Dominion University, follows Jefferson from his inauguration as president in 1801 to his death on July 4, 1826. For the most part, Mapp moves across rather familiar ground: the struggle with the court and John Marshall, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark, the Barbary pirates, founder and rector of the University, the Declaration and the Monroe Doctrine. Yet Mapp, who was a journalist before becoming a highly respected historian, not only portrays the life and character of Jefferson, whose last years of financial crises and declining strength he brilliantly describes, but also his contemporaries such as Madison, Monroe, and Marshall. For his descendants at U. Va. engaged in faculty recruitment, Jefferson’s warning to avoid “New England pedagogues” and “Richmond Lawyers” may give pause. In conclusion, Mapp asks “Who Is He?” and answers: the most quoted political leader on this planet. Sharply etched, Mapp’s character sketches are unforgettable, but so is the immediacy of his history.

Intoxicated by My Illness And Other Writings on Life and Death, by Anatole Broyard. Clarkson Potter $18

In a literary year marked by the publication of any number of outstanding collections of personal essays, this posthumous gathering is unique. Compiled and edited by Broyard’s wife, Alexandra, and with a foreword by the celebrated Oliver Sacks, the book consists of essays, some of them published originally in The New York Times (for which Broyard worked in various capacities for 40 years), and two of them adapted from lectures given at the University of Chicago. There is also a selection of journal notes, made from May through September of 1990. The whole book dates from and covers the period from August 1989, when Broyard was diagnosed as suffering from prostate cancer, until his death in the fall of 1990. Broyard, a superb and stylish storyteller as well as an important critic, brought all his powers to bear on the subject of himself and the business of dying. “I have to reinvent myself,” he wrote; and here he does so. One of the pieces, “The Patient Examines the Doctor,” is already a standard text at many medical schools.

Strindberg’s Letters, edited and translated by Michael Robinson. Chicago (2 vols.) $95

Some authors like Shakespeare can be understood without making reference to their biographies, but Strindberg is not one of them. Anyone interested in his literary output will want to learn as much as possible about the strange life that gave rise to his works. Indeed, Strindberg is in many respects a more fascinating and bizarre figure than any of the characters he created. This two-volume set, the first substantial collection of Strindberg’s letters to appear in English, will make it possible for a greater number of scholars to become acquainted with Strindberg the man. From the thousands available, Michael Robinson has carefully selected just under 700 letters to give a full portrait of Strindberg. The wide range of Strindberg’s correspondents makes his letters all the more interesting. Perhaps the most compelling and poignant letters date from the end of 1888, when Strindberg entered into a brief correspondence with Nietzsche, necessarily brief because Nietzsche went insane in January’ 1889. With Strindberg hovering on the brink of madness much of his adult life, these letters make for eerie reading, as the two men feed off each other’s megalomania (Strindberg signed his last letter to Nietzsche “God,” and Nietzsche signed his to Strindberg “The Crucified”). Almost on the day Nietzsche was collapsing into madness on the streets of Turin, Strindberg was writing to him: “I want, I want to be mad . . . it is a joy to be mad!”

Mothers and Daughters, by Elena Bonner. Knopf $23

The fact that the saintly Andrei Sakharov loved Elena Bonner so deeply and defended her against all critics ought to be sufficient grounds for overlooking the woman’s often abrasive personality. If it isn’t, then this memoir of a frightening childhood at the heart of the Comintern may tip the balance. This book lacks the depths of, say, Raisa Orlova’s account of a Soviet childhood, but it provides occasional insights into life in the Hotel Luxe (where the Comintern leaders resided until Stalin was ready to kill them), and Bonner is an excellent writer.

American Profiles: Somebodies and Nobodies Who Matter, by Walt Harrington. Missouri $24.95

The author is a staff writer with The Washington Post Magazine; if his lively, interview-based profiles of contemporary men and women of varying stature and significance make readers curious about him, they can turn to one of his pieces, dealing with himself, his father, his son, and to an “Afterword: On Profile Writing.” Among the other people Harrington writes about are an actress, two journalists, the president of the United States, Jesse Jackson, the bereaved parent of a teen-age suicide, a young nerd of recognized genius-level brainpower. On the whole, an entertaining and occasionally provoking collection of high-grade journalistic essays.

