Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Spring 1978

ISSUE:  Spring 1978

W. J. Bate is at his best when his subject resembles himself. His moving (if not wholly convincing) portraits of Keats and Coleridge follow one pattern: a man writes because of the same anguish that nearly drives him to suicide; out of psychic weakness, artistic strength. In Johnson, however, Bate has found a subject who truly fits his psychic model, so that all Bate’s splendid narrative and interpretive talents here cooperate to produce the best biography of Johnson since Boswell. In some respects, Bate excels Boswell; he is a better literary critic, and we now know more than Boswell did about Johnson’s troubled childhood. And if Bate, a Romantics scholar, remains insensitive to much of Johnson’s Augustan context and values, he more than makes up for this in literary and psychological insight and in the infectious brilliance of his prose.

Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet, by James Atlas. Farrar, Straw & Giroux $15

A detailed biography of Schwartz is certainly in order—his poetry demands an intimate knowledge of his personal heritage and career. For the writers of his generation, especially for Berryman, Lowell, and Bellow, Schwartz had a dark mythological significance, and this biography gives us an objective look at the facts and events of his life. Atlas has properly referred to Schwartz’s extensive unpublished manuscripts and journals to flesh out his long downhill career after the publication of his first and only successful book, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Atlas does not, however, describe convincingly Schwartz’s turbulent later years of mental illness. The fragments quoted from late works are much more resonant and compelling than Atlas credits. This biography, eminently readable, is respectfully and academically distanced from any significant grappling with the contradictions of Schwartz’s life as an American poet.

The Young Mazarin, by Georges Dethan. Thames and Hudson $16.95

Mazarin was one of the greatest letter-writers of all time, yet little of his correspondence has been published. Georges Dethan has read through much of this unpublished material and, in this translation of his Mazarin et Ses Amis, tells of Mazarin’s relations with family, patrons, and powerful employers. Oddly, Mazarin himself is the hollow center of this book, which has much more to say about all those who came into his orbit than about the future first minister of France.

A Fine Old Conflict, by Jessica Mitford. Knopf $10

Blood will tell! An Honorable in her own right, the daughter of an earl, the sister of a duchess, and also of the author of “U and Non-U, ” Miss Mitford here outlines her flirtation with the Communist Party in this country. It is a marvelously high-spirited account, and her sense of the absurd must have been a very great thorn in the side of the party’s solemn rulers. She and her husband finally became apostates, an action which seems to have increased her very upper-class and very British sense of detachment from the foibles of “the others. ” Nevertheless, she was genuine, if irreverent, in her devotion to party matters during her membership, a quality which makes it easy for her to convince us that the party may be less sinister than we think. In any case she has given us a book full of surprises, good writing, and almost no dialectics.

Infants of the Spring, by Anthony Powell. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $10.95

This is the first volume in a series of memoirs entitled To Keep the Ball Rolling; the titles come from Shakespeare and Conrad, respectively. This fact is telling.

Most that is memorable is derived: other men’s witticisms, other men’s adventures, the force of other men’s characters. The portraits of Orwell and Connolly stand out, Bowra and Henry Green disappoint. But far from a tale told by an idiot savant, here are reminiscences of a seasoned novelist, full of years and clear memories, surrounded by the ghosts of famous friends, speaking over port beside a wood fire. Let me suggest that there are much worse ways to spend an evening.

Wagner and His World, by Charles Osborne. Scribner’s $8.95

As biographies and critical studies become increasingly prolix and esoteric, a need develops for slim, introductory volumes for the layman that provide something of the essence of a topic in a literate manner that sacrifices the excess baggage of documentation without sacrificing scholarship, accuracy, and intelligence. Osborne’s 119-page study neatly fills the bill here, offering an accurate, reflective summarization of the life and music of a complex composer whose professional achievements and personal peculiarities are as controversial today as they were a century ago.

When We Went First Class: A Recollection of Good Times, by Ellen Williamson. Doubleday $7.95

The past usually represents good times, but in this case the times were splendid indeed. The heir to great wealth, Mrs. Williamson, with no boasting but great panache, gives us a record of her Mid-western childhood, her traveled adolescence, and her early married years. Even during the depressed thirties, she had enough cash to live well, so that she is full of stories of unbelievable comforts and coddlings, all of which seem to have disappeared today. As social history, her memoirs are invaluable, since it is the fashion now to record the poor but seldom the rich. But, containing humor, a style of great interest, and immense common sense, her story transcends most sociological writing.

Four Women: Living the Revolution: An Oral History of Contemporary Cuba, by Oscar and Ruth Lewis and Susan M. Rigdon. Illinois $15

This book is based upon work that was done in Cuba in 1969 and 1970. It follows the style set in the Children of Sanchez and La Vida. Although the four women were from different backgrounds, each has managed to escape the traditional female sex roles and become part of the revolutionary movement in Cuba. Four Women is part of a triology which includes Four Men (1977) and Neighbors, to be published in 1978.

