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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1993

ISSUE:  Autumn 1993

The somewhat forbidding subtitle of this book should not put off any reader interested in the broad evolution of the American South. Chaplin does indeed deal with agriculture, and does so in a quite engaging way, but it is modernity that is her real subject and passion. For centuries, both those who have defended and those who have attacked the slave South have done so with the understanding that the South was, depending on one’s perspective, either archaic and anachronistic or pastoral and paternalistic. The Old South was neither, Chaplin persuasively argues, certainly not in the seed-time of the early republic. Instead, these Southerners were eager to have it all, to share the progress and prosperity of the rapidly evolving Atlantic economy at the same time they held to the slaves who had no part in such an economy elsewhere. Chaplin’s account is boldly innovative, elegantly written, and deeply researched. It will attract a great deal of attention.

Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia, by Cathy A. Frierson.Oxford $17.95

Identifying the “Russian peasant” is no easy task. In the first place he or she may well be not Russian but Tatar or Chuvash or Mordva, and even if we get the ethnic lines straight—an unlikely feat—we are still left with the problem of determining what that peasant believed him- or herself to be, and how the state and society viewed him or her. Professor Frierson has taken what would seem an obvious idea, the examination of the portrayal of the peasants, to fashion one of the best books in Russian studies of the past feto years.

Spanish Texas, 1519—1821, by Donald E. Chipman.Texas $30 cloth, $14.95 paper

As the dust jacket says, “the rich history of Spain in Texas deserves to be widely known by “Texana buffs” and professional historians alike, and Spanish Texas, 15191821 by Donald E. Chipman is the [only] one-volume source to consult.” This is a straightforward chronological treatment of exploration, international rivalries, permanent settlement, and “legacies,” but the author is more than a Texana buff. He is a distinguished historian of the Spanish empire in America, and the book is more than just the first one-volume history of colonial Texas. The treatment of Spanish-Indian relations is especially welcome, and archival research in Spain and Texas informs most chapters.

Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree, by William E. Montgomery. Louisiana $29.95

The need for racial understanding and tolerance is still strong in the United States. The most divided time in America is Sunday morning during church services. This deplorable situation can only be understood through reflection upon the history of the African-American religious experience. Montgomery’s book details the emergence of the African-American church in the South from 1865 to 1900. The author weaves the story through well documented narratives which convey not only facts, but he allows the reader to feel the joy and pain of African-Americans as they start their journey into religious freedom. The value of this work extends beyond the confines of religious studies to the historical relation of the African-American church to politics. A book that will reward and change the reader.

Dilemmas of Appeasement: British Deterrence and Defense, 1934—1937, by Gaines Post, Jr.Cornell $48.50

Post provides a new reading of British foreign policy in the age of appeasement in this solid and well-crafted book. Chamberlain, in contrast to his standard image as an ineffectual umbrella-toting ninny, is recast as a decisive man of substance, with a clear understanding of the intricacies of a defence policy contingent upon economic, technical, and bureaucratic reality. Nonetheless, he made errors of judgment (notably in failing to understand Hitler’s commitment to a rapid reconstruction of the European balance of power), was unable to overcome the mistakes made by his predecessors, Baldwin and Simon, and in the end failed to show the flexibility of judgment that marks success in foreign policymaking.

The Burden of Dependency: Colonial Themes in Southern Economic Thought, by Joseph J. Persky. Johns Hopkins $28.50

In this compact and suggestive essay, Persky examines an idea at the heart of Southern political economy—the belief that the South was in thrall to powerful economies, first Britain and later the industrializing North. Persky traces the evolution of this idea from the Virginia merchants (Berkely, Beverley) to the Nashville Agrarians (Tate, Ransom), to the Chapel Hill sociologists (Odum, Vance), via such seemingly disparate figures as Thomas Jefferson, George Fitzhugh, and Tom Watson. A worthy addition to the literature on Southern distinctiveness.

Revolt of the Provinces: The Regionalist Movement in America, 1920~1945, by Robert L. Dorman North Carolina $45

In the same years that the United States was becoming ever more tightly integrated by radio, highways, magazines, and sports, dissidents arose around the country calling for something else. These people—social critics such as Lewis Mumford, poets such as Donald Davidson, sociologists such as Howard Odum, and novelists such as Man Sandoz—urged Americans to recognize and value the past and the local region. These regionalists spoke for and from every part of the country, finding in each a special virtue, a special contribution. These thinkers, though without much practical influence, left a rich legacy of writing that still invites admiration. They articulated what many Americans have always felt: that uniqueness is being eroded, that the past is being plowed under, that provinciality has its uses. Dorman’s useful survey helps us find our way around these surprisingly complex and powerful thinkers, whose ideas may yet get a hearing.

World Trade since 1431: Geography, Technology, and Capitalism, by Peter J. Hugill.Johns Hopkins $59.95

This is a first-rate historical study in the genre of world history. Hugill argues that the interplay between technology and geography have governed the emergence of the modern global capitalistic system. He begins the historical narrative in 1431 when Portuguese navigators first set sail into the Atlantic and ends with the current day, marked by global interdependence. The author combines geography with the social sciences and history in skiilful fashion. It is lucidly written and will appeal to the specialist and general reader.

