The modern discipline of history was professionalized in European and American universities in the late 19th century. George Igger’s latest book traces the development of the discipline from these origins through its most prominent recent changes. In retelling the story of history, Iggers identifies the contributions of German, American, and French historical traditions as well as the changes that followed the discipline’s embrace of quantification, social history, and literary criticism. The history of history, in short, has been a pluralization process. For in addition to its original and still familiar narrative descriptive form, history now is conceived and constructed in numerous ways: each with direct consequences for how historical events and accounts are understood and critiqued.
This book is a fascinating account of the real secret war in the Far East during World War II: a turf battle between at least 20 competing intelligence and military bureaucracies. Rival networks bid for the service of agents, rival operations ran afoul of one another, and Mao’s cadres took advantage of the confusion to penetrate Chinese and Allied intelligence at every level. Drawing on original research in recently opened archives, studded with names, dates, and places, and buttressed with copious footnotes, the book amply documents its conclusion that (appearances notwithstanding) “Wild Bill” Donovan’s OSS operation was “by no means a failure in the China theater.”
The author, best known for his writings on music and translations of modern Italian literature, has written an evocative history of the villa, which was the home of the legendary art critic Bernard Berenson, who bequeathed it to Harvard as a research center. Beautiful photographs of the villa gardens and of works of art in Berenson’s collection are interwoven with a text filled with anecdotes about Kenneth Clark, Edith Wharton, Yehudi Menuhin, and many others. The pages on Berenson and his world are rather more absorbing than those that merely list recent conferences, publications, and scholars in residence.
Rarely in history has a great capital suffered such destruction as Berlin did in the Second World War, and the four and a half decades of conflict and division that followed compounded the misery. The British writer Ann Tusa has carefully researched the available Western archives and picked the minds of the movers and shakers and some ordinary citizens to produce what is likely to be the standard history of the Cold War period for the foreseeable future. Because divided Berlin was a city without much character, it is difficult to breathe much life into the tale, but Ms. Tusa has done a creditable job here.
The current economic growth in China and the resulting increase in military power make Sino-American relations a top priority for the next century. In order to understand the current situations one must understand the past. The legacy of missionaries involved with the imperialism against China in the late 19th and early 20th century is filled with sterotypes. The end of the Cold War and the passing of time require a fresh examination and revision of this crucial part of Chinese and American history. Flint and Berkley fill in the mosaic from the interaction of Alabama missionaries to China. They cover ecumenical relations, theological conflict, shifts in mission philosophy, and secular politics. The section dealing with the Communist takeover is particularly illuminating about the missionaries’ views about the Chinese Communist Party and how the Korean War ended all mission work in China. This work is a valuable resource and suggests an approach to further documenting the history of American missionaries to China. This volume would interest any general reader of the history of missions.
This is the stoiy of the party that lost the struggle for power not in Russia—it was not a serious player—but within the Russian Marxist party. The Mensheviks were in the beginning, Liebich writes, “barely distinguishable” from the Bolsheviks, but after 1903 there arose between the two factions a “succession of binomial oppositions.” Forced into exile in Europe and America, the Mensheviks became a factor—probably less significant than Liebich claims—in the Euro-American social democratic movement. Theirs was a dismal story, but Mr. Liebich has advanced our knowledge of that history with this acute analysis.
Based on heretofore seldom-used sources, the author examines the combat leadership of six generals—three each from the North and South at three levels of command—and argues for the superiority of Union generals in strategy, preparation, and tactics. Although well written, this novel interpretation is not persuasive but sure to stir controversy.
Just as it was absurd to preach the virtues of Christian poverty to the medieval peasant who lived and died in the midst of it, so the picturesque nostalgia of rural England was not a construction of English farmers, but a set of images created by middle-class writers and painters who already saw the village and the land through their own peculiar lenses. In the early 19th century, as the author shows in a new look at Constable, Turner, Tennyson, Bronte, and Eliot, many rural scenes were elevated to national status, whether in the haze of a golden age or as a means of social criticism, so that the English landscape was associated with, and helped to define, the specific qualities of being English. Much of the writing, however, is labored and repetitious, and it does not seem to be out of place to suggest that a revised version of the book would have been just as successful if it had seen the light as a journal article.
Professor Hosking, who teaches at the School of Slavonic Studies of London University, argues that the needs of the empire always took precedence over the demands of the nation in Russia. Thus the concept of “Russianness” was stunted, and that, on top of the enormous gulf between the governors and the governed, produced a state that could not survive the shocks of 1914—1917. All this is fairly standard, but Hosking brings new perspective and judicious editorial restraint to bear and in so doing gives us an excellent survey, one of the best in English.
