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Notes on Current Books, Spring 1994

ISSUE:  Spring 1994

Famously asked in 1782 by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, the question, “What is an American?”, reverberates throughout Jack Greene’s learned and detailed examination of exceptionalism and national identity in America’s first three centuries. Greene himself admits that his subject is a venerable one in American historiography: “Beginning with an analysis of the expectations generated by America among its earliest European interpreters, [the book] examines how successive generations of inhabitants and observers of continental Anglo-America encountered, experienced, examined, evaluated, and explained America.” While not groundbreaking, the book presents a solid, well-argued case for the persistence of exceptionalism in America from the landfall of Columbus to the present. According to Greene, the modern concept of exceptionalism rests on two important propositions: the idea that America was a nation both exempt from the laws of history and exemplary in its superiority to other nations. By the existing standards of the Old World, Greene argues, American settlers found their new home to be highly exceptional from the start, but it was only with the Revolution that Americans began to see their achievements in politics and society to be exemplary, and a model for Europeans.

Intervention! The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913—1917, by John S.D. Eisenhower. Norton $27.50

More than three-quarters of a century have passed since the Colossus of the North sought to affect the internal spasms that Mexico was undergoing in the second decade of this century. First was the occupation of Veracruz, followed by the abortive 11-months-long Punitive Expedition to catch the elusive Pancho Villa after his daring raid into New Mexico. These incursions still rankle some in the sentiments of our neighbor just south of the border. The new North American Free Trade Agreement may have greater potential for bettering relations between the United States and Mexico than any of the other initiatives taken over recent decades. This study, though basically an account of military operations, also gives a good orientation into the politics and personalities in Mexico in the era of World War I.

The Mississippi Valley’s Great Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, by Khaled J. Bloom. Louisiana $29.95

The yellow fever epidemic that swept up the lower Mississippi Valley in the summer of 1878, killing some 20, 000 people, was one of the worst epidemics in American history. Khaled Bloom’s pioneering account of the tragedy is admirable but relies too heavily on newspaper accounts and published public health reports, sources that lead him to treat the epidemic mainly as a public health disaster. Bloom offers a detailed account of the futile efforts to check the spread of the disease, but he fails to relate the epidemic to the broader social, economic, and political contexts in which it occurred, ignoring questions of race and social class particularly relevant to this period of Southern history.

Kiev: A Portrait, 1800—1917, by Michael F. Hamm. Princeton $29.95

Scene of Babi Yar, the Mongol invasion, and home to the gallery that inspired Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev has witnessed just about everything. We can all be grateful to Professor Hamm for bringing a few chapters of its history to the attention of the American public. Concentrating on the explosion of cultural and political life around the end of the last century, he does a masterful job of portraying a vibrant, dynamic urban center that was to Ukrainians what Moscow was to Russians, Paris to the French.

Circles of Hell: The War in Italy 1943—1945, by Eric Morris. Crown $25

A close look at the conduct of the Italian campaign by allied forces during the Second World War always leaves one feeling sickened. As Morris shows, erstwhile British and American allies conducted the campaign in a highly charged atmosphere of distrust. Americans saw the campaign as a distraction from the main campaign to come in France on a Churchillian scale. Nonetheless, Morris argues that nothing can justify the poor conduct of the Italian campaign by the leaders of the allied forces. Time and again they ignored important principles for the conduct of warfare, attacking when and where the enemy expected and at the point of greatest strength in the German defensive lines. This lack of strategic imagination extracted an appalling toll from the men who served in this forgotten theater of war.

To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: Rights in American History, edited by Josephine F.Pacheco. George Mason $42.50

This volume in the George Mason Lectures Series offers ten essays, an introduction and two appendices that reflect upon American thinking about political rights. As with most collections of this sort, the essays are a mixed lot. Most were written by historians or political scientists and concentrate on the constitutional era, though not necessarily on the Bill of Rights itself. The best, by Peter S.Onuf, Paul Finkelman, and John P.Kaminski, examine ideas about the protection of rights under the Articles of Confederation and how these ideas shaped the decision not to include a bill of rights in the Constitution. Other interesting essays look beyond the founding era to chart changing interpretations of the Bill of Rights. By showing the slow, and as yet incomplete, process of overcoming the limits of this guarantee of American rights, these essays provide refreshing criticism and skepticism in what might have been an unremittingly celebratory volume.

