Joe Liebling, one of the brightest stars in The New Yorker’s midcentury galaxy of bright writers, once described himself as a “chronic, incurable recidivist reporter.” He emerges from Mr. Sokolov’s carefully researched, immensely entertaining biography as perhaps the greatest journalistic craftsman of his time, a versatile and prolific writer. His work as a World War II correspondent in Europe and as a devastating critic of American newspapers not only served to revive “an antique tradition of personal journalism,” but it also made him the role model, still unexcelled, for subsequent practitioners of the so-called “New Journalism.” As Mr. Sokolov tells it, Liebling brought “a novelist’s perceptions to the service of a journalist’s task,” yet “he would never leave journalism, and he would always feel equally delighted and trapped.” A happy result was the development of a Liebling artistry that would “sneak up on the reader, who only expected truth, but suddenly found he was getting beauty into the bargain.”
The story of the impoverished little princess of the microdot German principality of Anhalt-Zerbst who grew up to be a worthy successor of Peter the Great and an equally worthy precursor of Stalin is well known. It should be even better known now, with this Gothic romance by Henri Troyat, who has given us a masterful study of Tolstoy and good if less successful works on Pushkin and Dostoevsky. Troyat writes in the vein of Sir Walter Scott, which is to say among other things that the spicy side of Catherine’s life is just not dealt with here; Troyat has never heard of Freud, but then, Catherine was in the same boat. This biography is good clean, if a bit leaden, fun.
Saltonstall’s sympathetic remembrance will appeal largely to those who knew Perry and who were caught by the charm and kindness of the man. Those who meet him for the first time in these pages may wonder that a person who possessed no intellectual or administrative gifts to speak of could have made such a grand reputation as principal of a leading private school. The reasons we find lay in Perry’s personal warmth and concern for his friends. He listened to people, and they liked and trusted him. So it was that in 1930 he was able to persuade Edward Harkness to donate five million dollars to Exeter, a gift that transformed not only the school but Perry’s standing as well. When he died in 1970 at 93, he was remembered with affection as a “great boys’ man,” and this memoir is an attractive tribute to him who made the most of the greatness thrust upon him.
There are those who claim that Dr. Kübler-Ross is not a person at all but rather another Communist plot. The famous author of Death and Dying has attacked our fears and myths about life and death as no one in modern times, and the resistance to her has been stupefying, not to say stupid. This frail dynamo with more energy and dedication than a million sophisticated microchips has touched our lives, as she would rightly insist, and not everyone likes to be touched. Her life to 1969 is told here with beautiful simplicity, and the book should be at the top of everyone’s “must read” list.
Readers who were greatly taken by The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady will welcome this full account of her life and background, drawn from Edith Holden’s correspondence and her Nature Notes (the essence of the Country Diary) and copiously illustrated with her drawings and with photographs of herself, her family, friends, teachers, and the numerous family homes (her father was constantly moving to a larger, as his family and prosperity increased, or a smaller, fewer children at home and dwindling resources, house, all of them, however, in the country neighborhoods of Birmingham, where his paint and varnish firm was located). Edith’s sister, Evelyn, was regarded as more talented, but both sisters were professional painters and illustrators. Edith married fairly late in life a young sculptor, Ernest Smith. She died in 1920, drowned in a backwater of the Thames at Kew, where she had apparently been trying to reach a branch of flowering chestnut. This was an appropriate if ill-timed end for one whose whole life had been wrapped up in recording aspects of nature, wildflowers, birds, small animals. The compiler of this volume remarks that “it is ironic that Edith Holden’s fame rests not on the several books she illustrated in her lifetime nor on the fifty or so oil paintings she exhibited, but on a private notebook she never intended to publish.”
This new biography will surely win praise for its lively prose, uncluttered by scholarly jargon. Davies is concerned to write for the general reader, appropriately enough, about the poet who was once the most generally read. No popular biography has appeared in years, and one should be grateful that we now have such a work, one that makes use of modern research. Davies tries valiantly to distill the voluminous materials of the poet’s life into a manageable narrative—some 350 pages. But the task is Herculean, and we are left with only a human, all-too-human Wordsworth that little suggests the source of his greatness. A very well-presented book, with illustrations and maps, it should make a fine gift.