Sylvia Plath: The Woman & The Work, edited with an introduction by Edward Butscher. Dodd, Mead $8.95

Considering that this is Butscher’s second volume on Plath and that he is always a bit too eager to overpraise her talent and emphasize the pathos of her plight, this collection of essays and personal remembrances presents a fairly balanced view. Irving Howe’s “partial dissent” from the celebration of the Plath cult is worth reading; so is Arthur Oberg’s essay, “The New Decadence. ” Joyce Carol Oates on the “death throes of Romanticism” is quite interesting, as is Marjorie Perloff’s criticism. Butscher’s introduction calls attention, among other things, to the disturbed relationship with her mother (illustrated by Letters Home, 1975), an influence which must now be rated equally as powerful as the legendary effect of her father’s death. This investigation of the real Sylvia and her work exposes her contradictory personality, her pervasive narcissism, her relentless ambition, and her Gothic vision of life.

Part of My Life: The Memoirs of a Philosopher, by A. J. Ayer. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $14.95

The author of Language, Truth, and Logic gives himself a disarmingly low rating as a philosopher and proceeds in this charmingly written account of his first 36 years to tell us what really mattered to him: his friends (seemingly every major British thinker then living), his politics (Labour), and wartime adventures (for a time he lived and gave parties in Guy de Rothschild’s house on the Avenue Foch). Ayer’s love of movies takes pride of place above his endeavors in philosophy, and though he does recount the oddities of Gilbert Ryle, Russell, and Wittgenstein, his best friend was e. e. cummings. Ayer’s gossip is excellent, his self-recreation fascinating.

Wit’s End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table, by James R. Gaines. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

In the early twenties, a rotating group of bright, young, and often caustic writers formed the habit of lunching together at the Algonquin Hotel. Already noted as a theatrical hotel, the management of the Algonquin soon reserved each day a special round table for the writers who, in their various capacities, could publicize both the hotel and its residents.

This was a heady experience for the group, which went from one-upmanship to inflated egos, to attempts at monarchical edicts. Before it broke up in a few years, it included such people as Dorothy Parker, Franklin P. Adams, George S. Kaufman, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Wollcott. Mr. Gaines has meshed their stories as individuals and as a group with superb skill; he does not tire the reader with long quotations of “wit, ” and he has used a mass of extremely interesting photographs. And, finally, the book has been carefully designed to reflect its period, which is, of course, the presently popular art deco.

Charles V, by Manuel Fernandez Alvarez. Thames and Hudson $16.95

It is fitting that a distinguished Spanish historian assess this remarkable monarch for an historical series that intends to illuminate the importance of social and individual pressure as well as the climate of opinion on the use of power by famous office holders. If Charles arrived in Spain a foreign claimant of a vast legacy, he and Spain grew together into a remarkable force for the prosecution of an attempt at enlightened international dominion. This account is more sensitive to the influence of Spanish temperament than any previous book-length study in English, insofar as this intangible element informs the bare facts of Spanish and Imperial politics, to which nothing very new is contributed here. But this intangible element is of such importance as to make of this excellent short biography a very fine book indeed. It suffers only from a certain clumsiness in translation that sets rich and well-organized narrative in rather pedestrian syntax, correct but inelegant wording.

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Volume 25: July 1800-April 1802, edited by Harold C. Syrett. Columbia $20

Much of the record of Hamilton’s distaste for John Adams and his attacks on Aaron Burr during the election of 1800 is contained in this volume, consisting both of private letters and polemical essays. These writings, ominously suggestive of the outspoken opinions that would ultimately cost Hamilton his life, also speak sagely of the futility of Hamilton’s values and ideals, of the growing isolation of a man out of step with his nation, his party, and all but a few of his friends. Private matters, including the death of his son Philip in a political duel, the improvements at the Grange, and Hamilton’s public defense of the history of his family, make of this new volume one of the most remarkable and varied yet published in this series. As has been consistent in this collection, editorial notes are completely satisfactory.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Concise Oxford Dictionary of French Literature, edited by Joyce M. H. Reid. Oxford $15

Though not intended to replace the Oxford Companion to French Literature (now undergoing a leisurely revision), this book purports to condense and amalgamate what remains valid in that dated work, while bringing some topics up to date and adding others when required. The result is ludicrous. Summaries of individual works are not better than what is already available elsewhere at a lower price (as in Sidney Braun’s old Dictionary of French Literature), and not infrequently these analyses are downright misleading. (The speaker in Rimbaud’s Bateau ivre, for example, is not the poet but the boat. ) Articles on authors are equally routine and occasionally deceptive: Baudelaire, to give just one instance, died not of “general paralysis” but of complications resulting from tertiary syphillis. Genre definitions are incomplete and unkeyed to other articles in the book. The anti-novel is typical, said to date from the 17th century, although no 17th-century anti-novel is summarized as such or referred to in the essay-length treatment of the “Novel” or the shorter squibs on well-known 17th-century anti-romanciers. Period concepts, finally, are antediluvian: classicism is defined in 19th-century terms, while mannerism and baroque, which have figured prominently in French studies for almost a generation, go unnoticed. Finally, the book is devoid of reference to sound editions or standard secondary sources, and inexplicably translates the titles of some French works into pedestrian English. All in all, a botched reference book, hardly worth the price.