Florence: The Biography of a City, by Christopher Hibbert. Norton $35

Nineteenth-century travelers on the Grand Tour of the Continent considered Florence the perfect first course in the feast of the senses that is Italy. Nothing like so filling as Rome—the main course—nor so romantically rich as Venice—the dessert, Florence provided just the right amount of high quality art and the flavor of the Renaissance to epitomize the finest Italy had to offer at its finest hour. Christopher Hibbert details the ageless attraction of Florence, tracing Florentine history from its genesis as an Etruscan town that through two millennia has survived foreign invasions, plague, political intrigue, popes, wars, and modern floods. Along the way, it earned the right to represent the pinnacle of Western culture, as the home of Dante and Machiavelli, Michelangelo and the Medici. Hibbert brings the story up to date by describing the art and architecture that continues to draw travelers to what remains a favorite stop on any European itinerary.

Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy: 1300—1600, by Richard Goldthwaite. John Hopkins $29.95

This magisterial book attempts to survey, as the tide suggests, the role of wealth in the flowering of Italian Renaissance art. The author sees his study as an “enlargement” of Burckhardt’s classic essay on Renaissance culture, for he introduces into the great Swiss scholar’s general view crucial economic factors. Goldthwaite is known to Renaissance scholars for his highly detailed analyses of economic history based on precise documentation. This book, however, is highly generalized, leaving out of account many of the particulars in the complex history of economics during the period.

The Woman’s Movements in the United States and Britain from the 1790s to the 1920s, by Christine Bolt. Massachusetts $45 cloth, $15.95 paper

As the tide implies, this book has a large focus. On the one hand, this broad scope allows Bolt to make useful historical connections between different feminist epochs and two countries. On the other hand, Bolt sacrifices the close interpretation and analysis that would be possible in a more specific study. For readers seeking such specificity, there are many other books and articles that investigate significant moments of the feminist movement and famous feminist leaders. Bolt contributes a history that encompasses and organizes previous scholarship in six lucid chapters. She also draws upon many fascinating primary sources and provides new insights on such complex subjects as the historical and social forces that shaped the British suffrage movement of the early 20th century.

German Social Democracy and the Rise of Nazism, by Donna Harsch. North Carolina $45

This volume asks, where were German Social Democrats during the years immediately preceding the Nazi Machtergreifung? From a multitude of sources detailing the rich complexity of Social Democratic life in interwar Germany, Harsch finds a party frozen by its very diversity. Marxist determinism contributed to passivism as Social Democrats awaited the “inevitable” triumph of the masses and Marxist rationalism prevented an effective response to emotional Nazi appeals to German fears and hopes. Beset by other differing views of socialism, Social Democratic leaders did not unite even when the Nazi threat stood at the doorstep of power. Lacking a heritage of “underground” resistance to authority, a legacy of the fight against Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist laws of the preceding century, the party collapsed like a house of cards after the Nazi seizure of power.

The Flowering of the Third America: The Making of an Organizational Society, 1850—1920, by Maury Klein. Ivan R.Dee $22.50

Although there is little new material in The Flowering of a Third America, Maury Klein does an admirable job of synthesizing a great deal of information about the society and economy of what he calls the “third America,” the period between 1865 and 1920 when the nation moved from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial one. Encyclopedic in nature, The Flowering of the Third America includes chapters on the industrializing of America, the new entrepreneurs, the corporate economy, the business of farming, the corporate society, the new American landscape, the triumph of technology, and integration and alienation. If one theme runs throughout, it is the turn-of-the-century rise of a consumer economy, made possible by industrialization: “The consumer economy provided tangible, even joyous evidence that the system was working. It also became the unifying thread for a culture of diversity by standardizing tastes through consumer products, films, magazines, radio, sports, and other cultural meeting points. For a nation with radically different racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious traditions, the market was the best if not the only place to develop shared tastes, values, and traditions.”

Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894—1917, by Anna Geifman. Princeton $39.50

Russia has known political terror for a thousand years. It is a distinguishing mark of political culture, if that is the term, in that country, and it is unlikely to disappear soon. Professor Geifman, who teaches at Boston University, dissects with surgical precision the couple of decades that preceded the Bolshevik seizure of power, a time when a beleagured tsarist regime groped desperately, and failed to find, some means of defending itself.