Poets, of course, spring from a variety of backgrounds, but surely few have ever been so unpromising as that of William Jay Smith: Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, Missouri, his home for 20 years (1921—1941). Smith’s father was an enlisted man, a corporal in the Sixth Infantry Band (occasionally demoted for drunkenness). The family lived in various houses on the outskirts of the Barracks or on the post. Smith’s life was that of an average American boy—rather grubby, mildly adventurous. As he began to grow up, he had several strokes of luck. An “Expression Teacher” enrolled him in her classes and taught him how to use his voice and memory. Later, scholarships at Washington University took him through college and on to a master of arts in French. (One of his classmates was Tennessee Williams.) Then World War II took over the direction of his life for several years. He then skips over the years until 1977. In a final chapter he describes his return to Jefferson Barracks some 30 years after he and his family left it. He found it mainly an extended cemetery, with the clear, cold spring of his boyhood polluted and choked up. He ends his memoir with a lyrical outburst: “In learning about my own life and its origins, I had learned something of the nature of conquest, of the conquering and the conquered, and of the land that conquers all. That knowledge and the thought that I might be but the smallest part of a great mysterious whole filled me with a strange joy as I moved slowly on into the night, on toward the east from which I had come.” This book is William Jay Smith’s Prelude, shorter than Wordsworth’s and in prose.
Wyndham Lewis was one of the prickly figures of the early 20th-century London world of writing and painting. His paintings have always seemed more accomplished than his writings, but both were thorny and both were very much against the Establishment. Like many anti-Establishmentarians, he became so bitter at his lack of acceptance by the public that vitriol was almost a balm to him. The essays in this volume concern his writing rather than his painting, though the same qualities suffuse the two. Though Lewis was, perhaps, a minor figure in London’s intellectual circles of the time, he was also a figure of great energy and influence.
The newest Wilson volume continues the high editorial standard of preceding volumes, while the contents grow precipitously in international importance with each succeeding volume. These summer months were further heated by the Arabic sinking, the threat to Americans in Haiti by domestic unrest, and the consolidation of Mexican leadership under Carranza. The documents bear out Link’s contention that Wilson was a remarkably flexible and capable leader of foreign policy. He balances the moral ultimatum against unrestricted submarine warfare with U.S. neutrality in expectation of mediation between Germany and England. He acts firmly in despatching the Marines to Portau-Prince in protection of American interests and lives. He single-handedly builds support and achieves recognition for Carranza against a strong tide of American interventionism. Also included are Wilson’s warm letters to Edith Boiling Galt and the extant documents concerning his indiscretion with Mrs. Hulbert.
This book is a reprint of Dawson’s diary by the Louisiana State University Press. It was written a few years before his death (1882) in an edition of 100 copies for private circulation. It has the distinction of being the only book-length memoir of an English officer in Confederate service. The original text is very well written and, with the appendix of letters to family and friends in England, gives a unique historical perspective.
The great French historian Fernand Braudel has done what only giants can: he has made Western man confront the problem of time—individual time, historical time, relative time, real time. At first this seems so simple that one is astonished. What, after all, is the historian’s business? The answer is that Braudel, more than any other historian ever, has wrestled with man’s conception of time over time. The fishermen on the Costa del Sol who feared Barbary pirates shared much with their descendants who glanced up at the passing jetliner, but there is real change, and Braudel has tried to isolate it. He is the first to admit that he cannot—but what a magnificent fight he has fought.
Of all the wars fought to preserve that illusory balance of power in Europe, the War of Polish Succession in the early 1730’s was perhaps the most successful. As Mr. Sutton shows us, no nation disappeared from the map, as Poland would half a century later, and no king lost either his head or his throne. One might say that they were pygmies in those days, but then Louis XV at least died with his body in one piece. Anna of Russia could not match her illustrious predecessor (Peter the Great) in any sense, yet she likewise did not ruin the country. This is a good study of a neglected problem.
If ever the German Jews had a chance to put the stamp of their humanistic learning upon Germany, it was in the Weimar period after the First World War. Many rose to high positions in government (one thinks of the brilliant Rathenau), the arts, and of course business, but all of them made one crucial mistake: they forgot to look over their shoulders. The few voices that cried out against the preoccupation with the building of democracy, with artistic and social freedom, were outshouted both by their fellow Jews, who were so busy enjoying it all, and by the Nazis and their mindless followers. Mr. Niewyk tells this story well.
Recent speechmaking, Lord George-Brown tells us, is as dry as the Egyptian desert, and he has put together this collection of short extracts from British and American orators to inspire Englishmen in their search for a leading role in world affairs. But even if such a notion were valid, this book would not be a proper guide. Almost all the speeches suffer from having been cut extensively. James Otis (d. 1783), poor man, appears without any speech at all. The historical introductions, moreover, are entirely inadequate, and there is no attempt to make distinctions on the basis of quality, appeal, or influence. This anthology is, unfortunately, no more than that “flashing kaleidoscope” which the editor says he wished to avoid.