Images for Self-Recognition: The Christian as Player, Sufferer, and Vandal, by David Baily Harned. Seabury $10.95

Harned’s latest book completes his trilogy of “a sketch of a new sort of theology.” He avoids the problem of interreferential definition in Images by concisely restating in his introduction the salient concepts of his two earlier works, and he does so with obvious concern not only for the integrity of his thesis but also for the ease of his reader. Images’ survey of three self-reflexive postures assumed by man convincingly defines and contains both his modern “religious dimension” and the falseness of it when placed within the secular society; the dialectic is passionate and always instructive.

The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature, by David Lodge. Cornell $17.50

It was only a matter of time before David Lodge, one of our most talented practitioners of formalist analysis of the novel, should turn to literary theory. The Modes, through its frequent use of such practical examples, provides a better introduction to Russian and Czech formalism than any of such recent attempts as Robert Scholes’s Structuralism in Literature or Jonathan Culler’s Structuralist Poetics. Here we see clearly both the concrete content and theoretical limitations of central critical terms. But because Lodge finally adds no new arguments for the truth of structuralist doctrine or the validity of its method, his skilled interpretations, though wholly engaging, lead finally to disappointment.

Bad Mouth: Fugitive Papers on the Dark Side, by Robert M. Adams. California $7.95 cloth, $2.95 paper

The pitcher who chatters ceaselessly, hoping to unnerve his opponent, plays two games: baseball, and a more complex linguistic “second game” of verbal abuse. It is with the analysis of just such “second games” that Adams is concerned in this dazzlingly witty study of insult, invective, obscenity, and political lying. Two final chapters study what Adams considers to be the exhaustion of colorful language in conversation and fiction: here his own consistently delicious style supplies his argument’s best refutation.

Literature as Opera, by Gary Schmidgall. Oxford $15.95

It is always surprising to be reminded that at least 25 composers have attempted an operatic treatment of The Tempest, and 25 have failed to come up with a durable musical statement. In his probing of the relationship between literature and opera, the author analyzes 12 operas by nine composers—from Handel’s Alcina to Britten’s Death in Venice— to demonstrate how operatic conventions have been used to heighten the impact of the written word, and to show which musical and literary styles make comfortable partners. The book requires no formal musical training on the part of the reader, but a familiarity with the operas cited, most of them staples of the repertory, is a must.

Going Under: Melville’s Short Fiction and the American 1850s, by Marvin Fisher. Louisiana $12.50

Written between 1852—56, Melville’s 15 short stories represent repeated attempts to smuggle into the closed ports of mid-century American consciousness the contraband perceptions of a troubled patriot and cynical idealist. All save “The Two Temples” were published in Melville’s lifetime, and Fisher makes a convincing case for its “undergound” meaning lying too near the surface for conservative publishers. Though occasionally forced, this study’s method provides insights into Melville’s narrative technique which are sound if not entirely innovative.

Marxism and Literature, by Raymond Williams. Oxford $10 cloth, $2.95 paper

Replacing Terry Eagleton’s brief Marxism and Literary Criticism as the best introductory survey of the relations between economic determinism and literary creation, Williams’s study will interest, too, because it is the more deeply rooted in postwar European theorizing, Williams is at his best when providing careful discriminations among central theoretical terms (these sections are narrative revisions of his recent critical lexicon, Keywords); his greatest weakness remains, as in his earlier historical works, an unconvincing over-schematization of supposed causal connections. For both these reasons, however, Marxism and Literature is the best introduction to Williams, as well as to his subject.

Homosexuality and Literature, 1890—1930, by Jeffrey Meyers. McGill-Queeris $12

Jeffrey Meyers is to be congratulated for making his discussion of homosexuality in the works of Wilde, Gide, Mann, Musil, Proust, Conrad, Forster, and T. E. and D. H. Lawrence into a book of genuinely literary, rather than social or psychological criticism. He has no theory of the overall nature of homosexuality or of its effects on or relation to art; Meyers is concerned only to provide readings of literary texts, which he does with considerable skill, grace, and inoffensive humor.

Story of the Eye, by Georges Bataille. Urizen $5.95

Bataille’s book, far from obliging us to “confront the idea of pornography as a serious literary genre, ” as Susan Sontag loudly proclaims on its cover, only obliges us to confront once again the fact that pornography is to be sure a difficult art, and that pornography as high art is generally more preposterous but no less tedious than the garden variety. This is the first volume in a projected complete English edition of Bataille.

Van Wyck Brooks: In Search of American Culture, by James Hoopes. Massachusetts $15

Brooks’s elegant and vivid evocation of so many stages of the flowering of American literature has assumed so distinguished a place in the canon of our liberal intellectual tradition that it is almost unsettling to consider the details of the unhappy private life of the critic. There was much darkness, there were many false steps, as it seems, in the life of this bringer of light and priest of “high culture.” Hoopes considers Brooks’s place between genteel and modern literary traditions in what is a very sophisticated account of the chanciness of cultural radicalism. Brooding, morbid, suicidal depressions, the making and finding of art, the cherishing and living of traditions and values, the pursuit of imperfect visions of soul and objective truth—this is the almost violent mixture of urgings of which Brooks’s humanism was compounded. The account of the working out of these elements is the original and worthwhile contribution of this fine study in modern social history.