A Woman’s Civil War: A Diary, with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862, by Cornelia Peake McDonald. Wisconsin $14.95

Wisconsin Studies in American Autobiography has brought back into print a Southern woman’s diary that will be of interest to scholars of woman’s literature, historians of the Civil War, and Civil War buffs in general. The diary and the reminiscences engage the reader in the trials of a middle-class Southern woman—living for most of the war in Winchester, Virginia, a city taken repeatedly into the hands of Union troops. We watch her fight to maintain control over her home and her nine children, to bring order out of the chaos of their lives, and, in the end, to discover after being displaced that she has the inner resources to make a place for herself anywhere. Her complex relationship to the ideology of racism is also of interest as we find her at times sympathetic to the plight of slaves and yet horrified that her sons must now work side by side with blacks for equal wages. The diary is a fascinating entry into the life of a strong, middle-class, Southern woman, a class of women who have, despite the feminist work of the past decades, been largely ignored by scholars.

Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, by Alan Bullock. Knopf$35

Both of them were outsiders with gigantic grudges against the world, Hitler because no one recognized what he believed to be his artistic talents, Stalin because he was smaller and uglier and not remotely as sophisticated as the rest of the Bolsheviks, Both turned the world upside down, and we’ll never be able to decide which of them bears a greater share of blame. Bullock is far better on Hitler than on Stalin (he doesn’t read Russian), but he has used the right secondary sources on the Soviet dictator, and he is a master storyteller. A blockbuster of political biography.

Wind Fall, by William Buckley, Jr. Random House $25

The author of this soul-searching semi-autobiography is one of the few 20th-century American Renaissance men. It is a reflective journal describing his fourth ocean voyage on a private yacht with a few close friends. He shares with the reader his celebration of the sweetness of life despite its vicissitudes. There are those who may resent his apparent arrogance and extreme conservatism, but one cannot refrain from admiring his status as an intellectual giant in a world populated by too many mental pigmies.

Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan, by Roy Morris, Jr. Crown $25

Philip Henry Sheridan, just 30 years old at the outbreak of the Civil War, skyrocketed through the ranks of the Union Army by sheer grit and near genius at battlefield command. A total warrior of the mold of Grant and Sherman, he ravaged the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with the same ferocity as Sherman laid waste to Georgia. His last command cut off Robert E. Lee’s retreat at Appomattox Station in 1865. Morris writes a compelling narrative of Sheridan’s life as a frontier soldier, Union commander, Reconstruction overlord, and commander of the U. S. Army in the late 19th century. Sheridan emerges from this account both as a gifted commander of men who never lost touch with the common soldier and as a man with many failings who nevertheless served his nation with distinction.

Preacher: Billy Sunday and Big-Time American Evangelism, by Roger A. Bruns. Norton $22.95

Roger Bruns is an historian of American wanderers. Following a work on hoboes, Preacher chronicles the life of the itinerant evangelist Billy Sunday, who was one of the most famous Americans in the first third of the 20th century. Orphaned in poverty as a child, Sunday rose through hard work and education, and became famous in a first career as a star major-league baseball player (he was perhaps the fastest player of his era). His true calling was as a preacher, however, and he retired prematurely from baseball to devote himself to his ministry. Charismatic and bombastic, Sunday turned whole cities upside down. He commonly preached before audiences of 20,000, railing against alcohol, communism, Darwinism, and other opponents of 100% Americanism. His conservative perspective reaffirmed middle-class, smalltown value even as it imbibed the order of the corporate establishment in America. Bruns credits Sunday with modernizing preaching techniques, but he stops short of exploring Sunday’s connections with later evangelists. Unfortunately, in his attempt to write a popular history, Bruns’ account often reads like a novel. Nonetheless, the book’s lack of critical edge should make it popular among readers predisposed to the pageantry of America’s religious industry.

New York in the 50’s, by Dan Wakefield. Houghton Mifflin $24.95

A lively, entertaining personal memoir of New York in a decade when it had a serious title to having become the artistic capital of the world and one of its most significant intellectual centers. All manner of interesting figures (most of them still active in this or that field of the arts, letters, politics, or scholarship) people these pages, which convey a strong sense of how much things have changed, in manners and morals among other things, since the times depicted. There is also a batch of well-chosen and well-captioned photos of major and minor protagonists of the time and the place.