Most readers will value this book for the lavish color illustrations of art and architecture from around the world during the half-millennium of the Christian era between 1000 and 1500. The text will probably have less success and be considered too professional and detailed by the general reader and too general by the professional historian. To the extent that some who buy it will be introduced to new, non-European cultural forces, the book may be said to have served a purpose. But so much material is dealt with in so complicated a format that the volume’s usefulness as a reference work is lost. Although the title is itself a misnomer, the appropriate definition of “atlas” may not be the one the author intended of a “subject arranged in tabular form” but rather the preceding one in the OED of that which “supports a great burden.”
Is “statesman” merely a publicly acceptable word for “criminal”? Who can seriously claim that even the generals would have made a worse mess of things in 1919 than did the intractable Clemenceau, the sanctimonious Wilson, the unscrupulous Lloyd George? It was these three, principally, who gave us the world we live in today. Charles L. Mee has reconstructed their incredible bickering and pettiness in a most frightening manner in this, one of the best books to appear so far on the disaster that was the Versailles Settlement. That settlement wrote a formal end to the first stage of the global conflict—and ensured the birth of all that followed.
Joined by a team of distinguished Polish scholars, the British historian R. F. Leslie here presents the best work on Poland since the publication a few decades ago of the monumental Cambridge History. The study is particularly timely in view of recent political and religious developments, and it is characterized by a degree of objectivity and fairness that is extremely rare in the field. The Leslie volume is in short a careful, sober, and stimulating analysis of the recent history of a country savaged by war, occupation, Naziism, and communism. Despite the high price (a hallmark of the publisher), the book will simply have to be in the hands of everyone interested in Poland.
This book is much more than a history of the Royal Geographical Society. It is an excellent introduction to the development of geographical study from the 19th century to the present. Exploration evolved dramatically during this period. Early expeditions included dangerous treks through uncharted central Africa and Australia as well as races to reach the North and South Poles. Recent projects have concentrated on detailed scientific study, with an increasing concern for conservation. The superb illustrations augment a clear text to make this an interesting and very enjoyable book.
The simplistic association of the antebellum South with advocacy of the Mexican War and jingoism in general has been significantly eroded in the scholarship of the past 15 years. No more important counterexample than John C. Calhoun has been cited, a statesman whose clear-sighted approach to the Mexican War resembled that of the neophyte Congressman Lincoln of Illinois, who lost his seat for his practical opposition to the war. Lander, in this fine account of Calhoun’s position, places it within the context of little-appreciated dissatisfaction with expansionism on the part of the Carolina electorate. As such, this volume is persuasive revisionism and very useful to scholars of the antebellum South. It includes as well an excellent account of the ill-fated Palmetto Brigade, the South Carolina unit sacrificed in the name of this ill-advised and rather unpopular war. Lander recounts trenchantly old lessons that it required our recent, far more costly, and useless war of ill-defined aims to relearn.
In this second volume of his study of Hitler’s foreign policy, Mr. Weinberg presents an exhaustive account of the last phase of the planning for the war. While the Western leaders fumbled around in the pacifist thicket and Stalin amused himself by shooting half his officer corps, Hitler moved on all fronts to prepare for a war of conquest that would establish the Third Reich on such a firm basis that the first thousand years would be considered its infancy. Based upon extensive use of a wide variety of archives, this study of Hitler’s war planning comes close to being definitive.
This is a well-written, carefully organized study detailing how Yankee “school marms” set out to make Georgia freedmen into “ebony Puritans.” In the process—uncertain of their own views on racial matters, resolved to make education a moral force, and yet determined to retain absolute control—they encountered innumerable difficulties. Jones makes a modest attempt to relate these efforts to the women’s rights movement, but there seems to be little evidence to substantiate such a link-up. Still suffering from a dissertation hangover, the book has nearly 400 footnotes (far more than necessary) and 15 pages of tables, one of which details each teacher’s “sibling rank.” How this affected her classroom performance is not explained.
“Myths are by their nature vague.” This stark admission on page 346 of a 353-page inquiry into American myths and their influence goes a long way toward explaining what’s wrong with this approach to our national past. It’s sort of like trying to sculpture a statue out of whipped cream. The research is impressive, the bibliography awesome, the quotations entertaining and appropriate, the style of writing appealing, but using vague materials creates a vague product.
Daniel Blake Smith asks some interesting questions about colonial domestic life in Maryland and Virginia and answers them as best he can from the information obtained from manuscript family papers, letterbooks, diaries, and from a few published diaries and letters. His chapter headings indicate the scope of his search: Autonomy and Affection, Parents and Children, Sex Roles and Female Identity, Fathers and Sons, Husbands and Wives, Kin, Friends, and Neighbors, Inheritance and the Family, The Family in Illness and Death, and, finally, toward a History of Early American Family Life. The amount of repetition in the book indicates the sparseness of the sources, so that the same facts are used over and over again. To Smith, however, “what the sources make undeniably clear is that by the late eighteenth century many men and women were developing an altered view of the family and the world beyond it, a perspective that was deeply rooted in a strong moral sensibility and the belief in the need for emotional warmth within the family.”