The Language of Adam: On the Limits of Critical Discourse, by Russell Fraser. Columbia $15

Here ends Russell Eraser’s account of the emergence of the modern mind, which began with The War Against Poetry and The Dark Ages and the Age of Gold. The journey has become progressively more difficult. Fraser, always learned, has become increasingly sloppy; the excesses (both stylistic and substantive) that marred his earlier volumes dominate this one. His telegraphic, heavily metaphorical impressions of the contributions of religion, science, economics, et omnia scarcely leave the reader breath or time to translate them into usable ideas. Fraser is a weltbetrunkene Mensch who should slow down, narrow his focus, and talk connectedly.

The Longing for a Form: Essays on the Fiction of C. S. Lewis, edited by Peter J. Schakel. Kent State $12.50

This meticulously and intelligently edited collection makes an important contribution to Lewis studies by offering essays which concentrate on the too often neglected literary qualities of Lewis’s fiction, rather than on its thematic import. The 14 essays include general studies as well as several individual considerations of each of Lewis’s major fictional works.

John Berryman: An Introduction to the Poetry, by Joel Conarroe. Columbia $10.95

Berryman’s poetry demands a knowledge of the poet’s biography, and Conarroe’s book gracefully provides a concise summary of Berryman’s troubled life and career. Conarroe insistently points to Berryman’s craft in prosody as the ultimate defense of his work, but he does make convincing cases for many specific poems. Conarroe is best in describing the achievement of the Dream Songs and in defending the much maligned Love and Fame. This book is a healthy, resonant critical guide, one which will create new readers for a major American poet.

Reflexivity in Tristram Shandy: An Essay in Phenomenological Criticism, by James E. Swearingen. Yale $15

As a deviant form of radical empiricism, modern “phenomenology” may fruitfully be compared to such 18th-century philosophies as Hume’s or Locke’s. But if Laurence Sterne was not Hume or Locke, neither was he Husserl, much less Swearingen’s gadamerized hermeneuticist Husserl. A more misguided, cranky critical project can scarcely be conceived than this attempt to wrest Husserlian time-consciousness and intentionality from poor Tristram’s pages. Philosophical readers will also quarrel with Swearingen’s brand of phenomenology, heavily influenced as it is by the work of Mistislav Bogdanovich.

The Life of Fiction, by Jerome Klinkowitz. Illinois $10

The “hip” format of this critical introduction to new American fiction does not compensate for its essential, hollow vagueness. The author seemingly demonstrates the prolific exuberance of the new “Superfiction” but fails to show how such writing differs from experimental writing of the past. This book is finally smug and self-congratulatory in its cultist adulation of certain “fiction collective” authors. The graphics which fill many pages of this work add nothing to the text. Fiction is far from being dead in our culture today, but this book makes one wish that certain branches of it were.

Mandelstam: The Later Poetry, by Jennifer Baines. Cambridge $18.95

Something is wrong with scholarly publishing. Here we have what is surely a reworked dissertation—200 pages typed double-space without right side margins, reproduced by photo-offset, put between hard covers, and offered for sale at $18.95. Certainly a book about only part of the works of a Russian poet, quoted in the original Cyrillic without English translations, has limited appeal, but must those who wish to read what Ms. Baines has to say pay such a high price for the privilege? Ms. Baines devotes most of her attention to decoding Mandelstam’s notoriously allusive poems, relying heavily upon both the published memoirs of and personal conversations with the poet’s widow. Useful in parts but too biographical and narrow in focus.

POETRYCollected Poems 1919—1976, by AllanTate. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $12.50

Some poets defy anthologists: their books disclose lyric after lyric which could just as well have taken the place of any flower culled by Untermeyer, Ellman, or even Williams. Allen Tate is not one of these. His very best pieces are, in fact, the very chestnuts read in school editions and explicated by generations of college students. If the rest of his oeuvre is not less arresting (to the aficionado, at least), it is certainly less realized, more dated, and (it must be said) trivial. That Tate is a poet of first importance cannot be denied, but he is so less in Eliot’s sense than in Pound’s.

Bad Boats, by Laura Jensen. Ecco Press $6.95

Laura Jensen’s poems are the type that get published in The New Yorker and fine literary magazines; they have a subdued, personal voice masking a quiet intensity. In this first collection, the best pieces are poignant, dramatic, depicting the faces of the artist in short, straightforward syntax and complex, intricately connected thoughts. Dense, surreal images form delicate constructs tenuously related or not quite holding together. Often lyrical and moving, some are too unfocused and obscure, so precarious is this type of deep imagist poetry—language almost effacing itself, attempting to metamorphose completely into image. What holds our attention and admiration is the compelling mixture of the exotic and familiar and the strange provocative dream-logic of image and observation.

6 Troubadour Songs, by W. D. Snodgrass. Burning Deck Press $2.50

In this handsome book published by the worthy Burning Deck Press, Snodgrass has matched six translated troubadour texts with period melodies which fit their verse forms. Snodgrass has admittedly opted for expediency rather than precise authenticity in his task; these melodies and verses can easily be played and sung. The translations are graceful, buoyant, and bawdy and the melodies appropriate for recorder accompaniment. Snodgrass has vowed to stop translating anything except songs, a vow which promises only more verse with such delightful practicality.