A History of Women in the West. Vol III: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes, edited by Natalie Zemon David and Arlette Farge. Harvard $29.95

This volume continues the translation of a large and daring enterprise undertaken some years ago by an Italian publisher (though almost all the writing and editing is by French historians): a scholarly account of the changing status and condition of women in the West. It may be safely predicted that this volume, like its predecessors, will markedly increase and improve our knowledge of its field of study, laying the ground for much subsequent work.

Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg, by Charles P. Hamblen, edited by Walter L. Powell. Kent State $22

This posthumous text of the role of Connecticut soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg is full of detail, very well-written, and extremely interesting, and its addition of five excellent maps and numerous pictures make this an absolute must for anyone interested in either Connecticut history or the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Most Solitary of All Afflictions: Madness and Society in Britain, 1700—1900, by Andrew Scull. Yale $45

In this impressive study, Andrew Scull builds upon his seminal work on the history of the institutionalization of madness, Museums of Madness (1979). He synthesizes the best of the research that has been done on the subject since his own study and counters false or misleading interpretations such as Foucault’s influential, Madness and Civilization. As Scull explains, the history of our culture’s response to the insane is not as simple and clear-cut as Foucault would have us believe. But while 18th- and 19th-century British society did not suddenly begin to incarcerate and punish madmen formerly permitted to roam free, this was the era during which asylums were built, the medical profession took charge of the insane, and reform movements were begun. Scull’s narrative of these important historical events is excellently researched and written in an engaging style. The book includes fascinating illustrations, including architectural plans for some of the original lunatic asylums and for experimental therapeutic mechanisms.

The Long, Bitter Trail; Andrew Jackson and the Indians, by Anthony F. C. Wallace. Hill & Wang $7. 95

An American history reference book from 1986 lists the following “major items” of Andrew Jackson’s administration: Jacksonian Democracy, the Tariffs of 1832 and 1833, the Second Bank of the United States, and the formation of the Whig Party. The absence of any mention of the Removal Act of 1830, which brought about the emigration of most of the Indians from the Southern United States to the territory that would become Oklahoma, is testament to the need for The Long, Bitter Trail, Anthony F. C. Wallace’s brief yet thorough history of Jackson’s Indian policy. As Wallace himself writes, “Despite the labors of a number of specialists in Indian history, the authors of textbooks and scholarly treatises that profess a national view have virtually ignored the Indian wars and removals of the post-colonial era.” The Long, Bitter Trail helps redress the balance with a detailed examination of the hunger for Indian land in Jackson’s America, the changing worlds of the Native American, the conflict over federal Indian policy, the Removal Act itself, the Trail of Tears that followed, and the long shadow cast by the dislocation of the native populations. Most remarkably, Wallace writes that “to many whites, especially in Georgia, the threat was not so much the savage, drunken Indian as the civilized one, who if left in place to govern himself in his own territory would beat the white man at his own game—raising cotton—and prevent forever the further acquisition of Indian land.”

The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, by Carlin A. Barton. Princeton $24.95

In this volume, Barton has undertaken an imaginative reconstruction of the “emotional life” of the ancient Romans, and in so doing has produced a work of historical scholarship whose range of resources and whose appeal extend far beyond the bounds of merely academic history. She divides her analysis of Roman culture between two archetypal motifs, the gladiator and the monster, and through her analysis of each she gradually draws the picture of a truly tragic civilization, suffering from spiritual contradictions and subsisting in an emotional world that Barton describes under the categories of despair, desire, fascination, and envy. Believers in the quaint notion of objective history may be offended both by the speculative character of her project and the occasionally personal approach she has taken to her subject, but Barton has written a text of great richness. And her entire enterprise calls to mind R. G. Collingwood’s theory of history as an imaginative recapitulation of the possibilities of being—as well as ambiguities of meaning—that reside in other cultural and historical situations.

Himmler’s Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933—1945, by Valdis O. Lumans. North Carolina $39.95

The Nazi’s thousand-year Reich was designed to incorporate all ethnic Germans in Europe into the Aryan fold. The SS agency, the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle, played a primary role in maintaining ties, and indoctrinating the German minorities under other flags to support this goal. Lumans* study of this relationship (specifically in regard to Himmler’s racial policies) is a valuable contribution to the field.

LITERARY STUDIESTo Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature, by Eric J. Sundquist. Harvard $29.95

In recent years, many people have talked of revising the canon of America literature, of making a place for writers whose skin color or gender led them to be dismissed by earlier generations of the arbitrars of literary taste. Eric Sundquist proposes to take us beyond that first step, at least as far as African Americans are concerned, by showing how 19th- and early 20th-century American literature should be not merely expanded, but completely rethought. Sundquist makes a compelling case that Charles Chesnutt and W. E. B. DuBois are part of the warp and woof of American literature, but he goes farther, revealing how race lies at the heart not only of Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner, but also Herman Melville and Mark Twain. It is an ambitious book, a bit long-winded perhaps, but full of the energy and conviction that make for a compelling argument.

Moral Instruction b Fiction for Children, 1749—1820, by Samuel F. Pickering, Jr. Georgia $35

It is only fitting that an interpretive exploration of early moral instruction for children should begin its very first sentence with a mention of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. From Bunyan’s allegory it took only an imaginative hop, skip, and jump to arrive at Pamela, The Foundling, and Robinson Crusoe, three inventive and influential children tomes that spawned a whole catalog full of instructive musings for young minds (and older ones, too), musings that still play an important role in formulating the childhood minds of today’s best storytellers. Pickering’s informative work joyfully succeeds in its attempt to convey the “texture and color” of children’s literature, and his contribution will become a staple in the large corpus of scholarly books about early children’s literature.