Midgley’s recent effort is a splendid experiment of social history which explores the many dimensions, never dull, of 18th-century Oxford. Utilizing a rich array of source materials such as student journals, newspaper articles, and disciplinaiy records, Midgley beautifully reconstructs everyday existence in this 18th-century university town. In addition, this book contains many different illustrations which depict the studies and amusements of Oxford dons and students alike. Midgley’s University Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford offers a splendid and enjoyable read and is a needed addition to the corpus of social intellectual, and educational scholarship addressing 18th-century university life in England.
José Ortega y Gasset (1883—1955), founder of the important internationalist journal Revista de Occidente and Spain’s brightest claim to serious philosophy in this century, never finished his 20-year project, the Dawn of Historical Reason (1933—1955). Still, he left behind plenty of work, notes, and parts of that “lost” manuscript, which Graham reconstructs and analyzes in this dense exposition of Ortega’s main theories. For students of history and philosophy.
This academic book relates the cultural shifts and developments in the Reconstruction era and around World War I among Baptists in the South. The book speaks about race and the problems of race in the South, but this is not the real value of the book. It provides a fascinating overview of the shifts in social values and norms in such areas as business, progressivism, and temperance. The author recounts the changes in worship, the ministry, and denominational status and how they changed with Southern society. Harvey does not really cover shifts in theology in any detail, but does mention them where they intersect with his main focus on social issues. A worthwhile volume to borrow and read for those interested in the era.
With “Sovietology” irredeemably condemned to the ranks of failed academic disciplines, the losers and the winners have shifted the ground and changed the rules. In this uneven book of essays, the winners, who sometimes call themselves realists, take on the “revisionists,” the people who praised Bolshevism and regarded it as a routine if stern liberal political movement. There is not much new here, especially in the quasi-revisionist essay by Christopher Read of Warwick, England, but the ongoing mudslinging will amuse some readers.
Rosenfeld assumes the persona of the editor of the Philadelphia Aurora to reveal the “suppressed history of our nation’s beginnings,” serving up heresies like “Washington and Adams were warring against the French Revolution because they were enemies to democracy . . . and . . . Adams, Hamilton and other ‘Federalists’ really wanted an American king.” By baiting the establishment with partisan sniping and courageous misbehavior, the newspaper provoked a reaction which threatened to suffocate the newborn First Amendment in its crib. Similarly Rosenfeld tweaks our conventional notions of historical integrity by blending fact with skewed opinion and philippic, to reproduce the sense of living “in the midst of animosities and during the tumult of passions.” For all its 1,000 pages and 2,000 footnotes this is a lively read, just short of a novel but far beyond a reference book.
Brundage has edited a fine collection of essays that add texture and depth to our historical understanding of lynching. The essays range from sociological explorations of the patterns of lynchings and near-lynchings, to detailed analyses of particular events, to explorations of resistance in the African-American community. Brundage’s introduction is an especially useful discussion of the historiography of lynching, and the dialogue between lynching’s apologists and those who protested against it. Throughout the collection, one is continually reminded of the horror of extra-legal violence, and its use as a tool of racial oppression. Brundage does not claim that this book is the last word on an important topic; he concedes that much research needs to be done. We know little of the contingent nature of extra-legal violence—why some crimes led to lynchings while others did not. We are also just beginning to learn about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which blacks responded to and resisted racial terrorism. Lynchings of other minority groups are only beginning to be explored. Despite these gaps, Brundage’s collection is an important addition to our understanding of lynching in the South.
This synthetic narrative focuses narrowly on the efforts of Northern middle-class women. Both black and white women’s experiences are examined within a 48-year period. The narrative opens in 1828, the year Andrew Jackson was elected President and became an icon of the ascendancy of the common man. In that same year, Elizabeth Elkins Sanders wrote a tract criticizing the expulsion of the Creek and Cherokee from Georgia and arguing for justice for the Native Americans. However, this bit of history does not fit into Matthews’ focus of women’s struggle for their own equality. They advocated equal legal rights in marriage and control over their own bodies and income, access to higher education, and professional opportunities. Throughout my reading of this text I continued to ask: in what ways would dismantling patriarchy affect poor women and women of color? This question goes unanswered. Matthews’ narrative concentrates on equality sought by a select few rather than the differences that equality might have meant for women outside of the woman’s movement circle. As a point of closure the 1876 Women’s Declaration of Rights begs another question left unanswered: did this document speak for all women? Matthews’ work provides a succinct look at the efforts of a privileged group of women who worked toward equal rights for themselves. But what of the “unprivileged”?
