Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Spring 1985


ISSUE:  Spring 1985

Using the methods of linguistic analysis and intellectual history, Professor Mueller provides a sweeping assessment of English prose style from Wycliff to Lyly. Her chief argument concerns the impact of Scripture upon vernacular English prose. The term Scripturalism denotes a writer’s absorption with the text of the Bible so intense as to affect his style with the Biblical modes of expression. With Tyndale’s English version of the Bible, especially, vernacular Scripturalism achieved its enduring appearance within English life and letters. This valuable study shows the inseparability of speech and style from religious, political, and social values in the 15th and 16th centuries and devotes significant attention to the centrality of Scripturalism in lesser-known writers of the period.

Between the Library and the Laboratory: The Language of Chemistry in Eighteenth-Century France, by Wilda C. Anderson. Johns Hopkins $20

This should have been a fascinating and important book: in it, a literary scholar knowledgeable in the history of science examines the chemical nomenclatures of Lavoisier and his predecessors (especially P.J.Macquer) with an eye for implicit epistemic commitments of a Foucaultian sort. But alas: too caught up in her own terminological niceties, uninterested in chemistry itself, and unable to make clear her implied connections between chemist and citizen, Anderson writes with a prolix vagueness that never quite engages the most important aspects of her subject.

Ambition and Privilege: The Social Tropes of Elizabethan Courtesy Theory, by Frank Wigham California $27

Professor Wigham’s exploration of the urges underlying the great courtesy manuals of the Tudor period may seem upon a first reading a somewhat tedious and overly intricate study. Further reflection, however, discloses the book’s value as a fine rethinking of a genre which has itself become encumbered by stock scholarly assumptions. In his crucial chapters on praise and blame at court, the author offers one of the most penetrating discussions yet of the rhetorical aggression and self-defense which constituted a significant part of life within the embattled circles of the Elizabethan elite.

Politics and Language in Dryden’s Poetry: The Arts of Disguise, by Steven N. Zwicker. Princeton $25

Dryden’s work has long been read in fruitful connection with his politics, and the same could be said of many Restoration writers. It was, and still is, the only age in English literature that offers us both pure and moving examples of public poetry, a poetry ostensibly devoted less to the poet’s private travails than to the problems confronting his culture. Zwicker reads Dryden’s poetry, however, with an emphasis on the mechanics of subterfuge. He argues convincingly that many of Dryden’s moderate pronouncements are artfully concealed parries of a far bolder and more vindictive force than previously expected.

All the Olympians: A Biographical Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance, by Ulrick O’Connor. Atheneum $18.95

Published in England as The Celtic Twilight, the title of this American edition is far more enlightening. For, whereas “Celtic Twilight” implies a kind of worldweariness, a spiritual heaviness, O’Connor’s book is in fact about a “Renaissance” —an age of rebirth and wonder, of violence, of tremendous achievement and terrible waste. Magnificently written, authoritatively researched, O’Connor’s work does much more than offer further vignettes about such giants as Shaw, Joyce, or Yeats. O’Connor’s story teems with fascinating people, and his attentions span several generations. A renaissance is neither “born” in a day nor sparked by one or two men, and O’Connor shows considerable historical savvy in his concern with the way in which political and cultural history are inextricably entwined. This means not only that he considers Parnell and O’Leary with the same care he does any of his “literary” figures, but that the distinction between politics and culture is never simple. This is a work for which we can be grateful.

H. L. Mencken and the Debunkers, by Edward A. Martin. Georgia $22.50

Debunking, as defined by Martin, is the topical satire that emerged from the Progressive movement. Using this bit of knowledge as a springboard, he takes off on a spirited romp through the early decades of this century, showing us how Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Don Marquis, Ring Lardner, Frank Sullivan, E.B.White, Nathanael West—and, above all, The New Yorker— influenced the world of American letters. It’s a charming, well-phrased journey, a sort of melange of literary insight and biography, but not, as one might assume from the title, a confrontation: Mencken vs.debunkers. And, with all of the personalities involved who were famous for their wit and humor, it turns out to be, strangely, a rather humorless trip.

The Look of Russian Literature: Avant-Garde Visual Experiments, 1900—1930, by Gerald Janecek.Princeton $47.50

Presupposing knowledge of the subject on the part of the reader, this book is a series of technical studies of the visual effects of modernist Russian poetry and prose. It ranges over the work of Bely, Kruchonykh, Zdanevich, Mayakovsky, and others—dealing with the illustration of books, ferroconcrete poetry, typography and the “stepladder line.” Pages from these experimental books are abundantly illustrated, too often in postage stamp form. Only the briefest comments in the introductory chapter tie these innovative Russian works to their broader European context. A work primarily for specialists.

The Taming of Romanticism: European Literature and the Age of Biedermeier, by Virgil Nemoianu. Harvard $25

Nemoianu, a professor at Catholic University in Washington, calls the period 1815—48 the era of the domestication of Romanticism. Displaying a profound grasp of the social and political history, he shows how Romantic writers absorbed the triumph of the middle class into their works and went on to seek the moral elevation of that class. He extends the term “Biedermeier” to all Europe and displays a sound grasp of East European literature. An excellent study.

Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire, by Helen Vendler. Tennessee $8.95

In these eloquent and witty lectures Helen Vendler attempts to locate the peculiar genius of Wallace Stevens in the “life-moment” when interior reality presses against the object, “the radiant moment when he had succeeded in calling the world by name. “She concentrates on the shorter poems and examines them according to the strategies of concealment, revelation, and desire by which, as she argues, he projects his experiential, spatial world into a temporal structure of language. None of this often persuasive analysis is aimed at a fundamental reconception of Stevens. Rather it seeks to find the way to his heart. That can be a frustrating and inconclusive business when dealing with the evasive and diffident Stevens, but in this case the game is well worth the candle.

European Writers: The Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, edited by George Stade. Scribner’s $130

The companion to American Writers, British Writers, and Ancient Writers, this two-volume compendium offers extended essays by major Anglo-American scholars seeking to introduce the general reader to recent conservative opinion on continental masters from Descartes to Chénier, Predictably most of the 27 essays deal with French authors, with the rest almost equally divided between Italians and Germans. Approaches vary—again, predictably— from the historical to the textual, with the majority of essays blending the two in some plausible proportion. Of particular interest are articles by Nathan Gross on Corneille, Richard Danner on La Fontaine, Hugh Davidson on Pascal, and Jules Brody on Boileau, which not only sum up the present state of knowledge on their subjects but open important perspectives for further study, reflection, and reassessment.

New Directions in Faulkner Studies, ed. by Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie.Mississippi $25 cloth, $14.95 paper

These papers from the 1983 Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha conference range from a weighty study of Faulkner’s endings by Judith Wittenberg to a witty catalogue of pronunciation of Faulkner’s proper names by James Hinkle. The mixture of Freudianism, structuralism, and all the other isms of post-modern Faulkner criticism in this collection has its highs and lows, but it does breathe life into current Faulkner study. Of particular note are the articles by Andre Bleikasten and Noel Polk, both of whom convince us that Faulkner remains open to creative, nonideological readings.

“Image of that Horror”: History, Prophecy, and Apocalypse in King Lear, by Joseph Wittreich. Huntington $22

Wittreich continues the salutary project of restoring to Shakespeare’s plays their social and historical contexts, in this case interpreting King Lear in the light of court politics and the tradition of apocalyptic writings. Here, however, there is more of erudition than of argument, and interest in the book will be further limited by the fact that the author is addressing himself more to the critics than to the play. For Shakespeare scholars only.

The Imagination as Glory: Essays on the Poetry of James Dickey, edited by Bruce Weigl and T.R. Hummer. Illinois $17.50

According to the editors, “The abundance of fine Dickey criticism can only be a tribute to the poetry itself.” They cannot be alluding to more than three of the pieces here assembled in what appears to be (from the checklist of secondary sources contained herein) one of only two collections whose exclusive subject is the poet about whom N.Michael Niflis gushes (in an egregious, breezy contribution), “I genuinely believe, so help me, that Dickey is our greatest American poet.” Impressive articles by Joyce Carol Oates and Laurence Lieberman display a seriousness that the flamboyance of both poems and poet can unhappily discourage. While the book reflects the declining critical estimation of Dickey’s work after Poems 1957—1967, the latest of the pieces, Dave Smith’s perceptive, appreciative review of The Strength of Fields (1979), signals perhaps a reversal of this deplorable trend.

LIVES & LETTERSWomen of Fair Hope, by Paul M. Gaston. Georgia $13.50

In this elegantly written, deeply felt, and almost elegaic meditation, Paul M.Gaston reflects on the lives of three forgotten women. One, Nancy Lewis, was an exslave uprooted from her hard-won farm by the arrival of Utopian reformers on the shores of Alabama near the turn of the century, where they established “Fairhope” —a community to be built on the ideal of nonexploitation. The second, Marie Howland, had been a reformer since the 1850’s and came to Fairhope to see her lifelong dreams embodied in an actual community. The third, Marietta Johnson, found in Fairhope a haven for her ideas of “organic education,” in which children’s bodies and souls would be nurtured as much as their minds. These women’s stories, interesting and poignant in themselves, take on a special sheen in the hands of this gifted historian.

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909—1914, edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz. New Directions $37.50

Letters don’t “tell” stories, but—as with those collected in this volume—they can be invaluable in the narrative efforts of historians and critics, Although the “story” of Dorothy Shakespear and Ezra Pound has yet to be told, when it is it will inevitably depend upon this collection. Pending, however, definitive biographies, there is much we can learn here. Most readers of this volume will be drawn to it to learn about a hitherto obscure aspect of Pound’s life; few will finish it without great admiration for the strength of the young Englishwoman who disappointed her family and exchanged the security and ease of her station for a difficult life with an unsettled and largely unrecognized American poet. At the same time, it is difficult to resist admiring the indomitability of Pound’s spirit, or pausing attentively as he explains his rapidly changing poetics to Dorothy. And finally, there is the shared and buoyant sense of humor that stood two such independent souls through a lifetime: Dorothy imitating Ezra’s “murikanisms” or Pound’s gleeful nicknaming of friends and foes alike—these letters are not a complete “story,” but we can be sure many will make stories of them.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. V, 1936—1941, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, assisted by Andrew McNeillie. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $19.95

This last volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary begins on Jan.3, 1936, with her final revision of The Years, that book which she described two days later as “the old plague,” and goes through to March 24, 1941, four days before her suicide, ending with an unfinished sentence: “L.is doing the rhododendrons. . . .” Two months before, in late January, she recorded: “This trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me.” The entries throughout these last years do not indicate that she will give in to final despair. In October 1940, after an air raid, she wrote: “I said to L.: I dont want to die yet.” And she continued to plan things to write: “Octavia’s story. Could I englobe it somehow? English youth in 1900.” If Leonard Woolf had walked with her on the morning of March 28, would it merely have postponed her suicide? There is nothing in the diary to indicate that she could not have surmounted this depression, but the editor’s notes tell a slightly different story. And so ended the life of a great writer.