The Found Generation: Chinese Communists in Europe during the Twenties, by Marilyn A. Levine. Washington $35

If Marxism did not really “fit” backward, peasant Russia, as even the Russian Communists finally acknowledged, we can only imagine its utter inappropriateness in China. Yet nowhere has communism had such success, and we must ask ourselves why this is so. In this engaging, intelligent and carefully researched book, Professor Marilyn Levine shows how the European education of such people as Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, and other giants of the Chinese Communist Party produced a political system that clings to life with surprising tenacity.

Grand Inquests, by William H. Rehnquist. Morrow $15 paper

Two of the most important cases in American constitutional history were not decided by the U.S.Supreme Court but rather by the U.S.Senate. Each was an impeachment trial, and both resulted in an acquittal. The first, in 1805, against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, preserved the independence of the Federal judiciary. The second, in 1868, against President Andrew Jackson, preserved the independence of the executive branch of American Government. Both decisions were victories over the Congress. The chief justice writes with a riveting style blessed by a complete absence of any legaleze so that his book should become required reading for all concerned citizens.

Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America, by Richard J. Carwardine. Yale $45

The author reinforces the entrenched belief of many historians that religious forces lay at the center of 19th-century American politics. Over and over, whether in the North or the South, the guiding hand behind the scenes at the polls was religiously oriented and motivated, no matter what the central secular thrust of the moment. The author never loses his focus even for a single page, yet he fully accounts for the myriad political divisions in both sections and tends to support Michael Holt’s complex thesis that the breakdown of the political parties following the demise of the Whig Party in the 1850’s led to the Civil War, and not just single issues like slavery or economics.

Home and Its Dislocations in Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Suzanne Nash. State University of New York $21.95

This collection of essays uses the metaphor of “homelessness” to characterize changes taking place in 19th-century France. Though the emphasis is misleading in some important ways, it provides the occasion for an interesting set of observations by literary scholars and historians. Urbanization and the place of women receive the most compelling attention.

LITERARY STUDIES The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Libretti, edited by Edward Mendelson Princeton $49.50

This is the second volume in a definitive edition of the complete works of W.H. Auden edited by Edward Mendelson from the original manuscripts. A volume of Auden’s plays has already been published, and a volume of his complete poetry and a volume of his complete essays and reviews remain to be published. Auden was a lifelong opera lover and over the years he produced some of the most insightful essays ever written about the subject. It therefore should come as no surprise that writing various forms of libretti was more central to Auden’s literary career than the usual classification of him as a lyric poet would imply. He worked with some of the most important composers of the century, including Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze, and above all Igor Stravinsky. Indeed it is possible that someday the libretto Auden wrote for Stravinsky’s neoclassical opera The Rake’s Progress will be regarded as his masterpiece. This volume contains many other fascinating items, including a translation (and reworking) of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Perhaps the greatest curiosity is a set of lyrics Auden was commissioned to write for the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha (he was the first choice of a soon to be very disappointed producer). The volume comes with a full scholarly apparatus and obviously constitutes a major contribution to Auden studies.

Prescribing the Life of the Mind, by Charles Anderson. Wisconsin $22.95

The name of Richard Paul goes unmentioned in this rich, incisive, and utterly engaging essay, which strongly recalls the Californian’s cogent, if narrow-gauge articles collected in two editions of Critical Thinking. Both writers believe that the purpose of education is to prepare citizens by developing their capacity for constructive, self-correcting, and dialogical reason, with clear, universally applicable standards of excellence and rigor. As a corollary, both reject currently fashionable dogmas, such as cultural literacy, political correctness, and absolute relativism. Their differences, however, are no less significant. Paul focuses chiefly on elementary and secondary schooling and neither questions the traditional subject divisions and agglomerations nor considers the problem of teaching cultural heritage. For Anderson, the university is all; disciplinary alignments and demarcations are put to the test in the name of a new core curriculum; and the hot issue of Civ receives its well-considered due. Judiciously joined, the platforms of Anderson and Paul could smother a crisis which threatens to become our post-NAFTA, post-health-care firestorm.

The Art of Conversation, by Peter Burke. Cornell $39.95

The author is one of our most prolific and provocative scholars of modern social history. His book, which does not disappoint, is a sketch of the role of conversation in the social history of early modern Europe. As such, it is an epitaph to a tradition largely in decline in our own age of solitary life in front of the T.V.or computer screen. Burke suggestively ponders the role of language in social intercourse and even considers the art of conversation in relation to still unwritten history of silence. This is a book that will stimulate art historians and scholars of literature as well as students of manners.