This useful study is the first systematic attempt to determine both the extent of Fielding’s command of Latin and Greek and the influence of the classical authors on his practice as a novelist. Among the more interesting of Mace’s conclusions is that, despite Fielding’s claims to the contrary, Lucian was unimportant to him. Least convincing is her notion that, because they seem to her pretentious and arrogant in displaying their learning, Parson Adams and Dr. Harrison are unsympathetic characters. Among the considerable virtues of Mace’s study is that, against the current of recent criticism, it reminds us that the classical tradition, far from being an irrelevancy, contributed in important ways to the rise of the novel.
Who could imagine growing up in a world without Peter Rabbit or the Wizard of Oz? And yet, had the authors of these well-loved children’s books—along with literary giants the likes of Jane Austen, George Orwell, and James Joyce—taken “No” for an answer, some of the best-known works in the English language would never have seen the light of day. Unpublishableis unlikely to change the course of Western literature. Still, this little book achieves its modest goal: serving as an inspiration to writers struggling to keep up their spirits in the face of discouraging words from publishers.
If you like your Shakespeare discussed in terms of “a socializing, customary society founded on a logic of communicative competence with a telos of intersubjective understanding,” then by all means rush right out and buy this book. In fact, it is a reasonably intelligent and intermittently illuminating discussion of several of Shakespeare’s plays, including Othelloand King Lear. The problem is that Grady insists on translating his insights into Shakespeare into the deadening jargon of 20th-century theorists such as Foucault, Horkheimer, Adorno, and Habermas. The resulting contrast between the soaring poetry of Shakespeare and the clotted prose in which it is discussed is almost too painful to bear. Moreover, Grady’s supreme confidence in his theoretical hipness eventually begins to grate. He talks patronizingly of the way Robert Heilman discussed King Lear “in classical, highly moralizing New Critical fashion,” but Grady has his own axe to grind, and indeed his readings of Shakespeare end up sounding just as preachy in their own way, only Grady is now giving a postmodernist sermon. The fact that Grady comes to the—for him convenient— conclusion that “Shakespeare appears to already be something of a post-structuralist avant la lettre” should give him pause. He is no less a creature of his time than were the earlier critics he disparages.
Edward Mendelson is the literary executor of the Auden estate. This volume is the third installment in the series “The Complete Works of W.H.Auden.” The collection contains all the essays and reviews that Auden wrote during the years when he was living in England and also includes the full original versions of his two illustrated travel books, Letters from Iceland and Journey to a War. It includes studies of communism and Christianity, wide-ranging essays on literature, psychology, and politics; and writings about gossip, sex, prisons, and schools. The editor’s notes, which number roughly 100 pages, helpfully guide us through Auden’s references and include explanations of contemporary and private allusions.
Published in Venice in the middle years of the 16th centuiy, this dialogue between Tullia and the Florentine writer Benedetto Vaschi is an amalgam of Platonic and Aristotelian essays on love, which reflects a tradition stemming from Ficino, Bembo, and Castiglione. The author, a well-known courtesan of the day, is typical of the learned courtesan poets and musicians in Venice. Her theory of art is relevant to the sensuous art of Venice, especially the work of Titian, who similarly celebrates the ideals of love.
This work represents over a decade of critical interventions by eminent Shakespeare critic Harry Berger. The 14 essays collected here constitute an intensely theoretical encounter with the Bard’s plays, drawing evenly from materialist and psychoanalytic approaches to such plays as The Merchant of Venice, Macheth, King Lear, and Much Ado about Nothing. Berger’s concern is always to elucidate the ethical systems that the plays put into motion and opposition.
Despite the awkward and inaccurate title, this book is a serious, well-informed, and intelligent commentary on the difficulties encountered in producing the authentic edition of a literary text. By showing the ways in which editors have offered different readings of specific passages, whether each was thought to represent the author’s intent or to fulfill the reader’s expectations, Marcus draws attention to the inherent instability of historical interpretations. Printed editions of the authors in question are read to reveal that what has often been viewed as the orthodox meaning has in fact been the result of relatively recent scholarly emendation in promoting the illusion of the infallible text.
It is impossible here adequately to convey the importance of this work to Fielding studies. It consists chiefly of an alphabetized “reference catalogue” of specific editions comprising the 664 lots offered for sale at the auction of Fielding’s library in 1755.Of the five sections into which each entry is divided, three will be invaluable to anyone interested in the content and intellectual character of works that reveal Fielding’s interests and that influenced his thought: for each the Ribbles provide a transcription of the title page; information about the author and the work; and a full list of references to the author and/or work in Fielding’s writings. Since the Ribbles intend this book as a general guide to Fielding’s reading, they go well beyond the works named in the auction catalogue: also included in the list are “supplementary” works which Fielding is known to have read but which are missing from the auction catalogue. The Introduction contains an illuminating analysis of Fielding’s reading; and an appended index of printers, publishers, and booksellers will be a boon to students of printing history.