The Immortal Atatürk: A Psychobiography, by Vamik D. Volkan and Norman Itzkowitz. Chicago $37.50

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln of Turkey. He died in 1938, having done more than any individual in history (not excluding Peter the Great) to modernize a backward nation almost overnight—and he did it virtually by himself. Professor Volkan, a psychiatrist, and Professor Itzkowitz, a historian, have collaborated to produce what is easily the most comprehensive biography of the great leader available in English. The history is sometimes a little naïve, but the analysis of the subject is superb.

Reinhard Heydrich, by Edouard Calic. Morrow $15.95

Fearful that his own past included a Jewish ancestor, forever defensive because of his falsetto voice, and evidently not entirely convinced of the solidity of his manhood, Reinhard Heydrich was the quintessential Nazi. Himmler made him head of the Sicherheitsdienst, the security service of the SS that controlled the Gestapo. Heydrich masterminded the Reichstag Fire, helped establish the death camps, served his Führer loyally. He paid with his life in Czechoslovakia; the Nazis annihilated the village of Lidice in retaliation. This is a major biography that should silence pro-Nazi writers.

Byron’s Bulldog: The Letters of John Cam Hobhouse to Lord Byron, edited by Peter W. Graham. Ohio State $25

It is difficult to determine how much Hobhouse really meant to Byron because almost from the beginning of the correspondence, Hobhouse seems aware of the fact that he is writing to someone whose talents far exceed his own. There is a note of fawning. But the letters have an intrinsic value because of Hobhouse’s prominent place in Byron’s life: he went through Cambridge with him, served as the best man at his marriage, and was his traveling companion in Greece, Albania, and Turkey. These letters offer us further elaborations on a celebrated life.

T. S. Eliot: A Life, by Peter Ackroyd. Simon & Schuster $24.95

Would a life of T. S. Eliot by, say, Martin Seymour-Smith (author of a lively recent biography of Eliot’s near contemporary Robert Graves) have moved with greater narrative thrust than Peter Ackroyd’s does? No doubt. But it should surprise no one if, unlike the colorful Graves, the Eliot of that life still appeared to lack the “vigour,” “life,” and “enthusiasm” that Bertrand Russell perceived were lacking in his student in 1914—a young man whose meticulous dress externalized a need to discover cultural authority and philosophical absolutism and a fear of his own sexuality (which seems to have contributed to the misery of his early marriage to a woman with troubles of her own). It is not enough that Eliot mostly lived inside himself. His estate, by forbidding quotation from his “unpublished work or correspondence” and even from his “published work, except for purposes of fair comment in a critical context,” has put Ackroyd to an additional test, which he does pass. The most comprehensive biography yet of its subject, T.S. Eliot: A Life keeps its balance between the man himself and his work, which tells of a complex, dramatic life of the imagination.

The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, Vol.1,1903—1917, edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott. Oxford $27.50

This is the first of four volumes devoted to the letters of Katherine Mansfield. It covers 14 years of her brief life, from the age of 15.The other three volumes will cover the remaining six years. Letters are always more illuminating than the best biography, because they reflect the person writing so much more closely and clearly than any account of that person. Mansfield’s letters reveal this more than many others, because she showed herself differently to different correspondents and so made a series of mirrors rather than a single reflection. She also changes as she grows older, from the silly adolescent to the abnormally sensitive and ill adult. It is hard to think of three more volumes of the same scope.

Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New World, by Lois Palken Rudnick. New Mexico $19.95

Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan: every name indicates a different stage in the life of this woman whom one can best describe as dynamic, overbearing, seeking, controversial. Money helped her to make her way as she wanted but could not guarantee success. Rudnick has drawn heavily on Luhan’s autobiographies and other books, as well as on the books of those she encountered and influenced in one way or another. She has written a well-documented life of an extraordinary but hardly admirable woman, whose path wandered from Buffalo to Paris, Italy, New York, and finally to Taos.

Four Reasonable Men, by Brand Blanshard. Wesleyan $26 cloth, $9.95 paper

Brand Blanshard is 94 this year and still commands the polished style, if not all the incisiveness, that has characterized his many works since the monumental Nature of Thought (1936). The present volume contains four brief intellectual biographies—of Marcus Aurelius, Mill, Renan, and Henry Sidgwick—and a brief essay on the nature of prejudice. All four have influenced Blanshard, and all are paradigms of the “rationality” he has so long prized and exemplified; this collection of sketches will probably not inform, but it can instruct and perhaps inspire.