This brilliantly argued, solidly documented monograph rescues Flannery O’Connor’s stories from their ambiguous statues of perfectly written—but failed— theology. While demonstrating that for cultural and psychological reasons the narratives fall short of their author’s apparent intention and thus tremble on the threshold of rhetoric, Carol Shloss reaffirms the value of O’Connor’s art and freshly asserts O’Connor’s preeminence as a secular moralist. Through a series of close readings informed by a profound knowledge of O’Connor’s backgrounds and by a mastery of reader-response theory, Shloss makes O’Connor available to new readers and to old, especially those estranged by the inherent paradoxes of O’Connor’s achievement.
There now exist two anthologies of Stein’s writings: Carl Van Vechten’s old Modern Library gathering of the more accessible works and the present selection of esoteric pieces originally published by Yale on subsidy from the author’s estate. While the earlier book has gone far to establish Stein’s place in American letters and to create a wide nonacademic readership for her major works, the Kostelanetz collection will add little to her stature or audience (in or out of academe). At best, it may help enthusiasts of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Three Lives, Tender Buttons, and The Making of Americans understand why the author was ruthlessly parodied and how greatly she must have disciplined herself to compose her masterworks. Echoes of the latter are heard here only intermittently in the chaotic din of gratuitious repetition, triviality, and skewed syntax.
The first critical text of Donne’s Paradoxes and Problems, this will no doubt remain for many years the authoritative edition. Both Paradoxes and Problems — actually two distinct series written at different periods of Donne’s life—present difficult textual problems; for each the editor has with great pains constructed plausible and defensible texts. As the introduction notes, paradoxes and problems were established classical and Renaissance forms, so that Donne’s versions are both conventional and idiosyncratic. For students of Donne, this edition will be a valuable resource.
Trilling rejected Marxism in the thirties, New Criticism in the fifties, and structuralism in the sixties. For him, life and literature were struggles for individual autonomy in the face of the overwhelming question; the will would not be subjugated by a system. In Trilling’s “anxious humanism,” literature defines and judges the authenticity of experience. Throughout his career, he defended the complexities of art and the integrity of modernism. It is true, as Chace argues in this fine overview, that Trilling left us no philosophy or theory; rather he teaches through example the value of a moral life in confrontation with modernity.
It is fitting that Levin publish this collection of recent reviews, memoirs, and essays on the Moderns with New Directions; his first book, his ground-breaking study of Joyce, introduced James Laughlin’s Makers of Modern Literature series in 1941. Levin’s seasoned critical intelligence, his ability to combine insight with memoir, unifies this seemingly eclectic collection. Throughout these essays, we discover his repeated reckonings with the “points of convergence” and the “cross-fertilization” of European and American culture. His best essays (on Wilson and Matthiessen) recall men who, like himself, have well spent their lives in literature.
Conventional critics of Marlowe have been far too concerned with his conscious intentions—the explicit, though ambiguous, meanings in his plays. Kuriyama, on the other hand, uses psychological theory to uncover a deep structure of unambiguous homosexual thinking. Hammer or anvil, the castrates or the castrated, Marlowe’s protagonists, from Tamburlaine to Edward II, overreach in order to avoid castration but end up castrated—at least metaphorically. With faulty logic and specious analogizing, Kuriyama overwhelms the reader. In her view, the search for empire and omnipotence by so many of Marlowe’s characters veils a search for sexual identity. These conclusions are perhaps predictable in a book partly inspired by Kenneth Anger’s overrated, shrill, motorcycle-sexual fantasy, Scorpio Rising. Kuriyama presents: Marlow descending.
Mr. Gradman’s first book finds its value not so much in the author’s individual treatments of Endymion, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” “Lamia,” or the “Hyperion” poems as in its attempt to point out the function of the metamorphosis pattern in the works as a whole. Although the change from discontent to a higher state of awareness has frequently been cited as a major characteristic of the poems, Gradman’s approach pulls the critiques together in order to show that the pattern in fact forms the structural basis of Keat’s poetical thought.
Literary Britain hovers between a literary gazetteer and a touring guide; chatty, anecdotal, and rambling, the narrative follows in turn the six major roads radiating out from London into the farther reaches of England and Wales, detouring and poking about whenever a literary association lures the author off the high road. The material represents the gleanings of a half century of touring and raconteuring, in which time Mr. Morley has managed to accumulate an impressive store of literary lore and gossip. This is a pleasant, browsing sort of book, not for use along the highway itself but for route-planning and armchair traveling.