The subject of this study is narrower than the title suggests. Owen focuses on the 54 new or revised plays which appeared during the “Exclusion Crisis” of 1678—1681.She examines “Whig plays,” “Tory plays,” and “city dramas” and shows how authors such as Behn, Dryden, D’Urfey, Otway, Shadwell, and Tate responded to and commented on the political events of the day. Owen’s critical approach might be characterized as a blend of old and new historicism. She is more interested in sex, politics, and tropes than most old historicists, but she is less taken with theoretical jargon than many new historicists. Her book provides a well researched, carefully balanced, and surprisingly readable survey of a brief but tumultuous era in the history of the English stage.
Wallace very deftly shows how 14th-century London, as measured by its artistic production, was, in spirit, very much like Trecento Italy (as embodied in such poets as Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio). Wallace takes apart the usual distinctions and chronologies—Medieval, Renaissance, Humanist—in order to lay bare Chaucer’s poetic and political project in the Canterbury Tales. The readings offered here are usually fresh and always insightful.
As well as providing helpful information about important places and personalities, this dictionary is particularly concerned to expound the themes and doctrines of the Bible and to indicate their status in the light of modern scholarship. With more than 2,000 entries drawn from Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, it ranges from the earliest period to the beginning of the second century. It features clear explanations of technical terms, methods of interpretation, and critical analysis, as well as notes on leading Biblical scholars and their contributions. In addition to maps, the appendices include tables of weights and measures and important dates in Biblical history. This would make an excellent gift to a college student.
A lucid introductory overview of the separate but overlapping projects and achievements of three major novelists of the Indian diaspora. This is part of a growing, important body of criticism focussing on a postcolonial, multifaceted world. The multi-cultural world figures often, but with surprisingly thoughtful remarks, concluding with Gorra’s “Notes towards a Redefinition of Englishness.” His unpretentious prose illuminates the general state of the debate. Recommended.
Rousseau is one of the most fascinating and complicated of philosophers, and this volume succeeds admirably in illuminating the many facets of his thought. The essays deal with such diverse topics as Rousseau’s view of the middle class, his critique of the role of art in society, his relation to German idealism, his contribution to the understanding of international relations, and his reshaping of traditional concepts of virtue. The great French historian, Francois Furet, provides a particularly revealing analysis of “Rousseau and the French Revolution,” concluding, contrary to common opinion, that “there is not much of T7te Sockff Confmcf in the French Revolution.” All the contributors to the volume were friends and associates of Allan Bloom and some were his students; indeed, if not for his death in 1992, Bloom would have presided over the conference that led to this volume. Accordingly it can serve as one of several memorials to his influence in the contemporary intellectual world, not just to his helping to reawaken interest in Rousseau but more generally to his setting an example of how to engage seriously and productively with the thought of the past.
Howard Erskine-Hill is at the heart of a furious debate about 18th-century politics. He and other scholars, including J.C.D.Clark, argue that Jacobitism was a much more powerful movement than modem historians and critics have assumed. In the first three quarters of this book Erskine-Hill argues that three of the greatest English poets—Dryden, Pope, and Johnson—wrote Jacobite or “crypto-Jacobite” poetry. In the last quarter of the book Erskine-Hill analyzes the influence of the French Revolution on Wordworth’s Prelude. Some specialists will disagree with what Erskine-Hill has to say about these four poets and their politics, and some generalists will wonder if he is not making too much of brief and sometimes cryptic allusions, but there are few scholars who will deny that this volume and its prequel, Poetry and the Realm of Politics: Shakespeare to Dryden, constitute a provocative yet scholarly contribution to our understanding of the political tradition in English poetry.
A skilled, sagacious biographer of American and British writers (i.e., Hemingway, Fitzgerald, D.H.Lawrence), the prolific Meyers has now turned his talented eye on Hollywood and produced a biography of one of the greatest stars of them all—Humphrey Bogart. And what a life it was: the son of a doctor and a pandering mother, U.S.Navy service in World War I, the glitter and glitz of Broadway in the roaring 20’s, the bad guy of Warner Brothers’ movies in the 30’s, and a cinematic icon during the 40’s and 50’s. Bogie’s personal life was sometimes as stressful as his career was successful, as two failed marriages attest. But he found Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not and went on to have and to hold for the rest of his rather short life, dying of cancer in 1957.Meyers tells it all and tells it quite well indeed. He recaptures both Bogart the man and Bogart the quintessential actor. His was a life worth living, and Meyers’ book is a biography equally worth reading.