The Graphic Unconscious in Early Modern French Writing, by Tom Conley. Cambridge, $54.95

Focusing on Rabelais and Montaigne, among other Renaissance writers, the author of this lively and provocative monograph explores the visual play of typography. Conley shows, for example, how the self-portrait of Oronce Finé appears within an historiated letter “O,” emblematic of the engraver’s very name, and he shows us a delightful “O” from a French edition of Plutarch, inside of which grotesque satyrs dance, as if at odds with the letter’s very stability. We see in all this the origins of the kind of wit and play that comes to the fore in the printing of Tristram Shandy.

Nabokov’s Art of Memory and European Modernism, by John Burt Foster, Jr. Princeton $29.95

The author of an important work, Hiers to Dionysus: A Nietzschean Current in Literary Modernism, returns to his investigation of Modernism in this equally significant study focused on Nabokov. The great 20th-century novelist was notoriously ambivalent about his relations to his modernist precursors, and Foster compellingly probes Nabokov’s complex relations to this tradition, exploring its 19th-century roots in Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin. Grounded in a sophisticated understanding of contemporary hermeneutics this book will be of profound interest both to scholars of Nabokov in particular and of modernist literature in general.

The Return of Thematic Criticism, edited by Werner Sollors. Harvard $15.95

Not merely thematics redux, but thematics reinvented. . . . This interdisciplinary collection sets the most advanced poetic and ideological approaches side-by-side to resolve the ancient conflict between formalism and the study of content. As a corollary, Sollor’s anthology seeks to sweep away or at least rehabilitate the theoretically impoverished notion-hunting of certain feminists, many new historicists, and race/class/gender critics, to say nothing of second-generation Derrideans. While the distinguished contributors (including Claude Bremond, Thomas Pavel, Sander Gilman, George Steiner, and Theodore Ziolkowski), cannot, of course, realize the editor’s large ambitions in 321 pages, they definitively place thematic criticism back on the agenda, and, at the same time, call for a higher level of humanistic discourse.

Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness, by Patricia Bizzell. Pittsburgh $39.95

The current decay of discourse—written and spoken, in and out of the classroom— derives from at least three intimately related sources. We have abandoned the goal of a shared culture, actively engaged with, not trivially pursued. Simultaneously, we have stopped requiring rational thought and clear expression for success at almost every level of schooling and in many departments of society. Finally, we have acquiesced in the result of these defections: an inane and cluttered tendentiousness, which increasingly replaces the productive intellectual exchange on which our future depends. Recounting her conversion to an exponent of this three-fold syllabus errorum, Bizzell argues chillingly for a politically correct new discipline, “composition studies” (known in Texas as “oppression English”). Her story and thesis would be ludicrous, if CS had not already taken hold and did not promise to dislocate—indeed further discompose—the cognitive and verbal supports of our beleaguered social contract.

The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, edited by Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan.Princeton $29.95 paper

This authoritative reference, first published in 1965 and expanded nine years later, has been almost completely revamped by a new generation of scholars and critics. While classic statements bysuch earlier contributors as Cleanth Brooks and Ronald Crane reappear, with updated bibliographies, the preponderance of articles offers the latest refinements of standard concepts, precise, complete treatment of others newly forged, and extensive, well-documented articles on peculiarly postmodern issues, e. g., cultural criticism and emergent (including feminist) écritures. Learned and incisive, rigorous and judicious, the NPEPP’s pluralistic editors and contributors prove the continuing viability of formal concerns and more: they reaffirm the value of rational dialogue in this mean season of “discursive cleansing.”

Holy Foolishness: Dostoevski’s Novels 6-the Poetics of Cultural Critique, by Harriet Murav. Oxford $39.95

The Holy Fool, or Fool for Christ’s Sake, is a revered figure in the Christianity of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in the Russian tradition of that Church in particular. The Holy Fool is one who subjects himself to ridicule by throwing off the constraints of conventional sanity in order to draw nearer to Christ. Tales abound of such fools confronting potentates and even Czars with impunity to reproach them for their sins, snatching money from the hands of the rich to give to the poor, and occasionally resisting the hierarchical authority of the Church. This quite splendid book attempts to show how Dostoevsky employed the idea of “holy foolishness” (often in veiled form) as a tool of cultural criticism and even (and this is the most innovative aspect of Murav’s book) as a literary technique for making the novels, and especially their often infuriatingly oblique narrative voices, occasions for the reader of salubrious confusion, shock, irony, and even enlightenment.

Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace: New England Crime Literature and the Origins of American Popular Culture, 1674—1860, by Daniel A. Cohen.Stanford $37.50

This immensely learned and pellucidly written account of the origins of American popular culture stands as a monument to careful historical and literary inquiry. Arguing for the social, religious, and legal significances of popular crime literatures in colonial and early national New England, Cohen probes the origins of certain modern attractions for such stories of crime and punishment. This book sets a high standard for multidisciplinary approaches to popular culture and cultural works.