Moller sets herself the job of correcting the “popular impression” (and in some cases critical judgment) that Thoreau was “a conscious and confirmed misanthrope.” This is a difficult project as well as an important one. As Moller ably demonstrates, Thoreau’s manifold ambivalences are often complex and crucial to understanding his thought. Drawing insightfully on passages in Thoreau’s Journal, she sheds much interesting light on the issue of his putative misanthropy—the violent fluctuations in his attitudes toward friendship, love, community and society, the “mass of men” and “the public good,” death, and sexuality. Moller insists throughout that beneath Thoreau’s sometimes stated and often implied alienation lies an “essential humanism,” a humanism that is at the heart of his philosophy and his style; that his misanthropy is “ultimately rooted” in his idealism and his “great expectations for humanity.” Moller’s account helps to round out our understanding of Thoreau, even if it often fails to probe deeply enough beneath the why of the violent fluctuations in Thoreau’s assessment of his fellow man. Moller’s “pendulum theory” fails to close the case. What she persistently and inexplicably calls Thoreau’s “seeming contradictions” are nothing if not real contradictions. The source of these real contradictions awaits further, less defensive explication.
For years a staple of high school English syllabi, Sir Walter Scott has sunk into a state of pretty general neglect. This brief appreciative study has the avowed mission of boosting Scott’s reputation. The author’s intelligent enthusiasm for Scott the man and for the generous fecundity of his imagination fills the book with persuasive commentary, while his critical method— light, jargon-free analysis salted with biographical fact and anecdote—effectively relates Scott’s personal tolerance, geniality, modesty, rectitude, and stoicism to the values implicit in the novels and poetry. An exemplary study—short, lucid, cogent.
Dendle might have subtitled his book The Ideology of the Episodios Nacionales (Series 3, 4, 5), since his focus is Benito P6rez Galdós’ ideological posture as developed in these 26 historical novels. Galdós (along with Cervantes, Spain’s greatest novelist) used the historical novel format to study Spanish 19th-century history but also, as Dendle convincingly demonstrates, to comment on the contemporary political scene, that is, the Spain of 1898—1912. Dendle links Galóds to the important fin de siécle thought of the “regenerationists” and of the Generation of 1898, then illuminates his Republicanism as well as his bitter anticlericalism. Galóds’ “message” is the center of attention here as Dendle elucidates Galdós’ “moral vision of Spain.”
Despite Elkin’s mannered and gratuitous introduction, this collection of stories is a distinguished one. Elkin and Ravenel have chosen well not only from established writers such as John Updike and Elizabeth Hardwick but also from newcomers such as T. Gertler and Robert Henderson. The stories are diverse; they present different strata of society and range from the most to the least traditional. Mavis Gallant’s two stories almost by themselves make the book worth perusing. But it is Peter Taylor’s long story “The Old Forest” (which even Elkin claims is a “masterpiece”) that makes the book worth purchasing.
This new work by the author of A Clockwork Orange is a long meaty novel about good and evil. It consists of the memoirs of Kenneth Toomey, an 82-year-old British writer of popular, sentimental fiction. Toomey’s homosexuality alienates him from his Catholic family. Disillusioned but not embittered, he witnesses three generations and two world wars. He sees one relative shot by Nazis and another become Pope. Earthly Powers is well written, thought provoking, and thoroughly absorbing.
So immediately sensual are the details in these stories—Kay Boyle writes with such vibrance—that you will almost have to remind yourself that the times in which they are set are now historical in a different sense from when the stories were published first. But the author’s awareness of the historical importance of her times does affect the mood of the stories, most of which take place during the thirties and forties in Europe. One might expect her characters to be victims of circumstance. They are not. Their examples affirm the possibility of personal victory even during an age of extremes, the extremes of heroic virtue and shamefulness. These characters, ranging from the most ordinary to perhaps the most eccentric, are at their best—are most human, in fact, when they accept their responsibilities as individuals. It is their acceptance of responsibilities— which, however ordinary, are morally awesome—that gives to them and this collection their purposeful strength.
Walter Abish poses as an American writer, but he is surely German to the core. Even the frequent mistakes in German in this novel are obviously part of his guise, a device to throw us off the track. Mr. Abish has captured the modern German ethos as have few other writers. The Hargenau brothers, sons of a father executed after the 1944 plot against Hitler, represent the Wirtschaftswunder (Helmuth, a successful architect) and the anarchism (Ulrich, a writer who befriends the anarchists, only to betray them in court later). The story takes place in Brumholdstein, a fictitious town named after a fictitious philosopher who was all too silent during the Hitler years. A mass grave is discovered during some sewer repairs; what to do about it? Abish comes up with a quintessentially German solution in this astonishing novel.