Choices, by Liv Ullmann. Knopf $14.95

Actress Liv Ullmann’s second book of autobiographical musings—and unfortunately these are little more than musings— details her struggle in adjusting to the problems of middle age. Ullmann declares that she is at peace with herself because she has finally taken control of her own life. For once, she is making her own choices. So she selects acting roles that are more to her liking, embarks on a worldwide tour of refugee camps as goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and severs ties with her latest lover to end a romance that had stagnated almost from its beginning. Yet despite Ullmann’s personal declaration of independence, her words lack conviction; she seems uncertain of what she expects of herself. She still needs desperately the approval of audiences that view her work, and she relies too heavily on men, who obviously play a central role in her life. While proclaiming her liberation, that she is making her choices, this story belies the fact that others are still pulling the strings.

HISTORYBlack Masters: A Free Family of Color in the Old South and No Chariot Let Down: Charleston’s Free People of Color on the Eve of the Civil War, by Michael P. Johnson and James L. Roark. Norton $22.50 and North Carolina $16.95, respectively

Both these books owe their existence to a cardboard box of letters found in 1935 by some schoolgirls beneath a house in South Carolina. Those letters, written by members of a remarkable free black family in the late antebellum years, allow us a rare glimpse into a dark corner of America’s past. Johnson and Roark have traced the complex story behind those letters and discovered more about South Carolina’s free black elite than one would have thought possible. What they found is not always pleasant, for the patriarch of the family, William Ellison, turns out to have been a slaveowner marked by many of the characteristics common to that class. The story of the Ellison family is the story of trying to walk a thin line between black and white, slavery and freedom. Johnson and Roark bring that struggle to life in the fascinating Black Masters, a narrative of the Ellison family, and allow us to read the letters for ourselves in No Chariot Let Down.Although these books deal with only a handful of obscure people, they manage to illuminate all the history of the antebellum South.

Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring, by Gordon W. Prange. McGraw-Hill $24.95

If Richard Sorge was not the most successful spy in history it is only because his Moscow masters did not make adequate use of the incredible intelligence he sent from Tokyo. Sorge had penetrated the German embassy and was privy to some of the Reich’s most closely guarded secrets, including the plans for the invasion of the USSR.The late Professor Prange and his associates, Donald M.Goldstein and Katherine V.Dillon, have given what is likely to remain the definitive history of Sorge and his associates. Highly recommended.

Impeachment in America, 1635—1805, by Peter Charles Hoffer and N.E.H. Hull. Yale $30

During the colonial period, our forefathers adapted the English common law to suit New World conditions, and the law of impeachments was no exception to this practice. Hoffer and Hull’s penetrating examination of colonial and early national impeachments shows that the American experience diverged sharply from its English counterpart. For instance, while impeachments were used in England to try and punish even private citizens, American assemblies limited their scope to public officials and the remedy to removal from office. With the rise of political parties in the 1790’s, the misuse of impeachments as a partisan weapon loomed as a threat to republican government, but this danger dissipated after the rash of impeachments brought during Jefferson’s presidency. Of especial interest is an appendix in which the authors attack Raoul Berger’s recent treatise on impeachment because of his reliance on English precedent to the exclusion of American colonial sources. Hoffer and Hull have broken new ground by considering an enormous wealth of purely American materials.

Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland, by Norman Davies. Oxford $35

Professor Davies of the University of London is unquestionably the West’s leading authority on Poland. His recent God’s Playground, a two-volume history of that unhappy land, stands as the best survey in any language. The present work is a distillation of the longer one to which Professor Davies has added more material on the 19th and 20th centuries. He has sought to account for the survival of the Poles between Teuton and East Slav, and to explain the rise of Solidarity.Heart of Europe is easily the best short history of Poland ever written.

The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680—1880,by Raymond Schwab. Columbia $45

Europe’s discovery of the Orient catapulted the old continent into the modern era by removing self-imposed boundaries on scientific and literary research. Schwab argues that Goethe, Hugo, Michelet, Lamartine, Heine, and many others were all influenced by the “Oriental Studies” in developing what has come to be known as the “romantic” school of thought. This outstanding book describes with painstaking detail how Europe changed in the 19th century and how its thinkers developed. Thirty-four years after its original publication in French, the English reader of history can finally appreciate Schwab’s major contribution to scholarship.

The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of History in Nineteenth Century Britain and France, by Stephen Bann. Cambridge $37.50

The 19th-century cult of history is an endlessly fascinating topic, which engages the author in his essay on the fictions and rhetorical devices of historical representation. Suggestively weaving together histories, novels, poetry, travel books, museums, and history painting, the author analyzes their shared sense of the past. Foucault, not Clio, is the author’s Muse; Hayden White, the learned, and clever metahistorian is his cicerone. Following them, he invokes all the fashionable theorists of our day, very nearly burying the0 past in the rubble of contemporary academic discourse.

A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge, by Charles B. MacDonald.Morrow $19.95

All generals would like to control the writing of the history of their battles, and the great Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 is no exception. Charles B.MacDonald was not a general but rather a junior infantry officer; his perspective is understandably a bit limited, but his book, the most comprehensive account yet to appear, is nonetheless valuable for that. He has thoroughly researched the last great clash of the European war and has brought innumerable new facts and interpretations to bear. A must for military history buffs.