FICTION Things Not Seen and Other Stories, by Lynna Williams. Little, Brown $18.95

Formerly a first-rate reporter, Lynna Williams has turned to fiction, and here collects nine of her short stories—clear, strong, direct, accessible narratives, each of them, one way or the other, concerned with aspects of familial love. Her fiction was first discovered and encouraged by Michael Curtis of The Atlantic, and Williams was a student (and identifies herself as a “groupie”) of the gifted writer and teacher Richard Bausch to whom this book is dedicated. Not surprisingly, then, her characters are solidly dimensional people, people worth knowing, found in situations worth thinking about and worrying over. All of the stories are emotionally illuminating; some are simply heart-breaking. Fred Chappell has written of this important collection: “This book is a treasure.” He is right.

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy. Knopf $21

Massively promoted and publicized as his breakthrough book, Cormac McCarthy’s sixth novel is more reader-friendly than any of the previous five, being sequentially plotted and possessing somewhat sympathetic characters, but, remarkably, without any diminution of McCarthy’s flinty integrity nor any noticeable softening of his harsh world view. Starting with a MacArthur “genius” grant a few years back, McCarthy’s rank in the literary stockmarket has been steadily ascendant. This story of the adventures in Texas and Mexico, set in 1949, by 16-year-old John Grady Cole, a genuinely memorable protagonist, is wonderfully written and realized. The Cormac McCarthy cult, including a significant number of English professors, will be surprised, though not disappointed by the new accessibility. And All the Pretty Horses should earn him a lot of new readers. A good place to discover McCarthy if you haven’t already.

Elvis in Oz, edited by Mary Flynn and George Garrett Virginia $47.50 cloth, $18.95 paper

Here’s a thought: maybe such diversity and talent, displayed in one collection of stories, poems, novel excerpts, and photographs from the Hollins College creative writing program serve as proof positive that writing programs don’t bludgeon burgeoning writers, and neither do they blunt the powers of the teachers-to-be (the contributors’ notes reveal that many of the writers are teachers). One of the strengths of the book is that it’s difficult to generalize: the writing ranges from hilariously fanciful (Carol Poster’s Valley-Girl-Goes-On-Sensory-Overload-Contemplating Faulkner piece) to frenetically forceful (Thomas McGonigle’s serious account of a life gone awry). Some of the poems have a directness the prose at times lacks—perhaps because they are self-contained. Mary Sansom’s “Song for Billie Holiday, Song for the Rain” is quite provocative; Julie Reed’s “Train from Budapest, 1944” states succinctly what can be lost, and sometimes rediscovered, in transit. The writers are earnest (sometimes too much so), but their diverse subject matter and the writers’ polished skill tends to give each piece the distinct advantage of standing alone, though among friends. A small sigh: there are too many deliberately strange, overpowering first sentences; by now, The Attack Of The Killer First Sentence needs to vanish. It’s faddish and calculated, but difficult to sustain. Where would anyone go from Linda Dunn’s “Serial killers and roundword: these became my obsessions,” or Daniel Mueller’s “Sy Johnson trudged onto the frozen lake toting the dismembered body of his lover on a red plastic sled”? But most of the time the writing is involving and convincing. If the writers learned this at Hollins, they learned well.

The Delta Function, by Rosa Montero. Nebraska $35

Montero casts an unsentimental eye on contemporary Spain, grappling with the contradictions of modernity and femininity in Spanish society. In this novel she shifts back and forth between the life of 30-year-old Lucia, a film director nervously awaiting the premiere of her first work and caught in conflictive love affairs with three men, and that of Lucia at 60, now dying of cancer and trying to make sense of her life through her memoirs. Issues of love, death, aging, friendship, and passion intersect in Montero’s precise, often wicked prose: “Thinking he had probably uttered his most memorable remark of the afternoon and hoping to leave it lingering in the air behind him as a reminder of his presence, Ricardo stood dramatically, took one of my hands, passed the back of it across his mouth as if he were wiping the spit off his smile of superiority, and sailed out the door wearing his halo of triumph” (68). Dona Maruja, the old lady from upstairs, fails humiliatingly at her suicide attempts, as Lucia struggles to find her place in the world. “Passionate love only exists in Harlequin romances,” she shouts at Ricardo, hoping that she is wrong.