Nobody Laughs, Nobody Cries, by Charles Philbrick. Horizon $6.50

Charles Philbrick’s versification is competent and his manipulations of language, especially syntax, striking. His sentiments are so consistently conventional, however, that his poems seem at best only pleasant, at worst tedious.

Paul Valery: An Anthology, selected, with an introduction, by James R. Lawler. Princeton $15 cloth, $3.95 paper

This admirable anthology, based on the Bollingen edition of Valery’s Collected Works, is certainly the best compact edition available in English. Wisely, poems have been given in both French and English, and prose in English only.

The Yellow Canary Whose Eye Is So Black, by Cheli Duran. Macmillan $12.95

This bilingual anthology offers a rich and varied selection of Latin American poetry, ranging from the poignant lyrics of pre-Columbian times to the striking, passionate statements of the present. Including great poems and lighter verse, the” book is an important cross-section, sampling of a wealthy and vigorous poetic tradition. Unfortunately, although Durdn’s translations are accurate, they are on the whole too literal, and many of the poems have already been widely translated. Still, this book helps focus attention on the too-long neglected poetry of Spanish-speaking Latin America.

Amen, by Yehuda Amichai. With an introduction by Ted Hughes. Harper & Row $7.95

A handful of poets in the 20th century have managed to combine their personal experience with the impersonal forces of history in a lyric fusion which is entirely successful. Yeats, Auden, and Neruda have not perhaps always avoided the false note of pretension. Amichai in his way has been as successful as Mandelstam in achieving this great, tragic fusion of themes. With this book, Amichai becomes one of the essential poets of our day, a man whose life is vulnerable to the harsh, inevitable blows of love and war. The clear translations from the Hebrew, done by Amichai and Hughes, sear and elevate.

Songs of Innocence and Experience, by William Blake, with introduction and commentary by Geoffrey Keynes. Oxford $18.95 cloth, $8.95 paper

This superbly reprinted color reproduction of Blake’s illuminated Songs (reproduced from the Trianon Press edition) will delight all Blakeans and be a perfect introduction to Blake’s artistry for readers unfamiliar with his breathtakingly lovely illuminated books.

HISTORYBritish Foreign Policy under Sir Edward Grey, edited by F. H. Hinsley. Cambridge $57.50

Sir Edward Grey was the foreign minister who said, in the summer of 1914, that the “lights were going out all over Europe” and that his generation would not see them lit again. He did much more than coin melancholy epitaphs, however, and this handsome, outrageously expensive volume details his eventful tenure at Whitehall in well over 600 lucid pages. Nearly two dozen specialists have examined every nook and cranny of Sir Edward’s foreign policy; this collection will no doubt long stand as the definitive work. At its price, it should certainly be in every millionaire’s library.

Witness in Philadelphia, by Florence Mars. Louisiana $10

Philadelphia, Mississippi acquired notoriety in 1964 when three civil rights workers disappeared from its jail and were later found murdered. Generally the city’s white establishment reacted defensively and were appalled neither by the murders nor by the complicity of law enforcement officials in them but rather by outside investigations and criticisms. The author of this memoir had herself been part of that establishment, but she reacted differently, that is, conscientiously. She paid dearly for her nonconformity. Here she recounts her experiences, fortunately without rancor or self-righteousness, regrettably without much effect either. A good person, Ms. Mars is a prosaic writer.

The Devil’s Virtuosos; German Generals at War, 1940—5, by David Downing. St. Martin’s $10.95

It is hard to take German generals seriously, at least until one gets on shooting terms with them. Everyone knows the Prussian code: duty, honor, country, and never trust an Austrian. In a way this was what World War II was all about. The generals knew what had to be done, and they tried to do it. The trouble was the little Austrian corporal kept getting in the way His crazy ideas sometimes became their crazy ideas; the resulting fiasco set a melancholy record for national disasters. Manstein was brilliant, Rommel a modern land-based swashbuckler, Guderian perhaps the most able cavalryman of all time. But they worked for Adolf.

Virginia: A History, by Louis D. Rubin. Norton $8.95

Can a state whose history spans nearly four centuries, much of it on center stage, be successfully condensed into the 200 pages mandated by the editors of The State and The Nation series? Can that history be told in narrative form and still be meaningful and faithful to the record? The answer is “yes” if the author possesses a tight, forceful, and well-paced style, an ability to synthesize what others have written, a willingness to listen and learn from critics and editors, and a love for his subject, yet the ability to hold that subject up to scholarly judgment. If he can do all these things, then the author may produce a first-rate book. Louis Rubin, Jr. , has done all these things, and he has produced a first-rate book, probably the best single-volume history of Virginia. Certainly it is the best at explaining how Virginia reached the bicentennial in the manner she did. The book is what both readers and editors want—a book which is both good and short. Would that the other volumes in this series had measured up to that standard.

The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804—1920, by Charles and Barbara Jelavich. Washington $18.95

This fourth volume in the distinguished University of Washington Press series is a model of crisp, lucid historical reporting. The authors, two of America’s leading specialists on Southeastern Europe, have produced an admirable synthesis of Balkan history in the crucial century between the beginning of the Serbian Revolution and the post-World War I settlements. Thoroughly conversant with the literature on the subject in a wide variety of languages, the Jelaviches write with a restraint and impartiality that is rare in the field. This book is highly recommended.