Barbara Pym is perhaps best known for her earlier books, A Glass of Blessings and Quartet in Autumn.
A Few Green Leaves was finished shortly before her death in January 1980. The setting is a rural English town, and the main character is an anthropologist, a middle-aged single woman named Emma Howick. With a quiet unhurried style Pym describes Emma’s life in the village, including an almost-affair, the local social strata, developing friendships, and a growing self-confidence and optimism.
This is a lovely novel about music, musicians, travel, the burden of fame, love, and suspense. Mrs. Zukerman writes about people and events she intimately knows. The discussion of music is by an expert flutist, the characters from her acquaintance with the great and near-great musicians of this generation who bring the classics not only to the metropolitan areas of the world but also to the small towns with crummy stages and audiences who would rather be someplace else. The places are accurately delineated, the mood of a sunset expertly sketched. One can only hope that additional works will come from the pen of this very talented artist.
In Hard Laughter, her first novel, Anne Lamott uses a brain tumor to glue together a wandering account of daily survival in a coastline town of northern California. The narrator and protagonist is Jennifer, a 24-year-old aspiring writer, and the tumor is in the brain of Wallace, her father. The setting is Clement, California, a town populated for the most part by a collection of characters as believable as those one might find in comic books. Lamott does well with Jennifer and a remarkable ten-year-old friend, but because many of the characters lack the depth that would bring them alive, the reader is left with a sense of having been only a spectator, of never having been involved in a crisis that demands extraordinary emotional resiliency of Jennifer and her family. The book’s conclusion is an admirable exercise in restraint.
It is not news that the Irish have taken just one thing from the hated English, their language, and have shaped and molded it in new and exciting ways. One of the best of the modern Irish writers is Mr. Kiely, who gives us here 17 stories and a novella called Proxopera. The themes are eternal: the land, the church, the violence, and the agony. What is different is Mr. Kiely’s extraordinary sense of place and time—the town of Omagh and the middle third of this century. Now using broad strokes, now incisive detail, Mr. Kiely brings us the reality that is Ireland with a compelling vitality.
It is not exactly a new trick to take an old idea to an absurd length, and no one can accuse Mr. Sherman of innovation. His “dynasty,” three generations of an American family involved in the spy business, manipulates and controls the United States and Russia from the Bolshevik Revolution to the present. It is the old conspiracy syndrome squared, and the result is, as one would expect, preposterous. There is not even a scintilla of decent writing to hold it together. And anyone who speaks of the “Nightsbridge” section of London, as Mr. Sherman does, is in deeper trouble than he knows.
Nadine Gordimer goes straight to the heart of her subject. Nowhere is this ability to penetrate, to see and comprehend deeply, more evident than in her newest collection of stories. Throughout them, the South African society lurks in the background like the black-cloaked villain. Occasionally Gordimer will spotlight it, as in the excruciating two-part “Town and Country Lovers,” where she shows us exactly how the human heart shrivels when confronted by a society dogmatic about racial behavior. But even when she keeps it well offstage, the reader remains conscious of the world he is in. An example is the story “Time Did,” where Gordimer takes us into the mind of a woman who has had no trouble accepting her lover’s constant betrayals—but sees now that the affair must end; he is rejecting her because she is aging. Whatever its outward importance, Gordimer’s consciousness of place and history gives this collection a flavor. It is the flavor of fear that comes from a renewed awareness of our frail individual selves.
Flaming youth in London, scions of the best families, are in rebellion against the establishment. They drive to their protest meetings in Bentleys. Educated in the best public schools, scholars at Oxford, they run afoul of the police. When they are confronted by attempted murder and successful kidnapping, our gang decides to handle crooks alone. The participation of an older uncle adds a mature view to the action. Michael Innis has succeeded in writing not only a literate suspense novel but also a witty and astute essay on the foibles of upper-class youth. Insult to injury: they can not do it alone; the police must save their hides.
The vivisection of captured U. S. personnel by Japanese doctors is hardly an appetizing subject for a novel, even though the vivisection is done “in the interests of research,” a formula which excuses almost anything done these days in American graduate schools. But it is the reaction of one Japanese intern that interests Shusaku Endo, who treats his theme with a delicacy that sets this book above its gruesome details. Unfortunately, indifferent proofreading and awkward translation—can a person, for instance, be said to have “stood sluggishly”?—set this work below the standards found in the recent excellent translation of Endo’s Silence.