The Cossack Hero in Russian Literature: A Study in Cultural Mythology, by Judith Deutsch Komblatt. Wisconsin $47.50 cloth, $22.50 paper

“He jumps on his horse and gallops off on a tour of pillage and rape, with billowing trousers and forelock blowing in the wind.” So begins Komblatt’s study of the cultural significance of the Cossack—a subject which links the disciplines of ethnography, history, anthropology, and literary criticism in fruitful ways. The book raises serious questions about national identity and the frontier myth which should be of interest to critics and fans of the American Western, as well as to students of Russian literature. While not always as dramatic as its opening lines, Komblatt’s study is always readable, original, and thoughtprovoking.

Cast by Means of Figures: Herman Melville’s Rhetorical Development, by Bryan C. Short. Massachusetts $25

Bryan Short attempts to show, first, that Melville’s work grows out of and then abandons the dicta of Hugh Blair’s Rhetoric. But the evidence for Blair’s impact on Melville is shaky and unconvincing, and as a result Short’s argument for Blair as Melville’s Bloomian “precursor” falls flat. The rest of the book labels the tropes Melville uses in his fiction, comparing each book’s tropes with those of its predecessors. Short’s opaque style is difficult to negotiate, and unfortunately the rewards of doing so are few.

Telling Time: Levi-Strauss, Ford, Leasing, Benjamin, de Man, Wordsworth, Rilke, by Carol Jacobs. Johns Hopkins $37.50

I am sure that there is a point to these essays—I am sure they must be connected somehow and must make sense and must be very important and worthwhile—it’s just that I could not figure it out. I tried though. Concerned to write a fair review, I read the prologue, “Telling Time” and two chapters “The Monstrosity of Translation: Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator”” and “The Metaphor of Temporality: Paul de Man’s Rousseau Essay and “The Rhetoric of Temporality. “” I spent time, but, finally, my spending time in reading these chapters has about as much to do with temporality as Jacobs’ comments on Benjamin’s and de Man’s writings. I saw no connection—I actually did not notice time to be a theme/problem for Benjamin at all, and from what I gathered from the chapter on de Man, it is not a very dominant concern for him either. Benjamin discussed translation and de Man, irony. “Scattered Essays” may be a more telling title for this collection.

LIVES & LETTERSRobert Maynard Hutchins: A Memoir, by Milton Mayer, edited by John H. Hicks, with a foreword by Studs Terkel. California $35

At the University of Chicago in the 50’s, Milton Mayer was not taken seriously. A journalist and academic dilettante (so the scuttlebutt went), he served as Chancellor Hutchins’s factotum and court jester. “Courtesy” appointments to Classics and the celebrated Committee on Social Thought, so the scuttlebutt continued, enabled Mayer to teach courses whose lack of solidarity and rigor were almost, but not quite, offset by his qualities of true believer and stand-up comedian. No surprise. then, that compared with Harry Ashmore’s recent biography of Hutchins, Mayer’s seems lightweight—at least initially. But short as it may be on philosophical substance, the volume does offer something rare and valuable not found in its predecessor: a detailed, firsthand knowledge and shrewd understanding of Chicago’s powerful personalities, cabals, and institutional processes. These Hutchins challenged, coopted, or fought decade after decade, and Mayer narrates his separate successes and isolated failures not only sharply but with gusto, making this book required reading for anyone interested in the brief, brilliant renaissance on the Midway.

Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger, by Eric Hebborn. Random House $25

This book was almost totally ignored when it was first published in Edinburgh in 1991, although it did receive brief notice in the New York Review of Books. It deserves to be widely read, not only by art historians but by anybody with a general interest in art. The memoirs of a gifted forger, it is the fascinating account of how a knave fooled leading scholars, critics, and museums with his Renaissance and Baroque confections. Mr. Hebborn, whose autobiography reads like a picaresque novel, is also an accomplished story-teller, a lively conversationalist, who will delight most readers (not perhaps those whom he fooled) with the accounts of his roguish antics and trickery.

Sword of San Jacinto: A Life of Sam Houston, by Marshal] De Bruhl. Random House $25

After the Revolution and up to the Civil War, America produced many competent social, cultural, and military leaders, politicians, and even statesmen, but few men who genuinely can be called great American heroes. Towering above those who do fit in that last category is the eccentric frontiersman born in southern Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1793, Sam Houston, who staged the Texas Revolution, became its president, and finally led it into statehood. De Bruhl’s rendering of the life of Houston, a fresh and modern account that utilizes many previously unused letters and documents, adds to the small canon of solid Houston literature that began to appear in 1929 with the publication of Marquis James” Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, The Raven, and continues this year (the 200th anniversary of Houston’s birth) with the publication of John Hoyt Williams’ Sam Houston: A Biography of the Father of Texas. Although neither of this year’s newer biographies will supplant that of James, a graceful and detailed monumental work written in the old, grand style, both books make valuable contributions to a fuller understanding of one of the 19th century’s greatest figures, a man too long left standing in the shadows of American history.