France 1848—1945, Volume II: Intellect, Taste and Anxiety, by Theodore Zeldin. Oxford $29.95

Zeldin’s extraordinarily readable 1200-page addition to the Oxford History of Modern Europe may be classed as another contribution to the Annales school, but its splendid richness is really just highly successful anecdotal history. Zeldin’s subject is the French mind, and in a series of discussions of such topics as “Education and Hope, ” “Good and Bad Taste, ” and “Worry, Boredom and Hysteria, ” he achieves the same unity of sympathetic recreation and factual detail as in his previous Ambition, Love and Politics. The result is a complex “insider’s” understanding of a crucial period of French cultural development.

The American Heritage History of the Indian Wars, by Robert M. Utley and Wilcomb E. Washburn. American Heritage $34.95

This is a history of Indian-white relations from the landing of the Pilgrims through the fall of the Apaches during the 1880’s. As is the style of most American Heritage publications, there is little text, but virtually every page contains a color plate. The authors do present the violent events from both sides and provide a good understanding of why the Indian wars raged so long,

The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America, by Hal D. Sears. Regents Press $15

This is an excellent historical account of a little-known movement in late 19th-century America. Working with original documents, Sears has pieced together the story of the radicals dedicated to free love, sex education, women’s rights, and related causes. Sears also traces the history of obscenity laws. The women’s movement is still dealing with the same unresolved issues today.

Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933—1945, by Charles W. Sydnor, Jr. Princeton $22.50

The next time someone asks how a gangster movement like Naziism could capture a civilized country, one might refer the questioner to this book by Charles Sydnor, a professor at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia. The SS Death’s Head Division was composed of a gangster cadre that turned carefully selected recruits into monsters. The record of this unit was horrifying in peacetime; in war their savagery surpassed the wildest dreams of Attila the Hun and Tamerlane. Based upon German archival sources, this is a good book and a profoundly disturbing one.

Revolution Principles: The Politics of Party 1689—1720, by J. P. Kenyon. Cambridge $19.95

Understanding the early meanings of Whig and Tory is chiefly a matter of emphasis; the facts are in, but they still need to be arranged. Kenyon’s 1976 Ford Lectures, while claiming novelty, begin by examining both parties’ attempts to rationalize the Revolution of 1688 and proceed to show just how long Toryism actually remained the popular stand, while meanwhile the Whigs were sacrificing principle to the expendiency typified by Walpole, The outlines of Kenyon’s position, then, are quite familiar; his great virtue is in drawing together political statement and political action, so that his account of changing loyalties and principles is particularly cogent.

Shiloh—in Hell Before Night, by James Lee McDonough. Tennessee $9.95 cloth, $5 paper

If you want to know what it was like to be caught up in a confused Civil War battle complete with a 100,000-man cast, inept generals, missed opportunities, and grim humor amid suffering and death, here is your chance. McDonough has done a fine job of research which, for all that, recaptures the agony of Shiloh (“a place of peace”) in twelve highly-readable chapters. The book has a dozen maps, 25 illustrations, a detailed organizational chart of the armies, bibliography, and index. The author’s special skill, however, is his use of revealing, perceptive quotes from the mouths of the participants so as to make this controversial slaughter come alive over a century later. The library of every Civil War buff will be richer for McDonough’s work. According to George Washington Cable, “The South never smiled again after Shiloh. ” Considering the chaos and the blood spilled in that warm Tennessee spring of 1862, it may have been a long time before the North, too, was able to shake off the full effects of the battle.

Another World, 1897—1917, by Anthony Eden. Doubleday $7.95

The episodic character of Eden’s memoirs of his youth and sketchy descriptions of the accomplishments of his friends and family somewhat mar an otherwise interesting book. Another World is of value to the general reader for two reasons: it offers a vivid account of the terrors of trench warfare, and Eden’s family knew many of the intellectual and artistic leaders of prewar society. Eden’s early maturity is characteristic of a generation which lost its youth on the battlefield.

Black over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction, by Thomas Holt. Illinois $12.50

This concise monograph proves that the historian can use quantitative techniques from the social sciences without sacrificing traditional concerns for literary craftsmanship, humanism, or methodical research in manuscripts and printed sources. The author rejects old stereotypic views which depicted black Reconstruction politicians as either venal or gullible. Holt’s politicians are infinitely more complex, diverse, and therefore recognizably human. His study is particularly interesting in showing the effects of caste, class, and color on attitude and behavior. He has produced an excellent book, deserving of wide attention.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSUncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy, by Roger Morris. Harper & Row $10.95

Morris was one of that group of extraordinarily able young National Security Council staffers recruited by Henry Kissinger early in the Nixon administration. His portrait of Kissinger, however colored by their falling out, is a vivid picture of ruthlessness and deception mixed with rare political and diplomatic skills. The story is based on first-hand contacts up to the time of Cambodia and thereafter on an outsider’s impressions. Morris himself is a victim of Kissinger’s unfulfilled promises that staff papers would be rapidly translated into policy and that the young men who prepared them were far superior to State Department personnel. But Kissinger himself emerges as a tormented and tragic figure consumed by ambition, indecisive (Nixon was the initiator of the new China policy), and given to moods of self-deception. Curious then that he should be judged one of our great secretaries of state.