It is difficult to think of any pair of siblings more influential in the history of American arts and letters. Each in his own way was something of an intellectual star; that William and Henry James were biologically related only increases their allure. Their letters to one another between the years of 1861 and 1910 display the signs and symbols of unusual intelligence we might expect. They are a delight to read. There is the appeal of gossip here as well, insofar as some of the missives contain the acrimonious tone of a family quarrel. The thoughtful inclusion of a biographical register makes it easier to catch the many references to people in these letters, which not only shed light on the personal concerns of their authors but also instruct us with the insights and advice they impart.
The duration of the Cold War (1947—89) corresponded to more than one-fifth of U.S. history to that point. George F.Kennan, the author of the Long Telegram in 1946, believed as early as 1944 that containment should have come sooner. With the brutal suppression of the Warsaw Uprising and Soviet refusal of FDR’s request for the use of Soviet airfields to help the Poles, a change in policy was required. Stalin’s refusal to cooperate with the U.S.was the first clear sign the Soviets sought domination of all Eastern and Central Europe. By 1945 the era of goodwill had ended. Kennan realized that Russia was still ruled by a Communist tyrant. He believed that containment would eventually lead to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the heart of Europe. His views corresponded to the change in American policy which had consequences for world politics, the American economy, and the fate of Europe. The book is a little gem of diplomatic history. It contains the best analysis of the idea of containment.
The life of the woman who defined an era makes lively reading in the hands of this accomplished “historical storyteller.” Erickson hews close to her primary interests: Victoria’s relationships with her trying mother, her saintly husband, her nine children (and innumerable grand- and great-grandchildren), and the assorted ministers and aides who helped her reign over the British Empire for more than six decades. Victoria emerges as a figure of vast personal strengths (fortitude and forthrightness chief among them) only slightly marred by her legendary stubborn and willful nature. Especially intriguing is the story of Victoria’s unhappy early life (she was essentially a prisoner in the palace) and the blossoming of her life upon her marriage to Albert. Without sacrificing scholarly standards, Erickson sketches the life of a remarkable woman in under 300 pages.
Snyder was an English professor at Colgate University with books to his credit and teaching awards, a beautiful old house which comfortably housed his wife and four small children, and the perks and honors that normally acrue to a successful academic. Then he was fired. The book he has written about his subsequent two-year struggle to understand that fact is a painful one (particularly for another academic), because it is so unflinchingly honest. Without a trace of selfpity, Snyder describes his vain attempts to get another teaching job, his descent into a kind of twilight of disbelief and loss of faith in himself, and then his recovery through a stint as a carpenter’s laborer. Snyder may not be much of a carpenter, as he himself admits, but he has written a wonderful and moving memoir.
Witty and wise (if not always profound), this is old-fashioned history at its most elegant and readable. There is no psycho-babble or socialscientology in this biography; Lord Jenkins portrays his subject with empathy and appreciation. The political career is best handled, especially in its parliamentary elements, as one might anticipate given Lord Jenkins’ pedigree. Highly recommended.
The author is a master of the psychoanalytic biography, who has cast a spell over readers of her works on Freud, J. A. Symonds, Melanie Klein, and Havelock Ellis; her subject is a figure who has enchanted a legion of biographers. The conjunction here is the vivid account of an ever elusive figure who embodied the romantic and the revolutionary, whose life is the paradigm of the erotic artist, matched only by Picasso’s. The narrative is brisk, the subject, however familiar, is enthralling, and there are a few surprises to boot!
Palazchenko was the chief interpreter for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze from 1985 to 1991. Eyewitness to history in the making, he was present at the Reykjavik, Malta, and Moscow “summits” of those years at which the Soviet and American leaders interred the Cold War. Self-effacing and unobtrusive, as the job demanded, he brought a high degree of professionalism and enormous tact, not to mention a sound knowledge of history, to his work. This is a splendid memoir by one of the key staff members.
Since we are now celebrating the 200th anniversary of the great composer’s birth, marked by whole concert programs known as Schubertias, this is a timely book. It combines biography and close musicological analysis of the works, reflecting as well the latest scholarship on Schubert’s love-life and religious views. Particularly notable is the author’s attempt to look at Schubert’s songs, not in isolation, but in relation to the entire oeuvre. If Schubert was “prolific to a fault,” we are grateful for the overflow of great works justly celebrated in this searching, critical biography.