Walking, Literature, and English Culture: The Origins and Uses of Peripatetic in the Nineteenth Century, by Anne D.Wallace. Oxford $45 cloth

“What gives rise to the meanings and beliefs we attach to the act of walking?” asks Wallace in this fascinating and lively study.”How does walking answer to, and shape, our understanding of such things as time, memory, change, nature, and technology?” Wallace answers these questions through close readings of Wordsworth, Clare, Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy, and establishes a virtual genre of writings about walking in the process. She calls this genre peripatetic, and sees it as an extension of the georgic mode. But she is careful to situate it historically too, in relation to developments in transportation and land enclosure. Walking emerges from this study as a complex social act, often deeply inflected by romanticism. Perceptive and lucid, Wallace herself emerges as a rigorous and sensitive reader of literature and history. Her book will interest readers of romanticism, the novel, modern English history, and anyone who has ever walked up a hill to admire the view.

Flowering Judas, by Katherine Anne Porter. Rutgers $30

Virginia Spencer Carr’s introduction to this critical edition of Katherine Ann Porter’s fine short story acquaints readers with Porter’s life, which is as interesting as her fiction. Born in Texas in 1890, Porter led a long and colorful life during a period in which women were winning and asserting their right to choose paths closed to their mother’s. Although Porter married and divorced four times, she supported herself her entire life by writing and picking up odd jobs. She was a well-traveled journalist and sometime actress for many years before she wrote her first story in her early thirties. On one of these trips, she went to Mexico to write about the Obregon Revolution, and out of this dramatic experience grew “Flowering Judas.” Like Porter’s other short fiction, the story’s beauty and power mostly derives from its sparse, careful structure. New Critics relished critiquing Porter’s work because of its modernist attention to form and apparent symbolism. Today, readers no longer enamored with the supposedly autonomous work of art can appreciate the editor’s effort to place the story in its rich cultural and biographical context.

Tendencies, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Duke $44.95 cloth, $15.95 paper

From the most celebrated and the most prolix practitioner of lesbian and gay theory comes a collection of critical essays augmented by a memorial to a friend dead of AIDS at 39; an ingratiatingly playful “performance piece” about drag, cowritten with Michael Moon; and other occasional pieces. The most difficult but the most rewarding essays are those on Henry James and Oscar Wilde. The latter in particular—a close reading of The Importance of Being Earnest that becomes a meditation on the “avuncular,” itself a revision of the heterosexist and hermetic Oedipal model—exemplifies Segwick’s ability to liberate homoerotic texts from the punitively “normalizing” paradigms of hegemonic discourses.Tendencies, one of the first books issued under the imprint of Duke University Press’ Series Q, is erudite, witty, and essential.

The Best American Essays 1993, edited by Joseph Epstein. Ticknor & Fields $22.95

We are here in the good hands of the essayist Joseph Epstein, one of our finest essayists, whose own introduction to this fine volume is itself a beautiful essay on the art of the essay. His gathering of essays ranging from hair styles to “how to get out of a locked trunk” is a vivid, provocative, and entertaining reminder that, for all the bad or mediocre writing one encounters nowadays, there is still some excellent prose being produced in this part of the world.

The Civil War World of Herman Melville, by Stanton Garner. Kansas $29.95

The years 1859 to 1866 proved to be crucial in the emotional and intellectual life of Herman Melville as he brooded over the tragic destruction and brutality that took place during the Civil War. The literary product of that intense period of American and personal history was Melville’s “epically conceived” book of poetry, Battle-Pieces, which the ardent Democrat offered as a vision for a “rededicated America.” Melville saw his vision rejected and ignored as the two sides reunited with one another in ways unexpected by him, and to a large extent he never recovered from that rejection.

Blasphemy, by David Lawton. Pennsylvania $16.95

The range and detail of this book is simply stunning. It manages, in a relatively short space, to cover the literary notion of blasphemy from the Middle Ages to the present, from Old Testament ideology to the postmodern scandal of Salman Rushdie. Its central premise, that blasphemy can only be understood in its culturally and historically specific context, guides the author through some brilliant readings of Renaissance and modern blasphemy trials. Lawton reveals the extent to which blasphemy is implicated in racism, colonialism, and imperialism. Blasphemy plays a crucial role in the construction of self and nation. This subtle and rich book is an important contribution to the history of ideas.