The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones, 1908—1938, edited by R. Andrew Paskauskas.Harvard $39.95

Ernest Jones, a Welsh neurologist, met the older Freud in 1908, and the two men corresponded regularly until Freud’s death in 1939. Jones’ contribution to the intellectual development of psychoanalysis was not as significant as Freud’s, but he did hold important leadership positions in the organizations that institutionalized psychoanalysts in England and in America. This engaging collection of letters offers interesting anecdotes about how the first generation of analysts disseminated and adapted Freud’s ideas. Even readers who are not specialists in the field Freud and Jones helped to found will find these letters interesting. They give one a sense of both the cultural milieu and the rhythm of private life in Europe during these politically turbulent years. Mixed in with discussions about intellectual and domestic concerns are interchanges that reveal petty quarrels and conflicts within the psychoanalytical movement. The entrenched ideological differences that today divide the profession originate from these early disputes. One of the most interesting disagreements between Freud and Jones involves the work of Melanie Klein and underlines the troubling fact that most authors of psychiatry and particularly of psychoanalysis were men who were unwilling to share their increasingly powerful domain with women. Because this volume includes the complete Freud-Jones correspondence and arranges the letters chronologically rather than thematically, readers who wish to read about certain subjects should refer to Riccardo Steiner’s helpful introduction and to the very thorough index. The editor also has compiled an excellent bibliography.

Zero Three Bravo, by Mariana Gosnell. Knopf $25

If a dream in youth that is fulfilled in maturity makes for a happy life, then this author has achieved her goal. Taking a leave of absence from her office job in the canyons of Manhattan, she embarked on a three-month air armchair journey to fly solo around the United States in a one engine plane. Becoming an aerial gypsy, she joined the friendly fraternity of those who share a love for the beckoning sky in a flying machine. It is up to the rest of us to decide whether or not we have the imagination, courage, and tenacity to convert our own yearning into reality as she did or spend the rest of our lives as just another Walter Mitty.

John Milton: The Self and the World, John T. Shawcross. Kentucky $35

On the surface, this psychological biography finds a Milton who has, by and large, already been found by Jung, Freud, and Lacan. But Shawcross’s tack differs in the way in which it makes its distinction between Milton the man inside and outside his works. The author does this through contextualization of not only the historical but also the psychological underpinnings of the time and the man. And Shawcross remains aware throughout of the danger inherent in the attempt to keep the two separate. So, what we get in this work is a complex treatment of a complex man, done in such a way that both can clearly be seen as remarkable.

This I Cannot Forget: The Memoirs of Nikolai Bukharin’s Widow, by Anna Larina. Norton $24.95

Anna Larina lived with the Communist politician Nikolai Bukharin, who was 27 years her senior, for only a handful of years, most of them under the same roof with the man’s rejected first wife. She worshipped the man and believes to this day that he was incapable of evil; thus her memoirs are at best amusing, at worst a contribution to the Communist canonization of Nikolai Bukharin. We cannot help but share her terror and her life of sorrow, and sympathize deeply, but we can never turn to her, or Bukharin, for the truth about the life of the man whom Lenin correctly called the “favorite” of the party.

Picasso and Dora: A Professional Memoir, by James Lord. Farrar Strauss & Giroux $35

The author, a graceful writer and fine story-teller, best known for his Giacometti: A Biography (1985) reminisces here about his relations with the great artist and the latter’s mistress, Dora Maar. Lord gives us a vivid, often amusing portrait of Paris in the golden years after World War II, when one could still find and buy works by major French artists at relatively modest sums. He also introduces us to a number of notable figures, including Bathus, Lacan, André Masson, and Giacometti. If Lord’s subjects were not exactly pleasant people, his anecdotes about them and their friends are for the most part agreeable and make for entertaining reading.

The Lucky Bastard Club: A B-17 Pilot in Training and Combat 1943—45, by Eugene Fletcher. Washington $29.95

This volume reprints under the same cover two volumes published earlier by the same press: Fletcher’s Gang (1988), which chronicles the enterprises of an American bomber unit operating out of England in 1944—45; and Mister (1992), which covers the earlier training of the author as a pilot— and what good training it must have been, considering the uses to which it was soon to be put. On the whole, a lively book, which, with considerable assistance from a good set of photographs, effectively conveys the tone and feel of the historically unprecedented form of warfare in which the author and his associates were involved.

Tragic Muse: Rachel of the ComédieFrançaise, by Rachel M. Brownstein. Knopf $30

This is a post-modern biography. The author renounces the task of recounting the life of the 19th-century actress. Instead, she discusses the interpretations constructed around her life and legend. This book is written with great intelligence and insight. Brownstein makes clear that Rachel has haunted the literary imagination for more than a century.

The Key of Liberty: The Life and Democratic Writings of William Manning, “A Laborer,” 1747—1814, ed. by Michael Merrill and Sean Wilentz. Harvard $34.50 cloth, $14.95 paper

Completed in 1799, The Key of Liberty is a remarkable document in the political history of the new republic. Written from the point of view of a Massachusetts farmer and common soldier, The Key sheds new light on the conflict between “the few” and “the many.” Merrill and Wilentz deserve praise for their editorial efforts: an accessible text, helpful annotations, and a cogent introduction to Manning’s life and times.

Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams, by Joseph J. Ellis. Norton $25

Perhaps there is one out of the many characteristics Ellis concisely and elegantly writes about that does more to illuminate Adams’ behavior than any other. And that was his penchant for marking up the books in his vast library, carrying on an argument with the authors on the printed page. This marginalia—angry, derisive, testy, full of candor and irreverence— proves to be the measure of the passionate, garrulous, brilliant, and argumentative man. Ellis makes a case for Adams as being the most human, and certainly the most open, of the prominent Founders. But the book is more than an exploration of Adams’ personality. There is a wonderful chapter on the celebrated Adams-Jefferson correspondence, some interesting thoughts on the Adams family, and a short history of how the Adams reputation has fared over the more than century and a half since his death. This is a perceptive portrait that will delight historians and general readers alike, and a fine tribute to an American unique.