Ruling Russia: Politics and Administration in the Age of Absolutism, 1762—1796, by John P. LeDonne. Princeton $40

It is conventional to speak of the liberation of the Russian nobility in the 18th century, the emancipation of the peasants in the 19th, and the triumph of the workers in the 20th. In this important new book Mr. LeDonne shows us more clearly than any previous author just how significant in this long-term process were the institutional reforms in the era of Catherine the Great. Basing his study on the Soviet archives, and ranging far beyond the Central Russian heartland, Mr. LeDonne has produced a work that will surely revamp the historiography of czarist Russia.

MI 6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations, 1909—1945, by Nigel West. Random House $16.95

Allen Dulles called intelligence work a “craft,” but in reality it more closely resembles a chore. In this comprehensive survey of the history of MI 6, Nigel West takes us through the bureaucratic thickets where the real work of sorting and analyzing is done by a dedicated corps of rather ordinary bureaucrats. There is little that is mysterious about MI 6 and less that is glamorous, but the organization played a vital role in British operations around the world in the era when the sun began to set on the empire.

Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880—1930, by Lynn Dumenil. Princeton $30

Lynn Dumenil uses American Freemasonry as a vehicle for studying white middle-class Protestant America in the 50 years after 1880.She finds that Masonry in the late 19th century reflected the moral attitudes of Victorian America and its hostility to materialism and provided asylum from a disordered world. By the 1920’s attempts were being made to modernize the order, reflecting a United States that was increasingly secular and consumption-oriented. Ms. Dumenil’s study makes it clear that the history of fraternal orders can provide fertile fields for research. Both because Freemasonry was (and is) important to a large segment of American society, and because it reflects larger trends in the national scene, one cannot but hope that other volumes will soon supplement this fine study.

The Wedemeyer Mission: American Politics and Foreign Policy during the Cold War, by William Stueck. Georgia $18

If anybody was going to lose China, it would not be General Albert C.Wedemeyer. President Truman dispatched him to the Far East in the summer of 1947 to find out what was going on; Wedemeyer had a good idea that the Chinese Communists were responsible for all the trouble. His conclusions were reinforced by what he found, but then he found only what Chiang Kai-shek wanted him to find. This is a useful study, which unfortunately is based only upon American sources.

Lenin and the End of Politics, by A. J. Polan. California $22.50 cloth, $9.95 paper

Polan argues brilliantly that Lenin did not know what he was talking about, at least not in The State and Revolution.Lenin may indeed have been as ignorant as Polan claims in the esoteric realm of political theory, but that is surely beside the point. Lenin knew, or rather sensed, history.One state form invariably yields to another. The time to yield in Russia came in 1917, and Lenin was there to pick up the pieces. Polan’s work is indeed excitingly irrelevant.

Remaking Ibieca: Rural Life in Aragon under Franco, by Susan Friend Harding. North Carolina $24.95

Harding’s rather hysterical final remark (“There was no ugly process of elimination; just a slow, clean, cultural death”) reveals her biases and undercuts the real worth of this interesting study of “social change in a capitalist dictatorship.” Borrowing from anthropology, history, and sociology, Harding studies the profound changes which occurred in the economic and social structure of a Spanish town between 1950 and 1975.The history is interspersed with case studies of the residents of Ibieca, and their tales prove for Harding that change was apparent well before the 1960’s (the supposed “rural exodus”) and that the major reason for the change was the state’s policies on supply and demand, markets, and agrarian reform.

Britain and the Weimar Republic, by F. L. Carsten. Shocken $21.50

Professor Carsten of the University of London has used recently released British diplomatic documents in constructing the fullest account to date of Anglo-German relations from 1919 to the coming to power of Hitler in 1933.British diplomats were reasonably astute observers of the German scene, and we have here much new information on the trials and tribulations of Germany’s ill-fated first experiment with democracy.

POETRYSecond Guesses, by James Richardson.Wesley an $16 cloth, $8.95 paper

Richardson writes a subtle, difficult kind of poetry that camouflages emotion in landscape and maintains a melancholy tone, a reticent voice. He seems to aim at an intricate conceptual delicacy, like his “Compositae,” and brings a wide range of knowledge and lore to bear on his personal losses—a brother’s death, a divorce—in this second collection. The title poem is one of the more accessible, with lines of sudden clarity: “Life has / already happened. Now that it’s over / we can talk it over, / and do again what we liked.” One wishes there were more of this natural, conversational flow, and less of the oblique convoluted meditations.

Raw Heaven, by Molly Peacock.Random House $12.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

With an intricate syntax that can sustain a sentence through several long lines and a rigorously ordered rhyme scheme, Peacock has created a poetry that is at once discursive and lyrical. She seems in some ways a conversational revision of Hopkins. What she risks here—and good writers are always risking something—is contrivance, and several poems seem more enamored of verbal play than dedicated to a purposeful exposition of her subject matter. Peacock’s purposes, however, are often extraordinary, and for the most part her technical skills, occasionally eccentric, serve her well.

Claims, by Shirley Kaufman. Sheep Meadow Press $13.95 cloth, $7.95 paper

In 1973 Shirley Kaufman, a native of Seattle, Washington, moved to Israel. In this latest collection—her fourth—Ms. Kaufman writes clearly and subtly about both locales. Of her present homeland (Jerusalem), we read, “Everything glitters. / Everything’s hammered by the sun / into bright mica”; and of her former Washington state: “It rained in Eugene and Portland./ It rained in Spokane. And the sky / in Seattle would never turn off.” This handsome, admirably written book belongs in every poetry collection.