Organizing for Peace: A Personal History of the Founding of the United Nations, by Clark M. Eichelberger. Harper & Row $12.50

Eichelberger’s personal history is one of the League and the United Nations and the decisive role played by public opinion in the rise and fall of international organizations. It is an account of a well-intentioned leader travelling the length and breadth of the country to educate Americans on their international responsibility. Because of his diligence and organizing skills, Eichelberger was able during the interwar period to mobilize American support for entering World War II and sponsoring a new international organization. There is a slightly irrelevant quality to his pleading with President Roosevelt for international agencies in the economic and social spheres as Hitler moves unchecked through Europe. At the same time, the noble cause of men from all nations working together is well-expressed in Eichelberger’s life and work.

Dispatches, by Michael Herr. Knopf $8.95

This is one of the best reports on Vietnam published to date by a correspondent with a keen eye and a sharp pen. For those of us who served there, whether in a military or a civilian capacity, it will invoke a frightening, if not macabre, nostalgia for the sights, smells, sounds, and slaughter of Saigon. The book should be required reading for any politician who possesses the power to send us to war which is indeed Hell.

Genocide in Paraguay, edited by Richard Arens. Temple $10.95

Arens, legal counsel to the International League for the Rights of Man, has brought together for the first time the testimony and reflection of a distinguished group of experts documenting the systematic effort of the Paraguayan government to exterminate the Ache Indians and appropriate their lands. Contributors include F. R. Grant, Mark Munzel, Eric R. Wolf, Norman Lewis, Monroe Beardsley, Chaim Shatan, and Elie Wiesel. The irony, of course, is that Paraguayan leaders are largely imitating the earlier practice of other Western powers in their treatment of tribal peoples caught in the pathway of a “progressive” ideology.

The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics, by Ronald Inglehart. Princeton $30 cloth, $9.95 paper

Political scientist Inglehart makes a persuasive case for the hypothesis that emergent in Western cultures is a powerful post-materialist ideology, a silent revolution in value assumptions favoring the aesthetics of democratic life over material acquisition. Further, the author suggests this revolution, precarious as the post-materialist faith may be in adjusting to increasing limits in economic and technological growth, will be coaxed and directed by the young, well-educated elites of the Western publics.

Sex Roles in the State House, by Irene Diamond. Yale $12.50

This study examines the roles of women in state politics. Although there are few women elected to state legislatures, she traces career patterns of women who have been successful and compares them to men who have also been elected. Ms. Diamond based the second part of her book on interviews with female legislators and attempts unsuccessfully to classify these women into four groups, Ms. Diamond’s book does expand the genre of “women in politics” and does provide some new insights into women’s adaptive strategies in male politics.

We Have Eaten the Forest: The Story of a Montagnard Village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, by George Condiminas. Translated from the French by Adrienne Foulke. Hill and Wang $17.50

This is the first approved English edition of what has become a classic ethnography in the subtle art of melding vivid narrative with the emotional nuance of implicit cultural pattern. Levi-Strauss has called Condiminas “the Proust of ethnology. ” The first edition was originally published as Nous Avons Mange la Foret de la Pierre-Genie Gbo (1957). A pirated English edition was circulated in 1962 by the U. S. Department of Commerce in preparation for U. S. military education on Vietnam, an act condemned by the author in his preface to this English language edition.

President Eisenhower and Strategy Management; A Study in Defense Politics, by Douglas Kinnard. Kentucky $13.75

Decision-making on defense within the Eisenhower administration from 1953 through 1959 is the focus of this short yet useful study. The rise and decline of the “New Look” is chronicled in detail, although from a different perspective than that found in other studies of the same events. Kinnard emphasizes heavily the importance of fiscal constraints in determining the Eisenhower administration’s underlying motivation. However, other authors stress the importance of key advisors, such as George Humphrey, or of the pressure felt from Republican fiscal conservatives in Congress in explaining this fact. Kinnard, relying upon previously unused memoranda of meetings in the Oval Office between Eisenhower and his service chiefs, argues . that this constraint was a matter of strong personal conviction for the president, as well. He was the prime force behind the administration’s unwavering policy, with the service chiefs being scolded and sold on administration policy by the president himself. Additionally, on the basis of this new evidence, previous critical emphasis on the importance of the NSC as a forum for collective decision-making for Eisenhower, standard since the early 60’s, must be revised. Small meetings in the Oval Office appear to have been the actual forum for thrashing out consensus among administration officials, making the Eisenhower system less formalized than previously thought. A thoughtful and useful contribution to the growing body of literature which seeks to reassess the Eisenhower years.

Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, edited by Victor J. Stone. Illinois $6.95

For anyone concerned with American law, American liberty, and the struggle for racial equality, this slender book of five essays (originally lectures) will provide stimulating, informative reading. Three articulate, perceptive, critical essays consider the Supreme Court, primarily during the Warren years, and civil liberties, including the now hotly contested issue of affirmative action—some call it “reverse discrimination”—which the Bakke case raises. Two essays marshal constitutional principle and historical fact to argue the necessity, the legitimacy, and the efficacy of judicial remedies for race discrimination in employment.