A Closed Eye, by Anita Brookner. Random House $21

Brookner’s latest novel reads like a clinical report on loneliness, idleness, and the inability of people to relate to one another. Her characters are unconvincing, even though she jumps in and out of their consciousnesses to report on their reflections and speculations. Her interminable analysis, with little dialogue or action, and unsympathetic characters, makes tedious reading. The story centers on Harriet Lytton who, having grown up poor in a cramped life, marries a man her father’s age hoping his money will ease life for her and her parents. Like other Brookner heroines, she is a meek, self-effacing woman who allows herself to be used by a self-centered, vain, flashy friend. Her vain, arrogant daughter, whom she adores, dominates her. Brookner is a respected art historian and former lecturer at the Cortauld Institute, as well as a prize-winning novelist (Hotel du Lac). It is puzzling, therefore, that she writes about idle people who do little but fix cups of tea, take walks, and wait for things to happen. Critics have compared her writing to that of Henry James and Jane Austen, but she lacks James’ elegance, and Austen’s gift for irony and humor. When she untangles herself from her obsession with the weak, worthy woman who subordinates herself to the self-serving worthless one, she will write another fine novel.

Crash Diet, by Jill McCorkle. Algonquin $16.95

The new Southern woman—not the new Southern lady, mind you, but the new Southern woman—is the voice we hear most often in this collection of stories by novelist Jill McCorkle. No demure maidens and not a Scarlett O’Hara in the bunch, the 11 narrators for these 11 tales struggle with single parenting, excess weight, and a none-too-gallant parade of men. Though one does resent the mobile retirement home she calls her “tin can,” these characters are not barefoot, despair-in-the-trailer-park types. They are people with stories to tell, people with strong, often good humored voices, worth listening to.

Colony, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Harper Collins $22

In this beautifully-crafted novel, Siddons takes the South north. Maude Gascoigne, who was born on a South Carolina plantation, marries the rich and Boston-bom Peter Chambliss. The story revolves around Maude’s spending (enduring might be a better word) a lifetime of summers—from 1922 to the present—in a Maine colony where the Chambliss clan has summered for generations. There’s lot of Gothic intrigue here: poor Maude clashes with, among other people, the stern and fault-finding mother-in-law; the ruttish husband of her best friend; and even Peter himself, who is, by turns, cold, depressive, and bizarre. Will Maude not only triumph, but come to love the stark Maine coast as if she had been bom there? Immerse yourself in this roomy narrative to find out.

For the Love of Robert E. Lee, by M. A. Harper. Soho Press $20

In this funny and radiant novel, Harper gives us two unforgettable characters: Garnet Laney (a lively 16-year-old with a bad leg and a precocious mind) and General Robert E. Lee (the quintessential Southern hero). Through a school assignment, Garnet becomes obsessed with Lee. And in the course of examining Lee’s private life, she learns a great deal about her own. The novel is set in South Carolina in the early 1960’s, and Harper gets the speech, landscape, and social climate down with admirable clarity.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent, by Barbara Paul. Scribner’s $20

Sergeant Marion Larch of the NYPD has been transferred to the Lower East Side just in time to take on the investigation of the gangland-style slaying of four business executives. The men worked in a high-tech company with tight connections to the government. Saddled with an incompetent partner and the intervention of the FBI, Larch finds the case spinning out of her control, until she recruits some friends from outside the precinct. They, and an actress friend making her debut on Broadway, help her solve the crime to their, and the reader’s, satisfaction.

Good Gossip, by Jacqueline Carey. Random House $19

This completely delightful collection of stories traces the lives of a group of New York friends. Carey’s plots are quirky and original, her language witty. But like all good comedies of manners, Good Gossip reaches beyond the ironic observation; these characters gossip not just to entertain themselves (and us) but to learn to negotiate their ways through the world, to figure out how to live. Buy this book.

The Jewel That Was Ours, by Coin Dexter. Crown $20

The irascible Inspector Morse walks the streets and frequents the pubs of Oxford once more in search of the murderer of a skirt-chasing medievalist. The chase begins with the theft of the Wolvercote Tongue, an artifact from Britain’s murky past, from an American woman on a tour of the island’s historic cities. The tour participants provide a wealth of possible suspects, as do the tour guides, all of which is complicated twice over by the murder. It’s like a crossword puzzle I did once, says Morse, where every clue is susceptible of two definitions. Once you chose the wrong word, the whole puzzle can be filled incorrectly. Morse (and the reader) go down more than one false road before solving this very satisfying puzzle.