Otherwise: Last and First Poems, by Eugenio Montale. Vintage $8.95

“Poetry throughout its golden ages has consisted in saying the same things worse and worse.” So says one of the great Italian poets of our century in one of his later epigrammatic poems, collected here with samples of his early work. If what Montale says is so, the reader will nevertheless find in this translation of Altri Versi many beautiful and wry meditations on poetry, God, history, and metaphysics. The poet is forever droll, whether recreating Nixon’s visit to Rome or observing an “error” in God’s calculations. His voice is, decades later, still close to that of his friend Svevo; it is still that of a Musil-like “man without qualities.” The translation by Jonathan Galassi is excellent—fluent, accurate, and close in tone to the original poetry that appears en face.

Journey of the Medicine Man, by Red Hawk.August House $10.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

Graceful but muscular, these verses are in almost constant accord with what is, perhaps, the author’s credo: “The idea / is to catch the moment / and dance. . . .” (“An Inquiry Into Art”). Especially praiseworthy is the volume’s epilogue, “What the Old Cheyenne Women at Sand Creek Knew.” This poem—with its perfect blend of love, hate, and death—will compel even the most escapist of readers to ponder the complexities of both life and art.

The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, Vol.2, edited by Samuel Hynes.Oxford $47.50

This particular volume in Oxford’s series of Hardy’s Complete Poetical Works includes the three books Hardy published between 1914 and 1922.During these traumatic years, Hardy’s genius for poetry continued undimmed: such masterpieces as “Channel Firing,” “The Convergence of the Twain, “and” In the Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’ “attest to the general high quality of his production. This Oxford edition is excellent both in content and presentation. The offering is truly complete and adheres to the order of publication Hardy himself set. Samuel Hynes provides extensive notes on textual variants, publication history, and the personal background of many of the lyrics; he does not try to foist his own interpretations on the reader in the guise of explanatory footnotes. The notes themselves are easily accessible but unobtrusive: the texts of the poems are printed clearly, spaciously, and without clutter. Accompanied by its companion volumes, this book would make an admirable addition to the library of any person seriously interested in poetry.

Selected Poems, by John Ciardi. Arkansas $21.00 cloth, $8.95 paper

Ciardi’s position in the world of contemporary poetry is something of a puzzlement. He has been time and again an eloquent defender of the difficulty characteristic of so much of it—at times sounding almost like Ezra Pound in his expression of exasperation with readers who want to be spoon-fed. And yet his own writing has remained cheerfully close to “popular” poetry, and has consequently been attacked by some of the very writers he would defend (John Berryman, for example). As this selection of poems should make clear, Ciardi feels uncomfortable with any image of what a poet or poem should be. For some readers, this posture will seem little more than a refusal of commitment. But it would be a misunderstanding of what Ciardi does to regard his work as evasive. If we say that his poems occupy some middle position between the avante-garde and the popular, we should grant that that ground is neither facile nor secure but always unstable, varying according to the problems set by each poem, and indeed sometimes volatile.

Oblique Prayers, by Denise Levertov. New Directions $12 cloth, $5.95 paper

Levertov has often appeared to be a mystic for whom the obtrusions of political life come like an unwelcome nightmare. This volume too is at once mystic and political but with the difference that the political realm is treated with a new immediacy. Indeed, Levertov is so concerned with honest assessment before the obliquity of this world that she professes herself ready to sacrifice sustained poetic utterance. Among poems about American involvement in El Salvador or about pesticides, we find one piece entitled “Perhaps No Poem But All I Can Say And I Cannot Be Silent.” There is nothing oblique about the social commentary that insistently comprises a substantial part of Oblique Prayers.But it is perhaps in the stubborn frailty of poetic voice, the quiet way in which we suddenly notice that outrage can produce prayer, that these writings remain without question not only “poetry,” but continued evidence of Levertov’s dedication to her craft.

Across the Mutual Landscape, by Christopher Gilbert. Gray wolf Press $14 cloth, $6 paper

A simple, unaffected joy governs most of what Gilbert writes, and so his poems normally end in celebration of their subjects. A black poet whose book won the Walt Whitman Award, he lays the foundations in this work for something very like a renovated language, one that is both sensitive to the iconoclastic rhythms of dialect and the conservative tones of iambic pentameter. His experiment here is not a wholly successful one; but it is, nevertheless, a vital one; besides, few poets would have had the good sense and bold nerve to leave this line unaltered: “Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Muddy and Wolf.”

Light Year ‘85, edited by Robert Wallace. Bits Press $13

In a repeat performance of an earlier success, the editor has again selected the lighter verse offerings of a diverse pool of contributors. Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Howard Nemerov, and many others pay humorous homage to a list of subjects equally as varied as their authors. Indeed, the rhyming attempts include a self-de-structing demonstration of excessive enjambment and also some rather X-rated material. Of course, more elevated tastes are met with a few clerihews as well. Not all of the 230 attempts succeed, but enough do to keep one reading.

Darwin’s Ark, poems by Philip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzatti. Indiana $15

The author, whose work as a poet and as a novelist is well known, has here written some often engaging and just as often disengaging verse on the matters of creation, evolution, and life. His earlier work has shown an affinity for things Darwinian, and the contribution of the present collection is to place human life in the larger context by which nature and the divine perceives it. In Rudy Pozzati, the poet has found an artist of talent. The illustrations follow the thematic wanderings of the text and frequently are more interesting than the words they illuminate.