In a war the greatest losers and victims are the noncombatant civilians caught in an army’s path. Thus Ora Hasford and her children, Roman and Calpurnia, become the victims of pro-Union raiders and their informant, Spider Epp, as the Union and Confederate armies prepare for the Battle of Pea Ridge. In the aftermath of the battle they become participants of another sort, giving shelter to and nursing a Union officer, Allan Eben Pay. This is an excellent novel, more about its characters than about the events in which they are involved. Sharply limned, they are very human.
This is 500 pages of chatter which somehow enables a New York Jewish family on the move (circa 1920 to 1950) to make it from downtown to uptown. Despite flashes of humor, the too-many characters have far too much to say and never become real people—it’s just talk, talk, talk. They should have taken the subway,
Fortunately—to quote one of his characters in the story “Swallows”—John McGahern doesn’t concern himself with “the justice or injustice” but “only with the accurate presentation of the evidence.” The eleven fine short stories in this volume present McGahern’s moving and painstakingly adduced evidence for the complexities and impossibilities of friendship, love, and filial feelings. Walking a difficult line between bathos and despair, McGahern dramatizes the desires, frustrations, and regrets as well as the sly excitements of concealed fulfillments around which revolve the lives of his characters. He avoids any sententiousness and summary, letting the palpable “weather” and distinct pulse of his fictional world work directly on the reader. He probes the “right times” and the “wrong times” of Irish lives with a vividness and control that meaningfully shape the larger themes that hover in these stories—fathers and sons, friends and lovers, time and death. His ear for the precision of “plain speech” is a wonder; every word is right. Three extraordinary stories in this volume—”The Wine Breath,” “Gold Watch,” and “Sierra Leone”—have previously appeared in The New Yorker.
Whether or not one has already met the likable Inspector Gautier in Mr. Grayson’s earlier work, one will enjoy this new mystery, set in turn-of-the-century Paris. The historical details provide an unusually rich and interesting setting. Inspector Gautier’s job is to learn who poisoned the ambitious actress, Sophie Monterant, and to do so without ruining the political reputations of her rich lovers.
Hodgson’s latest book following his widely acclaimed America in Our Time and the best study of the 1968 election, An American Melodrama, explores the sources of the paradox that while no office has more power than the presidency, it is impotent to accomplish its purposes. Congress imposes restraints reminiscent of the 18th-century Polish Diet “where . . . independent members, bound by no ties of party . . .jealously guarded the power to block anything the king might attempt.” Deadlocks have increased and stalemates multiplied and presidents have turned to “foreign spectaculars” instead of stubborn domestic issues. Presidents who are “made” by image-makers are poorly prepared to govern. Hodgson calls for consideration of a renewal of party leadership, a “supercabinet” of Congressional leaders, and changes in the electoral process and terms of office. His cogent and well-grounded arguments merit the most serious study.
The abused child frequently becomes, as an adult, a child abuser. Thus it has been with Stalin’s abused children. The ones in power after 1953—all of them—have had to contend with their terrible legacy, and no one in his or her right mind can argue that they have done so as rational adults. But they have tried: as difficult as it is to remember, we feared war even more 30 years ago than we do now. Mr. Bialer does not seek to make us see how lucky we are, but his dispassionate analysis does show us that things were indeed once worse.
The role of the press in a democracy was, until the middle of this century, reasonably well defined. The press was beholden to no one, always had an at least potential political role as adversary, and reflected the conscience and the attitudes of the population. All that has come under attack in the wake of totalitarian movements, whose virus has spread to all countries including our own. Technological innovations have further complicated the press’s search for a new identity. This useful summary of the press in the United States and elsewhere is unusually timely as we rapidly approach 1984.
When the concept of Eurocommunism burst upon the world a few years ago, many political commentators saw in it a new phenomenon, a translation into life of the Prague Spring and the age-old hopes for a peaceful evolution in the Communist bloc, Alas, the deceitful beast has been around as long as its parent, and it traces its roots at least back to 1919 and the founding of the Comintern. Though centered upon contemporary developments, this book offers a useful survey of yet another of Soviet totalitarianism’s faces.
The appearance of yet another book on the subject of what J. Edgar Hoover correctly called the “crime of the century” testifies to the power of the nightmare into which that crime plunged us. It has become fashionable to try to rehabilitate the Rosenbergs, Fuchs, Pontecorvo, and the rest, and yet no one has dared suggest that the giving to the Communists of the atomic secrets was a wise and humane gesture. This book adds nothing new to what we know, and it is badly written, consisting largely of long, undigested quotes. It is, however, an acceptable review of the nightmare’s origins.
The oral history method of taped interviews does not always work for a book, for conversation is rarely literature and few people either think or speak with much distinction. This amorphous quality may suit both the subject and the book here considered, but it is a suitability more fitted to sociology, a science which must determine the efficacy of the samples here given.