Dreaming in Cuban, by Cristina Garcia. Knopf $20

The title is beautifully evocative of a book of dreams, dreams of three generations of a Cuban family living both in Cuba and Brooklym. These dreamers are Celia, who, loyal to Castro, writes letters addressed to her lover Gustavo, although he has fled to Spain; Celia’s troubled daughter Felicia, who also remains in Cuba; Celia’s other daughter Lourdes, who opens a bakery in Brooklyn, consuming vast quantities of her own baked goods; and her daughter Pilar, a defiant bohemian painter. Deeply evocative, by turns funny, poignant and grotesque, this ambitious novel weaves together the lives of its characters in a complex, haunting web of vignettes, which convey a strong sense of place and history.

Blood Relative, by Michael Allegretto. Scribner’s $20

Jake Lomax is a Sam Spade wannabe who haunts the streets of Denver, running down the elusive clue, the shadowy figure, and skirting death on every other page. In this episode, Jake is hired to track down three people who can vouch for the alibi of an accused murderer. It looks like an open-and-shut case, in which a man killed his wife for taking a lover. But Jake quickly finds enough evidence to make further investigation interesting. As it turns out, the man’s family has as good a motive to get rid of the woman, and the murdered wife has some strange blips on the radar screen of her past as well. Jake, of course, wraps it all up in a tidy package, and manages to squeak through to detect another day.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Origins of the CIA, by Burton Hersh. Scribners $29.95

Playing devil’s advocate to Robin Winks’s upbeat Cloak and Gown, this volume argues that the wealthy, well-connected, even intellectually-inclined founders of the OSS and the CIA were considerably less than idealistic. According to this account, for instance, the Dulles brothers collaborated for large legal fees with Nazi industrialists and “inevitably,” Hersh concludes, “remnants of the Third Reich quietly infiltrated our intelligence system.” Such amoralism prevailed, with devastating effects, right down to Iran-Contra, with what Hersh describes as a “fever for long shots,” lawlessness, and perjury, as well as the reduction of people to “assets,” and the euphemizing of murder as “executive action.” For Hersh, the critical question is whether the new CIA director Robert Gates can realize his wish to reinvent the Firm and thus dispel its reputation as a “hotbed of ruthless operators.”

The Defeat of a Congressman: and Other Parables of Modern India, by Mark Tully. Knopf $22

This remarkable book was published last year in England under the title No Full Stops in India and is now available in its American edition. Tully is an Anglo-Indian “according to the correct usage of the word,” i. e. , an Englishman born in India. Since 1964 he has worked for the BBC in Delhi and became bureau chief in 1972. Tully still works and dwells in Delhi. The book is remarkable for its clarity of style, its insight into the political, cultural, and everyday affairs of Indians, and for its sympathy and love for India as well as its fine humor. Tully’s book opens up India in her cultural magnificence, vastness of space and people, diversity of income levels and lifestyles, and her struggle between traditional and Western values. Although occasionally bordering on the sentimental, the book is far from a romantic tribute to India and the Raj since Tully exhibits an acute awareness of the various kinds of oppression practiced not only by those in power but also by the various classes of people upon each other as well as themselves. This is a book on India which is an eye-opener for newcomers to the subcontinent as much as for those who think they know India: Tully shows familiar scenes in a new light and directs the reader’s attention into the less examined areas of these scenes. Definitely one of the more insightful as well as entertaining books on modern India.

Sentinel for Health, by Elizabeth W. Etheridge. California $42.50

One federal agency has tracked the incidence of such varied maladies as paint-based lead poisoning, smallpox, toxic shock syndrome and AIDS for almost 50 years. Established initially as a kind of FBI to fight malaria, the Centers for Disease Control expanded to study the occurrence of all communicable diseases, more recently growing to encompass even non-disease related causes of illness and death such as the current epidemic of urban violence spawned by firearms. Longwood College historian Elizabeth Etheridge chronicles the changing status of this branch of the Public Health Service, with particular attention to the role of Dr. Joseph Mountin, first leader of the CDC. This clearly written, competent account of what today is a major source of health research and information is a welcome addition to any medical reference shelf.