Shakespeare: the Actor and the Purpose of Playing, Meredith Anne Skura. Chicago $17.95

Skura explores why the fact that Shakespeare was a playwright who was also an actor changes the way in which we should interpret the Shakespearean dramatic canon. And what follows is a deft historical look at acting as it must have been for Shakespeare, a portrait that leads her eventually to conclude that Shakespeare was a playwright whose drama was mediated by patronage. The work succeeds marvelously as a vehicle for better understanding the plays through examining the life of the playwright. What sits less comfortably in it, perhaps, is the parallel she draws between the hubris of Elizabethan and modern actors. Yet the methodologies by which she arrives at her conclusions are sound and make for a thoroughly interesting piece of dramatic history.

Framing in Discourse, by Deborah Tannen. Oxford $45

This book brings to fruition ideas launched by Gregory Bateson and Erving Goffman. The eight studies are integrated by a common framework and linked experience (as colleagues and students of Tannen). They show how participants in a variety of American interactions define and redefine what is going on. Tannen joins more static notions of framing as knowledge schemas, “structures of expectation,” to notions of how people define, and redefine, what they are doing. The eight studies show again and again that knowing what is going on depends on attention to linguistic detail. The book is likely to become a standard reference for these concerns. All the more reason to regret that it has no index.

The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, by Jack Zipes. Routledge $17.95

This is the second edition, with an expanded introduction, of a popular book first published in 1983.The core of the work consists of the printed versions of some 38 stories of Little Red Riding Hood, from the classic treatment by Perrault in 1697 to a Silicon Valley scenario written in 1990. Whether the folktale is the projection of male phantasy, or a confession of the fear of women, or an instrument of National Socialism, or a rape parable, the possibilities of interpretation are endless. As Maria Tatar remarked in her more scholarly study of the Grimms’ stories published in 1987, “when it comes to fairy tales, nearly everyone has something to say.” As a way of sorting out and evaluating the different meanings, it would have been helpful if this edition had provided a more rigorous historical analysis and a wider comparison with other European variants.

LIVES & LETTERS French Lessons, by Alice Kaplan. Chicago $19.95

“Personal criticism,” or criticism as personal memoir is the latest bend in the relativistic road of post-modern literary study. According to PC (analogy intended), there are many truths (lower-case t also intended)—every one of which is understood and justified by the particular reader’s nature and nurture. The underlying incoherence of this position—its absolute certainty about the absence of absolute certainty—is (like its atomization of serious discourse) “bracketed.” If this makes PC problematic as a source of testable knowledge, it can be interesting, even fascinating, as high-brow journalism or impressionism, in its original sense (“the mind’s adventures among the classics”). Everything depends, of course, on the personality and talents of the critic. In Alice Kaplan’s case, all requirements are met, even exceeded. Indeed, nothing could be more poignant, deliciously ironic, or apparently artless than her amalgam of family history, personal growth, passage through elite cultural institutions, and contact with the French in all their stubborn “otherness.” Most arresting, however, is Kaplan’s lucid and pitiless exploration of her obsession with pro-Fascist writers, past and present, notably her research subjects Online and Bardèche and her teacher at Yale, the notorious Paul de Man. This, in short, is an engaging, revealing and puzzling book not to be emulated by writers whose intelligence, psychological finesse, literacy, wit, and eloquence do not equal Alice Kaplan’s.

Encore, A Journal of the Eightieth Year, by May Sarton. Norton $21.95.

At the end of Encore, Sarton argues that a journal for publication is a genre in itself, unlike a private journal. It is, in other words, an extended personal essay, a hodgepodge of reflections with no organizing principle except day-to-day chronology. Hers is a running account of her failing health, her meals, her garden, the number of times the cat needs to be let in or out each night, and most of all, her plaudits. She dotes on counting flower deliveries on birthdays, fan mail, phone calls and visits from friends, and words of praise she cherishes. While she is not regarded as a major literary figure, she has published 49 books: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. She admits she’s a spoiled old lady, and that nothing interests her as much “as myself.” Yet she comments on reading Glenway Wescott’s journals, “Although you may know every famous person in the world, your life may still not be very interesting.” However tiresome this solipsistic account, one cannot help but admire her grit and determination to keep going despite illness and almost constant pain. Her days are filled with writing, shopping, gardening, entertaining, and now, at her age, learning to use a word processor. For these reasons, Encore will inspire anyone facing 80 who has forgotten about courage, self-esteem, and the value of cherishing life’s small pleasures.