Part of the fun of reading biographies of intellectuals is pondering anew an old debate: should our opinion of the artist guide our opinion of his art? Nietzsche insisted that it should, but his is practically a lone voice in this matter. Recent controversies over the work of anti-Semites like Heidegger, Celine, and de Man have brought into focus the consensus that a terrible person can make a profoundly worthwhile contribution to culture. The great literary critic Leavis was no anti-Semite, but he was often considered a terrible person—almost as terrible as his contumacious wife. In this well-written work, Ian MacKillop ably explains how and to what extent Leavis enriched the study of English literature at the institution that justly lays claim to more of the greatest poets and essayists in our language than any other, Cambridge University. It seems clear enough from MacKillop’s record that Leavis was not a man capable of making lemonade when life gave him lemons. How a man gifted with such a keen intelligence could bumble through personal relations and social interactions so regularly remains baffling. That question, together with MacKillop’s meticulous research, animates this genuinely interesting study.
The author of this inspiring autobiography is a psychiatrist who will be esteemed as a great humanitarian for having introduced the Hospice concept to the United States which has brought inner peace and comfort to the tens of thousands of terminally ill Americans and members of their immediate families. But additionally, in the course of her professional career, she became an international expert who revolutionalized the way the medical world regarded death and dying, through her private practice, teaching, speeches, books, and articles on the subject. Facing her own fatal illness at the age of 71, she now shares her personal spiritual transformation with us. The reading of this remarkable book, if you accept her message of love and hope, may well constructively change your own life.
The editors have succeeded in making accessible the journal of the first governor of Massachusetts. They have distilled the most important issues and discussions of Winthrop’s day. The journal provides an insight into the Puritan mind, especially its sense of Providential design in human history. The internal civil and religious tensions brought on by the uncontrollable growth of separatist communities in the wildernesses of North America provided grist for Winthrop’s historical mill. He also traced the relationships of the English colonists to their native, Dutch, and French neighbors. This edition of Winthrop’s journal provides an excellent primary source for undergraduate courses and anyone interested in the early history of New England.
This wonderfully encyclopedic book offers succinct portraits of genuises from the 20th century who have each had a significant impact on philosophy, art, and science. Profiled here are such figures as Freud, Seurat, Max Planck, Bertrand Russell, Joyce, Kandinsky, and Schoenberg. What Everdell seeks in these profiles is a way of understanding the origins of atomistic and disjunctive thinking and its impact on contemporary structures of cognition. This book will surely appeal to anyone interested in better understanding the origins of modernity.
James Mallory was a Baptist farmer of Talladega County, Alabama, who detailed family matters, local conditions, and national affairs in the weather and agricultural diary he kept for 34 years, recording the hand of God in his life. The brief daily entries provide readers with a view of the spiritual and material life of a progressive middle-class slaveholder from the antebellum boom years of the Southern cotton economy through the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Mallory was a Whig and a Unionist who supported the Confederacy economically, saw his three sons go off to fight with Lee’s army, and viewed military defeat and Radical Reconstruction as God’s punishment “to make us humble and subservient to him.” Annotations are informative but would be more useful at the end of each yearly chapter or as footnotes instead of endnotes.
Over the course of the past decade Christina Rossetti has emerged as a Victorian author of major importance. Her devotees will no doubt greet this first collection of her letters ever with great enthusiasm. This lovely edition sheds new light on the everyday life of a writer all too often stereotyped as a recluse and still seen by some in the shadow of her brothers. The 30 years covered in this first volume were in many ways the most eventful in her life. Of its 536 letters, more than 300 are to friends and acquaintances during her most intensely social period. The letters also reveal intimate details of the Rossetti’s family life: we find her brother Dante Gabriel’s praise and criticism of his sister’s work and evidence of her caring presence after his suicide attempt. The editor has enormously simplified the task of understanding Christina Rossetti with his introduction, chronology, and indices.
Ward Just has finally returned to Washington, his richest mine of fictional ore. This he transmutes into a potent multi-generational narrative, deploying techniques he has perfected over a generation of experiment. In a prologue rivaling any of Balzac’s, Just infuses a rich historical and architectural particularity with metaphors invented and placed to suggest the essence of what follows: not only the motivation, contours, and meaning of events, but the plight of characters, who can neither escape the world of power they have embraced nor overcome their arrogant self-delusion. Like Edith Wharton, Just displays this world as a closed, dense, but imperfectly integrated culture, isolated from its dependencies and tragically narcissistic. Unlike Balzac or Wharton, however, Just dispenses with the full telling of his story, and zeros in on key, often widely separated dialogues in which his creatures choose, ventilate and rationalize, or tortuously reflect. The reader must reconstruct intervening actions, passions, and thought from the narrator’s references—or from the characters’ remembrance and commentary, which are frequently limited or unreliable. Hence the dust jacket copy is ludicrously wrong: Echo House is anything but a “huge, sprawling, panoramic epic about dubious deeds in high places.” Instead, it is the highly distilled, introspective account of a flawed collective moral disposition, its tangled causes and its checkered effects. Echo House is also the masterwork of Ward Just’s late maturity.