Traffic, with Ghosts, by Rosanne Coggeshall. Houghton Mifftin $14.95 cloth, $7.95 paper

Irreverent and solemn, frivolous and dour, ornate and simple—Coggeshall’s verse is difficult to describe because it attempts, and often achieves, a myriad of tones. Berryman, Hopkins, and Dickinson have exerted a strong influence on Coggeshall, and the reader occasionally is more taken with her style than her content. This is not such a bad thing at all because it means that she is attending carefully to the most fundamental aspects of her craft. And since she is a young poet, her attention to these matters is a promising sign.

The Late Wisconsin Spring, by John Koethe. Princeton $14.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

Koethe’s work most approximates Ashbery’s in tone and perspective, and it is developing, like Ashbery’s, in a Stevensian climate. But there are important differences between Koethe and his mentor. Where Ashbery relishes slang, Koethe exudes a kind of stern austerity in his diction. Where Ashbery’s longest sentences often rely on simple conjunctions to hold them together, Koethe’s often depend on long sets of clauses placed in apposition to the main clause, an emphasis on simplicity in the one and elaboration in the other. And the subject of memory, one of Ashbery’s interests, is Koethe’s obsession.

A Slow Fuse, by Theodore Weiss. Macmillan $15.95 cloth, $8.95 paper

For many readers, a new book by by Weiss is something of an event. He has been publishing steadily now for more than 30 years and has developed an original voice that is unlike any other American poet—it is often easy to recognize his poems from a brief snippet. But originality is never Weiss’s goal; it is the product of his love for his craft, of his relentless attention to quotidian detail. Weiss’s readers will surely return to this fine book again and again, and, with each reading, discover poems or lines they will swear they have never read.

Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, by Alice Walker. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $10.95

This is Alice Walker’s fourth volume of verse and her first since she won the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple.Using short, nonmetrical lines, these simple lyrics meditate on love and lovers, Afro-Amer-ican experience and heritage, Walker’s own family past, women, Indians, hunger, the Third World, and poetry itself.”I understand how poems are made,” she tells us, and perhaps she does, but the poems assembled here seem more posed and self-conscious than those of her powerful first volume Once (1968) in which she successfully combined detached observation, emotional urgency, and understatement. Here many of the poems read more like exercises than necessary utterances.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSThe Good News is the Bad News is Wrong,by Ben Wattenberg. Simon & Schuster $17.95

This is, from start to finish, an all-out assault on the media. In a breezy, staccato-like delivery encumbered by scores of lists and a tidal wave of percentages and figures, Wattenberg tries to prove that everythingreally is hunky-dory and Americans, virtually every last one of us, never had it so good. To do this, he stresses noncash income received by the poor, conjectures that young people who have never held a job really can’t be counted as unemployed, and performs similar sleight of hand magic. Coming from a man who once wrote War on Poverty speeches for LBJ, it has sort of a hollow ring. Not surprisingly, Reader’s Digest will condense this “I’m All Right, Jack” message and deliver it to millions of faithful readers, may of whom will quickly recognize it as the gospel according to St. Ronald.

Contrasts: Soviet and American Thinkers Discuss the Future, by Wiktor Osiatyński. Macmillan $19.95

The Polish journalist Wiktor Osiatynski interviewed 22 Soviet and American scientists and researchers, including (on the American side) Alvin Toffler, Noam Chomsky, Linus Pauling, and Robert Hofstadter, He wanted to know what they thought about the future—in the first place whether there would be one—and about the possibility of a reconciliation between East and West. Some of the interviews produced truly stimulating thought, and the entire volume is a provocative challenge to us to get out of conventional modes of analysis.

Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America, by Allan A. Ryan, Jr.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $15.95

Amid the waves of immigrants that entered the United States after World War II were fugitives who participated in war crimes at the behest of the Third Reich’s leadership. An inept bureaucracy failed to identify these criminals, allowing them to live in tranquil anonymity in neighborhoods across our nation. Author Ryan tells of the Justice Department’s belated and often frustrating efforts to find and deport the now aged remnants of this seamy lot. What is most disturbing about his tale is that American immigration policy actually favored Germans and non-Jewish Eastern Europeans, the groups most likely to include war criminals. This anomaly, coupled with the postwar generation’s preoccupation with communism, resulted in many of the most unsavory types attaining American citizenship. Now that we are currently reevaluating our immigration laws, Ryan’s book has a timely message: those who violate human rights, be they of the left or the right, have no claim to the benefits of life in a free society.

Staying on Top: The Business Case for a National Industrial Strategy, by Kevin P. Phillips. Random House $15.95

Once the envy of the world, the U. S. industrial power base lost much of its dominance over the past 20 years. Today, in addition to very large budget deficits, Washington is faced with alarmingly high balance of trade deficits as international competition becomes more intense. What can be done to revitalize our economy? Phillips, a conservative thinker, suggests that American businesses should cooperate with the government to forge a centrist alliance which would provide national guidelines for economic activities. This proposal has proven effective in Japan. Can and will it be possible to implement it in the U.S.?