What might occur when six million people having a common linguistic, cultural, and historical experience decide that they ought to secede from a federal polity and form their own nation-state? How can this aspiration be reconciled peacefully with the contemporary political status quo, and in the possible event of secession, what might be the resultant economic, military, and diplomatic relationship of the two political entities? No less important, what would be the implications for these polities’ neighbors? These are the pivotal issues that comprise the intellectual thrust of The Question of Separation respective to Quebec’s future political status in Canada. This slim but provocative volume is based on the 1979 Massey Lectures, commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and given by the author under the title “Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association” as part of CBC Radio’s Ideas series. Using as a model the experience of Norway’s gradually prepared, peaceful separation from Sweden in the 19th century, Ms. Jacobs makes an eloquent plea for a similar strategy to be applied to Quebec’s independence from Canada. As she makes clear, there is no doubt that national sovereignty today is an emotion-laden, multi-faceted political phenomenon, having profound cultural, social, economic, and legal ramifications. Accordingly, in this era of worldwide decolonization, Ms. Jacobs’ lucid presentation provides a strong case that Quebec, too, should possess the sovereign ability to govern its own socioeconomic affairs as an independent nation-state. Hence, while political events both in Quebec and Canada during 1980 may have overtaken the possibility of near-term Quebec separation, one thing nonetheless is certain: the Parti Québécois will continue to be a salient vocal influence in Canadian politics, and for this reason, The Question of Separatism will remain an important commentary on the issue.
In the present volume, subtitled “Politics in the Film Community, 1930—1960,” the unwritten history of the Left in Hollywood has found its first historians. They have researched the archives exhaustively, interviewed the survivors comprehensively, and written an account of political activism in the film community that is both complete and committed. The book is frequently prolix, awkward in its metaphors, heavy-handed in its opinions, but there is no question that it is one of the most significant studies of Hollywood; above all, it places the dramatic confrontation between HUAC and the Hollywood left in 1947 and after in a context of domestic and international politics that stretches back more than a decade. The reader should take note that this is a book about the politics of film workers rather than the politics of film art (indeed, it is least satisfactory when it tackles the subject of political ideologies on the screen).
By means of taped interviews with many of the members of one of the central police divisions of Liverpool, a composite portrait of the group is achieved. The author’s (editor’s?) firm control of the use of the many quotations and the sequence in which he places them give unity to the work without a sense of manipulation. Although police work turns out to be about as one supposes, the great surprise of the book is the considerable humanity maintained by the veterans of the division in the face of the deadly repetition of their tasks.
Hunter’s original work on Atlanta, Community Power Structure (1953), raised issues of theory and method in the study of power that are still debated today in the social sciences. In this follow-up study, Hunter still subscribes to the notion that power in Atlanta, indeed in the nation, is an elitist prerogative of those at the top. Hunter writes with conviction especially when he discusses the cooperative movement as an alternative to elitism in American society. This study, however, is likely to renew the debate of issues raised by the original work rather than be acclaimed by social scientists in a consensual manner.
As Green notes in his preface, too often labor history has concentrated on notable leaders, such as Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor or John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. Yet the most important breakthroughs often originate from the base. This study offers a rank-and-file perspective, while at the same time synthesizing the working-class experience by affording an integrated view of the world of the worker in the workplace, in the union, at home, and politically. Green’s dialectics focus on the struggle for control: control not only of the means of production but of one’s own life. A first-rate social history and richly rewarding reading.
Cord Meyer joined the CIA convinced that the USSR presented a mortal threat to the USA. His 29 years in the top echelons of the Agency have not altered his earlier assessment. The danger is more ominous today because the Soviet Union has achieved military superiority over the United States. Meyer believes that in recent years the Kremlin has used its military power to expand into strategically vital areas. Foreign successes allow the Soviet Government to continue one-party control at home. Dissidents cannot hope to be effective as long as the government is conspicuously successful abroad. The United States is the only country capable of forcing the Soviet leaders back to their own territories. Meyer advocates a strong, well-armed foreign policy buttressed by the specialized services of the CIA and other security organizations. The recent problems which diminished the effectiveness of the Agency have now been resolved, and the time has come to restore it to its proper place as an important link in the fight against Soviet subversion and aggression. Since this work has the approval of the CIA, one must consider it the most definitive account of the Agency’s recent history. Here Meyer concludes that the activities were authorized or were based on the best interest of the United States. Mistakes were made, but the past is past. Meyer writes well and convincingly. This book deserves a wide audience because it reveals the Agency as the guardian of freedom and democracy. It also shows the reader how the CIA views reality.
When Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno decided that the United States Government could give him better protection than his former brothers of the Mafia, the obvious implication is that the Mob had slipped on the banana peel of its own success. Not since Valachi san