A Government as Good as Its People, by Jimmy Carter. Simon & Schuster $8.95

This book is simply a collection of the more prominent speeches Jimmy Carter made while he was on the campaign trail. Although by necessity somewhat repetitive, a bit of such campaign rhetoric can be fun to read. The grand images of love, peace, and care for all tend to make one feel warm and fuzzy inside—unless, of course, the reader is a staunch right-winger. Regardless of one’s political stand, however, the collection is interesting. It is an introduction to the composition of a real Populist campaign. For this value, it is worth reading. Skim through the redundancy, then review it every once in a while to see how dreams and reality mix.

The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians: A Revisionist History, by David Leon Chandler. Doubleday $10

This is a provocative, well-written romp through the annals of the United States Senate which demonstrates (quite convincingly) that a small group of Southerners have been extremely adept at thwarting the will of the American public for decades on end. Chandler tells a charming tale, complete with finely drawn sketches of his principal protagonists from John Randolph and Thomas Jefferson to Huey Long, Sam Ervin, John Stennis, and LBJ. His research is thorough indeed. The book has a good index, 34 illustrations, and a hasty epilogue which doffs its hat to the Peanut Populist from Plains, a few lines apparently tacked onto the manuscript sometime before November 1976. However, it is the title, not what is between the covers, that presents problems. To begin with, there is very little “revisionism” to be found. It’s all pretty pat, well-known, easily accepted, and readily digested. The book is riot (as claimed) about Southern politicians as a group; it deals only with members of the U. S. Senate from the South who fit the thesis being propounded. Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas seem to have produced few acceptable candidates. The older South (Virginia and the Carolinas) did well early on, but since 1930 the star performers have come from Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. And, since Chandler makes much of the protégé system by which one “good old boy” trains another—Sam Rayburn-Lyndon Johnson, for example—the word “natural” seems out of place in the title. Apparently Southern superiority is, in fact, not an innate but a learned phenomenon, In essence, this is a damned good exercise in political analysis and rummaging through the dust bins of history, capped off with an extremely intriguing title. The difficulty is, the title creates anticipations for the reader which are never realized. He keeps waiting for even the first shoe to drop: it never does.

FICTIONSilken Eyes, by Françoise Sagan. Delacorte $6.95

Unlike her nation’s fine wines, Mile. Sagan has neither matured nor mellowed with age. Nor does the publisher’s extravagant dust jacket help her any when it impudently proclaims a six-page item in this brief anthology of man-meets-woman vignettes as “the ultimate bull fight story of all time. ” The reader would be better served by re-reading her classic Bonjour Tristesse, which she so brilliantly wrote as a teenager and has yet to match.

Nightwing, by Martin Cruz Smith. Norton $8.95

From the first words of the book to the last, a sense of desolation haunts this novel of a Hopi Indian’s fight against the destruction of his people. Youngman Duran, ex-convict and now deputy, is confronted with animals and people on the Hopi lands dying inexplicably. He sets out to discover the reason but must first struggle against government opposition, the petroleum industry, and his own cynicism. Vampire bats, it turns out, with knife-sharp teeth and an insatiable appetite for blood, are the mysterious cause of death. All is finally resolved in the lost cave-city in the desert, the holy place of the Hopi, now also infected. Nightwing, in its combination of realism and fantasy, is a convincing and thrilling tale of the contemporary Southwest.

The Honourable Schoolboy, by John Le Carré. Knopf $10.95

Difficult as it may be for those of us who fervently believe that Le Carré is the greatest living exponent of the espionage thriller, his latest book is his best yet. This time the backdrop is Oriental, and we are treated to the usual luxury we have come to expect of a mature and cultural exposure in an exotic setting, built around an intricate plot, with an air of authenticity on an exciting theme full of fascinating characterizations, suspense, and excitement. As we impatiently await his next gem, one’s only complaint is that our literary benefactor is not more prolific,

Flesh and Blood, by Pete Hamill. Random House $8.95

This is a lightweight novel about a heavyweight fighter named Bobby instead of Rocky. It is full of four-letter words and nothing else much, so don’t say you weren’t warned.

The Devil’s Church and Other Stories, by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis. Texas $10

Until recently, the literature of South America has remained unacknowledged by American readers. With the help of Bard’s excellent anthology, The Eye of the Heart and the Texas Pan American Series, this chauvinism is beginning to fade. The latest in the Texas Series is The Devil’s Church and Other Stories by Machado de Assis, the 19th-century master of the Brazilian short story. Machado’s gothic tales glitter with a dry fascination. He writes about men and women who live in a flat and valueless world and who consequently are unable to measure their own significance or the significance of their actions. As a result, they become grotesque, and their actions take on a strange and arresting resonance.

Suicide Note, by Christopher Davis. Harper & Row $7.95

A curious, pain-racked novel whose hero is a writer, Suicide Note becomes almost melodramatic after a careful buildup of atmosphere. One is led through great empathy with the hero into the darker recesses of his being and finally to a certain but calm resolution. Power and purpose are present in the text, but the reader is left with a doubt about the value of the events depicted.

November… December, by George Bower. D


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

Recommended Reading