FICTIONThe Girl Who Loved Elvis, by Susie Mee. Peachtree $18.95

A comic yet convincing portrayal of life in a Georgia mill town in the 1950’s, when a hillbilly singer appears on the Ed Sullivan show. Poised on the brink of womanhood, LaVonne Grubbs follows Elvis’s meteoric rise to fame. Her daydreams of Elvis and of her vanished father brighten the gray world she shares with her crotchety mother. Both Elvis and her father, however, prove to be fallen stars in LaVonne’s dreams, and she turns to love in her own life instead of what she reads in the pages of True Confessions. A thoroughly engaging first novel, though one in which both the author and the reader have difficulty handling a rape scene that seems out of place in a book so decidedly humorous.

The Oracle at Stoneleigh Court, by Peter Taylor. Knopf $22

A new book, any new book, by Peter Taylor is a good cause for celebration; and this one, coming after his highly successful and high regarded A Summons to Memphis (Pulitzer Prize for 1987), is already recognized as a significant development in the ongoing story of his art. Consisting of ten new short stories, an excerpt-preview of a forthcoming novel (“Cousin Aubrey”), and three one-act plays, this gathering demonstrates Taylor’s unflagging mastery of the brooding, ruminative, intelligent style (kissing kin to Henry James, yet somehow uniquely Taylor’s own) he has cultivated all along. And his people, described by his publisher as “the comfortable society of affluent Tennesseeans,” are as familiar as kinfolk and old friends. But to his world this time he has added, especially in the title story and in “Demons” and “The Witch of Owl Mountain Springs,” elements of supernatural influence on events. The results of this bonding of folk lore and tale to the exploration of manners and codes of behavior are at once surprising and wonderful.

Turkish Delights, by David Slavitt Louisiana $19.95

Poet, translator, novelist, critic, short story writer, Slavitt has already produced close to 50 books and is to be taken as a serious force in contemporary letters. Turkish Delights is Nabokovian in its boldness and ingenuity, telling three linked firstperson stories, widely separated from each other in time. The first is by Selim, son of a Sultan; the second is Pietro, born into a 19th-century family of Venetian nobility; the third is Asher, Jewish writer living now in Cambridge, Mass. Each of these stories is a brilliant stylistic tour deforce in and of itself. Yet the grand sleight of hand, the crowning achievement of this novel is how, near the end, the three separate stories suddenly come together and make good sense in a seamless whole. Witty, graceful, and accessible, this is metafiction with a human face.

Van Gogh’s Room at Aries, by Stanley Elkin. Hyperion $22.95

On any bookshelf of first-rate short fiction, the work of Stanley Elkin must occupy a well defined spot. He’s well past “comic,” and clearly lodged in the midst of “ironic,” tilting very conspicuously toward “sardonic.” This new collection of three novellas is funny, but, like past work, the laughter it evokes is our slightly nervous response to the humor that Elkin’s characters demonstrate in the midst of life’s disasters. The dependent, wheelchairbound Midwestern professor of one story in this group shares too clear to be coincidental life circumstances with Elkin, whose own multiple sclerosis is the most powerful modifier of a tenured life in the academy. We are invited to laugh at the interpersonal clumsiness that disability can evoke, and reminded that the god of Elkin’s literary universe (to whom we were introduced in Elkins’ earlier novel The Living End) is a macabre comedian.

Mystery Ride, by Robert Boswell. Knopf $22

This novel depicts “the inexhaustable mystery of love found and lost” by Stephen, an Iowa farmer, and his ex-wife Angela, a southern California housewife. After a first chapter depicting their newlyweds’ initiation into farm life, cleaning a cellar filled with fetid garbage, we find them 16 years later, divorced, conferring on the phone about how to tame their reckless daughter, Dulcie. She catalyzes much of the action, whether unwittingly tempting her bathrobe-clad, pregnant mother to follow her pack of friends on a 2 a. m. trip to the beach and swim out naked to retrieve her, or necessitating the reunion of her estranged parents. Angela and Steven are charmingly honest, as they struggle to improve themselves, but it is the wild, guileless Dulcie who keeps us up late—reading.

The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx. Scribner’s $20

The Shipping News tells the story of Quoyle, a hack journalist recovering from his wife’s death and betrayal in his newly adopted (but actually ancestral) home, the Newfoundland village of Killick-Claw. Quoyle finds work writing for The Gammy Bird, the local paper whose editor cannily assigns his reporters stories reflecting their deepest fears. But Quoyle and his colleagues brave their bleak inner weather, winning our sympathies with their tenacity and humor. Proulx renders local color with warmth and wit, and her prose rivals Killick-Claw’s weather for vigor.

Mrs. Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh, by Simon Brett. Scribner’s $20

Brett’s send-ups in the past have included package vacation travel and corporate culture, so it isn’t strange to see Mrs. Pargeter, that formidable “lady of a certain age,” accompanying a friend to a health spa. There are all kinds of opportunities for chicanery at a fat farm, and Brett makes the most of it. Strange characters and unknown dead persons abound, as Mrs. Pargeter, with the help of her deceased husband’s business associates—”Ankle-Deep” “Awkright,” “Jack the Knife,” “Stan the Stapler,” and the lugubrious Truffler Mason—skewers the health care industry that is killing its devotees. And as the investigation unfolds, the reader is treated to a wry and funny commentary on modern day foibles.