“A dynamic thriller,” “a clever and unsettling thriller,” “a genuine news thriller,” all these phrases are used to describe this novel in various reviews. So what is the key word here? “Thriller,” of course, which aptly describes the book, and explains why the film rights are already sold (rumor has it that the main character, journalist Eric Truell, will be played by Tom Cruise). The “thriller’s” hero is a new switch since he is a newspaper reporter with traveling stints to Paris and China and a crossover into the spy world which makes for an exciting and “unsettling” story. With climbs out hotel windows in Montreal, sleeps in parks, and even a little romance with a TV personality, the hero does it all and it is fun—even more fun than a couple of the latest Grisham “thrillers.” And it will be a fun movie!
The one novella and nine stories that make up this collection simply show a master at work. In this her 14th book, Gilchrist will be courting new fans and satisfying old ones. The novella, “Nora Jane and Company” continues to chart the travails of Nora Jane, who first posed as a nun in a robbery and later managed to birth twin girls from different fathers. One shows up unexpectedly in a biazzre twist that opens up the plot of the work. Then Gilchrist takes up a terroriststyle murder carried out by a Muslim sect. That she then drops it like a hot potato is less troubling than it would be for a writer less skilled. The author has moved on, clearly, to the next story. And her aim is always true. The social commentary she offers is subtle but nonetheless skewers current educational practices with pokes like this: “I don’t like her taking Ritalin. I don’t think they ought to be giving her drugs . . .”I’m about sick of this multicultural stuff . . . All we do is waste time. “The remaining short stories mostly tackle the adventures of adulterous rich white women in the South. And if it’s more of the same, so be it.
Pérez-Reverte has suddenly become one of Spain’s top-selling novelists (more than two million copies of his suspense novels have been sold world-wide), and The Club Dumas provides ample evidence for his popularity. This “literary thriller” combines book lovers and would-be assassins, beautiful women and mysterious happenings, a secret society of Alexandre Dumas admirers and a work banned by the Inquisition in the 17th century because of its association with the Devil. Fast-paced, well-written, and superbly plotted, this novel should introduce the author to a new generation of readers. Translated by Sonia Soto.
Once you know that Texaco is a village in Martinique, this excellent novel reveals from its title on its primary concern and theme: the effects of colonialism on life, language, and selves. Chamoiseau, who wrote the novel in French, brings to mind Garcia Marquez in Latin America and John Edgar Wideman in the U.S., because he has written a self-consciously postmodern novel that asks to be treated as both literature and protest (if you assume that these are necessarily in conflict). Like Wideman, Chamoiseau explores the effects of language and story both on the oppressed characters, who are trying to throw off the shackles that using the enslaver’s language forges and make their own stories, and the readers, who, perhaps trained to escape into stories, will find that their sophisticated acts of reading force them to confront profound truths about the real, modern world, truths rooted in history but still living in current selves. But the novel, like many documents of post-colonial, post-enslavement storytellers, oral and written, is a joyful celebration of cultural vitality, pure life that survives the worst oppressions. (Translated from French and Creole by Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov.)
I can’t quite make out what Muriel Spark is up to in this book. The novel is ostensibly about a successful film director whose older daughter threatens to become his nemesis. Neither he nor his wife have ever been able to bring themselves to like this daughter, but the narrator assures us that the daughter’s unpleasantness is not their fault, calling the daughter a “natural disaster.” Yet we are offered, without comment, a scene in which her father calls her up in the middle of the night to harrangue her for being flat-chested. Under the circumstances, her identification with workers who are “made redundant” (British for down-sized) seems positively noble. And yet the narrator seems determined to present her parents as blameless. Something is fishy here. Muriel Spark has always written about good and evil, and though she does not oversimplify, she always gives the impression that she knows each when she sees it. However, I would rather be confused by a Muriel Spark novel than reassured by many another.
All of these stories appeared at different times in The New Yorker, and it is a delightful experience to be able to peruse them as a collection. Hecht’s style is conversational, accessible, and, best of all, funny. But these stories are not simply light entertainment. They are profound musings on the state of modern American culture. Hecht addresses what for her are some of the simple questions of our time: do the windows open? What is a tomato? And in doing so, she leads us into her view of what it means to negotiate the rocky shores of life in America. Along the way, Hecht shows us how vulgar, crass, and just plain stupid American culture can be. But her own bemused, and at times disgusted reactions, reassure us that there are some sane, and very funny, individuals out there who haven’t lost hope.
This ambitious novel about art begins in the studio of Michelangelo and leaps forward to New York, Paris, and San Francisco in the 20th century. Along the way we encounter Gertrude Stein and Mary Cassatt. The play of fact and fantasy here is strained, the prose wooden. Obviously inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, this contrived, if not plodding, series of tales lacks the lyrical beauty and depth of Woolf’s exemplary fiction.