Cold War, Cold Peace: The United States and Russia since 1945, by Bernard A. Weisberger. American Heritage $17.95

This rather idiosyncratic work by a professor of history who declines to list any institutional affiliations is really a compendium of musings on foreign policy. It contains no new information, no insights of any particular significance. It appears to have been written for a junior high school audience, which may make sense of such formulations as “the car was the master machine of national existence” in the USA. Not recommended.

Passage to Peshawar, by Richard Reeves. Simon & Schuster $15.95

It is not difficult to imagine one American political party or the other, in the 1990’s, raising the cry, “Who Lost Pakistan?” An unstable political tradition, a backward economy, and a volatile, devoutly Muslim population have been a prescription for dynamite in more than one country, and there is no reason to see Pakistan as an exception. Richard Reeves spent a few months in the country, saw the dictator a couple of times, and traveled around a bit. His account is a modest first step toward understanding modern Pakistan.

A Critical American: The Politics of Dwight MacDonald, by Stephen J. Whitfield. Archon Books $19.50

This lively, briskly paced, and well-written book chronicles the journalistic career of one of the most interesting and idiosyn cratic political critics of our century. Tracing his shift from Luce’s Fortune to the Partisan Review, the author captures the political passions and conflicts of the 1930’s and 40’s. Having rejected the excesses of Marxism, MacDonald founded Politics in which he put forth his own anarchist views. His later writings on cultural topics in The New Yorker and elsewhere are only alluded to here, and it is a pity, since the author has considerable sympathy for their sharpness of insight and pointed cleverness. In the perhaps controversial concluding chapters of the book, Whitfield suggests that MacDonald’s influence on the New Left of the 1960’s was considerable. And maybe so.

America as a World Power, by Norman A. Graebner. Scholarly Resources $11.95

Professor Graebner is the foremost teacher of American diplomatic history, the leading realist among diplomatic historians, and one of the nation’s most respected general historians. The present volume brings together some of his most trenchant essays on U.S.foreign policy from the Versailles Conference to the Reagan administration. If evidence were needed of the consistency of Graebner’s thought, this book provides it. Its subtitle, A Realist Appraisal, accurately portrays his contribution, which is destined to have enduring value.

Economics in the Real World, by Leonard Silk. Simon & Schuster $16.95

Leonard Silk, economics columnist for the New York Times, examines the political dimensions of economic decision-making, drawing from policy experiences since the Great Society. Silk’s major conclusion is no surprise: that in the “real world” economics plays “second fiddle” to politics. For example, Silk explains that while economists theorize, politicians make decisions on politically expedient grounds. Silk’s principle arguments are equally obvious. This text is written purposefully for a general audience. Scholars of economics or political science will not find this text very useful.

Walter Lippmann: Cosmopolitanism in the Century of Total War, by D. Steven Blum. Cornell $19.95

Blum’s study provides an intellectual portrait of Lippmann as political philosopher, tracing his attitudes towards American parochialism, liberal democracy, and the interdependence of politics, commerce, and culture in the world. Blum probes the source of Lippmann’s dissatisfaction with both the superficiality of modern journalism and the pedantry of academic philosophy. Whether or not cosmopolitanism is the clue to the deeper dimension of Lippmann’s thought, Blum has written an important companion volume to Ronald Steele’s biography of Lippmann.

Nuclear Proliferation Today, by Leonard S. Spector. Carnegie Endowment $5.95

This text initiates the Carnegie Endowment’s series of annual reports on the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide. Several important questions are addressed by this text: who are today’s emerging nuclear powers? How close are they to the nuclear “threshold”? Why have international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons been so ineffective? Because many nation-states have made only incremental advances toward the acquisition of nuclear technology, some important problems for U.S.policy makers arise. The conflict between U.S.short-term foreign policy goals and their long-term implications is addressed briefly. Given the annual scope of these studies, this text will be dated quickly.

The Other Side of Paradise, by Tom Barry, Beth Wood, and Deb Preusch. Grove Press $9.95

This text attempts to examine the effects of the rapidly increasing flow of dollars and corporate investment in the Caribbean area. The authors argue that this influx of investment has failed to “trickle down” to the majority of the Caribbean people and has, instead, posed severe problems to both the economies and the natural landscape of the region. Chapters are devoted to profiles of each of the Caribbean islands plus Surinam, Guyana, and French Guiana. Though well researched and documented, the book fails to present a balanced view of U.S.corporate investment, weighing both the detrimental and beneficial aspects.

The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation, by Raymond Wolters. Tennessee $24.95

Ever since Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools, a minority of constitutional scholars has argued that, however wise the basic social policy it reached, the Court was arrogating to itself decisions properly left— and left by the Constitution, properly interpreted—to legislatures. The arguments made by these scholars gained strength as it became increasingly clear how deeply Brown and similar cases must involve the federal courts in concocting the sorts of detailed policy prescriptions traditionally left to legislatures, and in making the sorts of picayune day-to-day decisions traditionally left to the executive. Raymond Wolters, who is a historian rather than a lawyer, makes a valuable contribution to the case against Brown by studying in detail how public education has fared under judicial administration in each of the five jurisdictions embraced by the Supreme Court’s original ruling. His conclusion that federal judges have proved spectacularly inept as educational administrators, with disastrous results for the black student populations whom the courts hav

0 Comments

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

Recommended Reading