Question of Proof, by Joseph Amiel. Crown $22

The author is one of a growing list of legal eagles who are diverting their considerable analytical talents to producing bestselling novels on the law and the daily work of lawyers, especially for criminal trials for which the lay public seems to have a special fascination. This riveting tale is one of the very best. It ends with the decision to be made by an attorney faced with the dreadful dilemma of having to choose between his love for justice and his love for a woman he defends against a charge of murder.

The Elephant Vanishes: Stories, by Haruki Murakami. Knopf $21

The narrators in these stories tend to accept what comes, no matter how bizarre, without acting. When a man discovers his wife keeps a shotgun and ski masks in the car, he asks no questions, but shrugs and thinks, “Married life is weird.” When another man realizes he has just passed “the 100% perfect girl” for him on the street, he keeps walking, too ruffled to try to track her down. And when another man teaching in a correspondence school visits a married pupil with a crush on him, they simply eat hamburger steaks and exchange pregnant glances. But despite their passivity, these characters speak with a casual profundity, transforming their seemingly banal stories to parables for our time.

Collected Stories, by Willa Cather. Vintage $14

Spanning more than 50 years of her career, this collection gathers all the stories Gather published during her lifetime, or wanted published posthumously, in book form. Her deftly sketched landscapes seem to shape the characters inhabiting them: Miss Knightly in “The Best Years” dawdles along the dusty, sunflower-bordered roads of southern Nebraska, not because she is “a ‘dreamy’ person, but [because] she is thoughtful and very observing,” while for Paul, the theater-obsessed Pittsburgh teenager in “Paul’s Case,” “a certain element of artificiality seems[s] necessary in beauty.” The wide geographical and social range of these stories is splendidly balanced by the microscopic subtlety with which Gather renders her characters.

Quitter Meridian, by Adam Hall. William Morrow $22

Having survived assassination attempts in 16 previous spy stories, the British super secret agent not surprisingly again prevails in his first post-Cold War confrontation with a Russian-Chinese conspiracy to conquer the democratic Free World. It is a shame that the author’s mastery of espionage techniques combined with a vivid imagination should be marred in this story that reads as though it had been dictated and immediately set in type without the benefit of either any editorial assistance or proofreading. Surely, the publisher will not be so rushed to go to print in the next book in what has been so successful a series in the past.

The Laughing Place, by Pam Durban. Scribner’s $21

In Durban’s engaging and long-awaited first novel, Annie Vess—a widow in her mid-thirties—returns to her family home in South Carolina for her father’s funeral. As painful as this event is for Annie, it pales in comparison to some of her other discoveries, e. g., that her Episcopalian upper-class mother has become a born-again Fundamentalist, that her cousin Mel is about to marry a man whose fidelity is extremely suspect, and that her upstanding father led a double life. Durban excels in land and weather descriptions of the present-day South. Winner of a Rhinehart Award, the author teaches at Georgia State University.

The Grub and Stokers House a Haunt, by Alisa Craig. Morrow $18

What to make of a mystery novel in which a key protagonist is a ghost, one of the characters speaks in “Regency romance” English, and the rest address each other in the most twee fashion imaginable. This is a “cozy” so cloying that it threatens to suffocate the reader.

A Pound of Flesh, by Trevor Barnes. Morrow $20

When the daughter of a British government minister is murdered and mutilated. Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Blanche Hampton believes she has the investigation well in hand. Not until the suspect is jailed and a similar murder takes place, however, does she realize that she’s dealing with something more than a simple domestic killing. This psychological mystery is extremely well-written, even enthralling, but its grisly subject is not for the faint-hearted.

A Shrine of Murders, by C. L. Grace. St. Martin’s $17.95

This mystery introduces the medieval doctor Kathryn Swinbrooke of Canterbury, England. Skilled in the use of herbs and potions, Swinbrooke is called by the city fathers to investigate a series of poisonings. All the victims were pilgrims to Canterbury’s famed cathedral. The only clues found near each body were verses in the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Strong on period detail (Grace is a pseudonym for the historical novelist P. C. Doherty), the book is weak in characterization and plot. The figure of Kathryn, however, is strong enough to merit a look at the next in the series.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSMy Tears Spoiled My Aim: Essays on Southern Culture, by John Shelton Reed. Missouri $17.95

John Shelton Reed, professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina, director of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences, and unsuccessful country song writer, has, with such books as Southern Folk, Plain and Fancy and Whistling Dixie: Dispatches from the South, established himself as a shrewd, clearsighted observer of (and unabashed participant in) the culture and customs of that most perplexing American region, “the South.” This volume is a collection of essays and occasional pieces that he has written over the years, ranging from a sober analysis of Southern women who have been Playmate of the Month (“Playboy’s Southern Exposure”) to a searching study of violence in country music lyrics, “My Tears Spoiled My Aim.” (The latter title taken from a deeply moving, as yet unpublished, song written by Reed.) Remarkably, despite the frivolous sounding titles of both these pieces, they are intelligent—and hilarious—analyses of Southern manners and morals, as is every other essay in the book. Well-written sociology is almost a contradiction in terms, but Mr. Reed, despite an occasional arch slanginess, does come reasonably close to achieving it. Searching social criticism that is not preachy or meretricious is almost equally impossible, yet Mr. Reed seems a master of the art. His aim is true.