This so-called thriller from best-selling writer Reed is so transparent and thrill-less as to be practically DOA.A Boston lawyer sues a psychiatrist and the hospital in which he practices on behalf of a tennis star who attempted suicide while in his care. The plotting is careless, the characters are wooden and in some cases unbelievable, the courtroom scenes reveal nothing new, and the overall effect is one of a writer who is racing to get something down on paper, however slapdash. You want a courtroom drama? Try To Kill a Mockingbird.
Acts of Love is a story about a once-famous actress, Jessica Fontaine, disfigured in a terrible train wreck, who slowly makes her way back into the theater with the help of a good man’s love. That, unfortunately, is the lion’s share of the plot, which becomes entirely predictable within the first 100 pages or so. I found myself wondering how the author was going to stretch the resolution of the story to fill 375 pages. Perhaps the plot’s predictability would not have been so frustrating had not the characters seemed so silly. Clearly, the reader was supposed to admire their strengths and sympathize with their failings, yet I found myself feeling that much of the plot could have been avoided with the early intervention of a social worker soon after Jessica’s accident (which, incidentally, happened before the beginning of the book). Though the parts of the book which discussed the process of bringing a play to the stage were interesting, the interactions of the main characters remained unsatisfying. This book might provide good reading for the beach, especially if one is watching the children, but at best, it is only a mediocre read.
The author fled to Florida to avoid the tryanny of Fidel Castro. This is his second novel and it presents a fascinating and panoramic picture of prewar and postwar Communistic life in the Caribbean island. The names of true persons, such as C.I.A.agent William Morgan who saved the life of Che Guevaras but was later himself executed by the revolutionaries, are interspersed with fictitious persons who permeate the book. Since most of us are barred by American law from visiting Cuba, we may enjoy that experience vicariously by reading this powerful and superb story that appears to be authoritative.
Jack is a campus cop at one of those small liberal arts colleges that dot the landscape of upper New York State. His compensation includes one free course per year, which gives him a second, even more tenuous connection to the college as a part-time student. Jack lives a similarly marginal personal life. He is all but estranged from his wife Fanny, and both are emotionally numb in the aftermath of the sudden death of an infant daughter. Bereft of feeling, they absorb and then regenerate the constant cold of an unrelenting winter. Jack’s Sisyphean fate is to be the rescuer of girls, other people’s children, at risk in a world in which winter is a fact as well as a metaphor. He repeats this role, rescuing other girls, renewing his penance for failing to save his own daughter. This is the 18th novel for Frederick Busch, English teacher at Colgate and former director of the Iowa Writers Workshop. He transplants his main character Jack, along with Jack’s unnamed Labrador “Dog” from an earlier collection of short stories, Absent Friends. This reincarnation allows Busch to work out all Jack’s contempt for the protected academic life, where children are sent to the privileged precincts of college as “winter camp for the overindulged.” Busch has written a novel of middle age, portraying a world where evil and innocence are mingled in inextricable ways. He struggles to keep the evil at bay while remaining sensitive to the innocence.
This is a readable translation of a fascinating novel by a former Viet Cong army courier on the Ho Chi Minh trail. A vivid picture of the vast dislocation in Vietnamese culture caused by the military forces during the war and the turmoil thereafter in the postwar peace.
Williams has written a distaff version of Tom Jones, a long and rollicking tale of an 18th-century South Carolina planter family. Written with affection and good humor, it is narrated by the unflappable Henry Hawthorne, a family servant, who provides the calm moral center around which the giddy Dorset family, and the adventurous Jenny, revolve. Set at the time of the American Revolution, the story is full of horse opera characters, slapstick, running gags, odd circumstances, and fanciful plot turns. Given the tone of light hearted romp, it is probably a good thing that reality—in the form of Indians, slaves, and the poor—appears only tangentially, and no one should mistake this novel for historical fiction. It is, however, as close as you can get to family entertainment these days.
The 50-odd years since the Manhattan project have seen the transformation of American higher education, in terms of public and private spending, umber of students served, faculty hired, and monographs and journal articles published. The authors of this volume show that the establishment of research universities, so much a part of this process, has fundamentally altered the academic hierarchy of the U.S.The old elites have been challenged and, in certain cases, overtaken. Or have they? Even by the new rigorous quantitative standards employed by the authors to measure achievement, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Princeton remain in the top 15 of private and public colleges; moreover, in terms of reputation, they remain supreme. It is true that some colleges, notably Caltech and UC-Berkely have joined these hallowed ranks. Yet the reality is that the cachet of the old, and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, have ensured