The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men and the New York Times, by Nan Robertson. Random House $22

It’s never easy to write about a subject that has been thoroughly explored by other writers, unless one has a compelling story to tell. Nan Robertson does. The former reporter for The New York Times breaks little new ground in her retelling of the history of the Times as an institution. But her story of the talented women who worked for the Times and how they were discriminated against, in major and petty ways, by the company and the men who worked for it, makes for riveting reading. And it leaves the reader with a sense of outrage and disbelief that so many men with towering reputations in journalism, working for one of the country’s preeminant publications, could have been such colossal jerks in the way they treated the talented women who worked for them. (In fairness to the Times, the company was generous about opening its archives to Ms. Robertson for a story that could only be negative.) Ms. Robertson reported for the Times for most of her professional life, beginning in 1963 at the age of 28 and leaving after her hair had turned white. Her life at the Times began when women were banned from the floor of the National Press Club in Washington, D. C. When the leaders of the day spoke there, male reporters and their guests sat at banquet tables on the floor eating lunch, while female reporters squeezed onto a balcony, without chairs or food, entering and leaving the club through a back door. “It was discrimination at its rawest,” recalled Bonnte Angelo, who was then Washington bureau chief for Newsday. Ms. Robertson is at her best painting the profiles of her female colleagues and marshaling the hard, cold evidence of systematic discrimination. Her story of the steps leading to the 1978 class-action lawsuit, Boylan v. The New York Times, is one that could be told of most of this nation’s newpapers, except that the women of the Times put their jobs on the line to pursue justice, an act that required more courage than most of us have.

Molehunt: The Secret Search for Traitors that Shattered the CIA, by David Wise. Random House $22

Paranoia is endemic to the espionage game: just as Spycatcher Peter Wright destroyed the careers of countless innocents without discovering a double agent in MI5, James Jesus Angleton staged an equally counterproductive witch hunt at the CIA. Fortunately, the agency secretly rehabilitated Angelton’s principal victim, Peter Karlow, with a medal, a distinguished-service certificate, and $500,000 appropriated by Congress under what is informally known as the “Moles’ Relief Act of 1989.” What could not be recuperated were the lives of the Angleton’s other victims, the intelligence-gathering effectiveness of the CIA, and U. S. counter-espionage operations. Since spying (in kinder and gentler form, perhaps) continues unabated during the post-Soviet period, this book is no historical curiosity. Indeed, its implications are profoundly unsettling.

Moscow and the Global Left in the Gorbachev Era, edited by Joan Earth Urban. Cornell $12.95

The story of Moscow and the global left is quickly told in the Gorbachev era: the alliance died. To be sure, there were a number of last-minute efforts to prop it up, then frantic attempts to prettify the corpse with cosmetics, but nothing worked. The essays in this book vary in quality, as such collections always do, but on the whole this is a good survey of what used to be a problem.

The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation, by Harold Bloom. Simon & Schuster $22

A further exploration into religious and more broadly cultural matters by the distinguished literacy critic. Bloom analyzes the tenets, the history, the moral postures of a number of distinctively American religious forms (from the Mormon Church to Billy Graham to Christian Science). He suggests that these and other phenomena involve a rampant, all-absorbing concern with the self and a concomitant denial of community and moral obligation.

The Republic of Mass Culture: Journalism, Filmmaking, and Broadcasting in America since 1941, by James L. Baughman. Johns Hopkins $11.95

In this readable volume, Baughman provides a remarkably complete historical account of the changing nature of the media industries in postwar America. Baughman’s study highlights the powerful impact of television on other media industries. He argues that many competing industries failed to perceive the threat of television’s increasing popularity until television had captured an increasingly large share of the mass audience. Television’s preeminence has profoundly, if indirectly, shaped the content of the other media industries.

New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction, by Ken Jowitt. California $30

The chaps over in political science have no science at all but lots of politics and the jargon to go with it. This book, which comes from the pen of an award-winning Berkeley professor, attempts to dissect Leninism from what the dust jacket calls a “Weberian” perspective. Just what Max Weber would say about the use of his name cannot, of course, be known, but it is noteworthy that Professor Jowitt does not mention that phenomenon of the bureaucracy. Beyond that he knows nothing of Russian history. The result of these essays is therefore political science indeed, served up in as dense a language as one will ever encounter.

Never Let Them See You Cry: More from Miami, American’s Hottest Beat, by Edna Buchanan. Random House $20

The homeless man who killed to save his stray cats. The body that disappeared from an accident site to reappear two miles away. The 1984 murder victim killed by bullets fired in 1976. Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist Edna Buchanan returns with more seamy stories from her Miami crime beat. Buchanan often comes across as a romanticized figure, the archetypal reporter—tough! ironic! tender!—and her sentimental streak is much in evidence in this second book, as she focuses on tales of heroism, survival, and “unmatched courage, dignity, and laughter.” Still, e


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

Recommended Reading