The Gnat Is Older Than Man: Global Environment and Human Agenda, by Christopher D. Stone. Princeton $21.95

It would be difficult to find a more balanced appraisal of our global environmental dilemma than Christopher Stone provides in The Gnat is Older Than Man. His first chapter alone is a welcome ray of light into the murky waters of doomsday prediction amidst scientific uncertainty. In the remainder of the book Stone wrestles with the complex questions of how to develop a national policy in the face of global change, how to address “transboundary pollution” while respecting national sovereignty, and how to manage the “global commons”— the air, the seas, and the polar regions. Stone ranges widely through international relations, economics, law, and environmental science to suggest which kinds of institutional responses are appropriate to which kinds of environmental problems. In addition to supporting familiar solutions such as pollution taxes, debt-for-nature swaps, and tradable permits, Stone suggests two new measures: a system of Guardians to represent voiceless groups such as species, and a Global Commons Trust Fund to recognize the cost of abusing common areas and to underwrite the cost of environmental damage.

Play Ball: The Life and Troubled Times of Major League Baseball, by John Feinstein. Villard $22.50

This book is a little like the game of baseball itself. Like the short and furious bursts of activity that follow the natural lulls of the game, Feinstein offers up a repertoire of stories and anecdotes linked desultorily in short chapters that read like a 1—2—3 inning. Using the 1992 season as a framework, he reports the comments of general managers, scouts, managers, coaches, players, and umpires on the state of the game. Feinstein asks the right questions and listens to the answers, with the result that baseball fans, and even those with a mild interest in the game, will get a lot of pleasure from his behind-the-scenes account.

Race in America: The Struggle for Equality, edited by Herbert Hill and James E. Jones, Jr. Wisconsin $45 cloth, $17.95 paper

The 16 essays collected in this volume derive from a University of Wisconsin conference commemorating the 35th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Accordingly, most of them focus on the relationship between public education and the socioeconomic conditions of African Americans—the gains of the school desegregation movement, the reverses of the Reagan years, and the troubling inequalities that remain. There is much incisive analysis here, as well as a sophisticated critique of American racism that these academics and policy experts share. Sadly, they also share pessimism about the wider public’s willingness to take that critique seriously.

The Sacred Cause: Civil-Military Conflict over Soviet National Security, 1917—1992, by Thomas M. Nichols. Cornell $32.50

The Soviet Communists always feared their soldiers and tried to keep them on an extremely short leash—occasionally choking a few thousand top officers in the process, as in Stalin’s horrendous 1937 purge. The West generally accepted the party’s claim that it had tamed the soldiers, but in this important study Nichols, who teaches at Dartmouth, makes an interesting case for a more independent military than anyone would have thought.

Media Circus: The Trouble With America’s Newspapers, by Howard Kurtz. Times Books $25

The author, a journalist, monitors the media scene for The Washington Post. His book assembles a disturbing number of well-researched and effectively narrated stories to the effect that too many contemporary American practitioners of his own profession (including some of his own colleagues at the Post) are falling down on the job, betraying the craft’s ethical standards, and doing a poor job of informing and enlightening readers about public affairs. On the whole, a depressing story, very effectively told.

The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride into the Heart of BCCI, by Jonathan Beaty and S. C. Gwynne. Random House $25

To outdo one another, the numerous authors of books on the rise and fall of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International gotta have a gimmick, as it were. In the case of this book, the gimmick is the emphasis the authors place on the role they personally played, as Time journalists, in uncovering the BCCI story, and particularly its American ramifications. This gives a peculiar structure to the book’s reconstruction of that story, but the liveliness and fullness of the narrative and the wealth of details concerning the practice of highgrade financial journalism more than compensate for that.

Political Leadership in an Age of Constraint: The Australian Experience, by Colin Campbell, S. J. and John Halligan. Pittsburgh $29.95

Did Bob Hawke revitalize Australian politics in substance as well as style? Campbell and Halligan maintain that he did. Not only did he fit “the mould of electronically oriented chief executives,” but he also understood the demands of government in an age of economic and political constraint. He stabilized the social welfare state by a deft appeal to reform instincts among policy-makers and the public. In so doing, he became the one left-of-center survivor in a decade of global conservativism.

The Partial Constitution, by Cass Sunstein. Harvard $35

The organizing principle of American constitutional law is that the government should be impartial. But according to Cass Sunstein, a University of Chicago professor of law and jurisprudence, impartiality has come too often to mean simply favoring the status quo, the existing distribution of wealth and privilege. A more critical understanding of the constitution requires us to discard the notion that the status quo is neutral and admit that the existing distribution of money and power is not a product of nature, but the result of the operation of law—both in defining property and in protecting it from public and private usurpation. From that perspective, a government that argues for noninterference can be understood as favoring the current structures of society, and not exhibiting constitutional impartiality. Sunstein applies this thesis to the current debate over abortion and reproductive rights, freedom of speech, public funding for the arts, and a whole range of issues taken directly from the front pages of today’s news. His analysis is lucid, his argument elegant, his conclusions radical. This is a book that cries out for reading by anyone interested in the role of law and social change, or for that matter, anyone moved enough by the idea of democracy to vote.

The Phantom Public Sphere, edited by Bruce Robbins. Minnesota $49.95 cloth, $18.95 paper

These essays expl


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