Looking for the Klondike Stone, by Elizabeth Arthur. Knopf $23

In this memoir, Elizabeth Arthur conjures up the enchanted place of her childhood. Although not everyone may have gone to Camp Wynakee or to any summer camp, the book offers every reader the opportunity to revisit his or her favorite childhood haunt. But Looking for the Klondike Stone is more than just a trip to a lost but fondly remembered summer vacation. Arthur captures one of those extended moments in childhood during which the slow incremental learning of many years crystallizes into knowledge. This wise and beautifully written book should become one of the classics to which we return during the briefer summers of adulthood.

Ivan Bunin: Russian Requiem, 1885—1920, edited by Thomas G.Marullo. Ivan R. Dee $30

Ask any literate Westerner who was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize, and most people will guess Leo Tolstoi; they will be wrong. Ivan Bunin was the first and only Russian until Boris Pasternak, but he remains virtually unknown in the West, in part because he is more Russian and hence less universal than Tolstoi. Where both Tolstoi and Fyodor Dostoevsky dealt with grand themes and human dilemmas instantly recognizable in modern Western societies, Bunin wrote about Russia—its people, its language, its very atmosphere. The letters and excerpts from his diaries, and selections from his works, that Marullo has selected for publication constitute an excellent introduction.

The Warburgs, by Ron Chernow. Random House $30

The award-winning author of The House of Morgan returns with another beautifully wrought, panoramic family saga. Possibly the oldest continuously active banking family in the world, the Warburgs can be traced to the 16th century. A flamboyant clan which entered spheres of culture and politics they were, like other German Jews, “shipwrecked by history.” Their story, as Morgan explains, is like a Brahms symphony— “melancholic, sad, but touched with hope, brave and strangely inspiring.”

Marguerite Yourcenar: Inventing a Life, by Josyane Savigneau. Chicago $25

Ideas have always meant more in France than they do in English-speaking countries, and the late Marguerite Yourcenar became one of the “immortals”—members of the Academic Franchise—more for her ideas than for her style as a writer. The only woman so honored, she wrote of the complications of same-sex love, usually from the male point of view. Her superior intelligence plumbed this subject as no other writer in her native language ever did in such works as Memoirs of Hadrian, one of this century’s masterpieces. Josyane Savigneau has done justice to her subject in this splendid biography.

Mozart: Portrait of a Genius, by Norbert Elias. California $17

This brief book, left unfinished at the time of the author’s death, was part of a larger project, “The bourgeois artist in court society.” The heart of this suggestive work concerns Mozart’s struggles at court. In psychoanalytic terms, it also explores the composer’s relations with his father Leopold, who molded and curbed his prodigious child. Elias conceives Mozart’s life as itself an opera in four acts: (1) the childhood of a prodigy; (2) his early travels, loves, and compositions; (3) the liberation of Mozart’s imagination in his court music; and (4) the tragic end when the composer is alienated from his wife and his musical public.

Rodin: The Shape of Genius, by Ruth Butler. Yale $35

Although Rodin looms as one of the giants of modern sculpture, his life is shrouded in myth. This extensive, copiously illustrated biography, based on a vast array of previously unpublished documents, attempts to penetrate to the “true life” of the artist. The author analyzes the artist’s family relations and his notorious relationship with the sculptor Camille Claudel. In addition, she discusses the sculptor’s entrepreneurial skills. In the end, the man and the myth he created are one. This we see in the photograph of Rodin posing in his studio before the model for his titanic Balzac.” Balzac c’est moi,” Rodin might have said.

Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell, edited by Regina Marler. Pantheon $35

“I am glad that I shall never be celebrated enough to have my life written. . . . I shall burn all my letters.” So wrote Vanessa Bell, painter, decorator, designer, and older sister of Virginia Woolf, in 1904.Like other members of the artistic and intellectual Bloomsbury circle, Bell’s life has been written, and now a generous selection of her letters is here. Ranging from 1885 to a month before her death in 1961, this collection charts Bell’s life from her unconventional, artistically and sexually daring youth, to her old age as a dispenser of cautionary “mother-in-law advice.” Frequently noting her own lack of literary skills, Bell may disappoint those who hope for insight into art and artists; upon meeting Picasso, for example, she wrote that he was “charming and quite easy and simple.” However, despite her inability to express “feelings,” Bell’s voice alone charms and fascinates. Whether recounting her innumerable visits to Italy and France, offering advice, or sending a grocery list from France to John Maynard Keynes, Bell’s letters offer frank glimpses of a life dominated by art and family—passions that not even world war could displace.

The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America, by Mark E. Neely, Jr. Harvard $24.95

Drawing on the most recent scholarship, Neely has written a useful analysis of Lincoln’s political life, focusing almost exclusively on the presidential years.”Had Abraham Lincoln died in the spring of 1860 on the eve of his first presidential nomination,” Neely reminds us, “he would be a forgotten man.” Consequently, Neely moves rapidly from the log cabin to the White House. Espe9ially good are the chapters on Lincoln as commander in chief, emancipator, and political strategist. Neely’s biography is a companion to the 1993—94 exhibit at the Huntington Library (many rarely-seen documents are included as illustrations), but it stands perfectly well on its own. An evaluative bibliographic essay concludes the volume.

Johnson and Boswell in Scotland: A Journey to the Hebrides, edited by Pat Rogers. Yale $35

Samuel Johnson’s account of his journey to Scotland and the western islands was published in 1775. James Boswell’s diary of the same visit appeared in 1785, a year after Johnson’s death. The two versions should be read together, and a means to this end is provided by this new illustrated edition which prints Boswell on the lefthand page and Johnson on the right. Johnson’s text is given in its entirety, with the addition of pertinent sections of his letters to Hester Thrall; while Boswell’s text is cut and rearranged to conform to it. The result is a kind of stereoscopic synergetic reading which brings a surprising liveliness and color to the descriptions. Johnson’s sturdy, self-confident prose, with its air of the lecture room, is nicely contrasted with Boswell’s conversational interest in personalities, habits, and everyday events. Johnson, of course, tells us a good deal about the unknown Celtic fringe, while Boswell, as usual, tells us a good deal about Johnson.

FICTION The Brothers, by Frederick Barthelme. Viking $21

In four previous novels and two collections of stories, Frederick Barthelme, himself the brother of the late Donald Barthelme, has managed to develop a voice and a way of his own and to have earned critical attention for (in the words of his publisher) “his archly ironic, dead-on portrayals of middle-class life.” Set in Biloxi, Mississippi, The Brothers is chiefly concerned with the lives of Del and Bud Tribute and the very lively women in their lives. Bud’s wife, Maragaret, almost has an affair with brother Del. But Del falls in with the amazing young woman Jen, publisher of a special kind of newsletter—The Blood and Slime Weekly, who has a style all her own (and Barthelme’s): “I’ve had my sex for the year. Let’s forget it. You want to watch TV? You want a sandwich? You want to play Crazy Eights?” Barthelme knows his highways and his shopping malls, his brand names and his TV shows, all invoked with Homeric significance. Which is to say he doesn’t love us (the great American middle class) a whole lot, but shares our experience and finds the details of it and about us to be funny. At his best in The Brothers, he can make you laugh in spite of all pride and embarrassment.

The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis, by Ron Burns. St. Martin’s $18.95

The suicide, or murder, of Meriwether Lewis, who along with William Clark, led the great exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, has long puzzled historians and history buffs. The finding of suicide was accepted by Lewis’s friends, including Thomas Jefferson, at the time, but the circumstances surrounding Lewis’s death were so bizarre as to strain credulity and have thus made the subject ripe for conspiracy theorists of all sorts ever since. In this novel Burns joins their ranks, concocting a plausible scenario that is good fun for the reader but shouldn’t be confused with an historical account. Burns’s pen portraits of James and Dolley Madison are particularly risible.

Henry James’ Midnight Song, by Carol De Chellis Hill. Poseidon Press $23

Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, this ambitious novel assembles a cast of characters that includes some of the most talented international citizens of that heady period in Western history. Sigmund Freud, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Carl Jung are among the suspects in a historical novel that becomes a murder mystery. Challenging for reader and author alike, this mixture of generic styles doesn’t always mesh harmoniously. Although this is a work of fiction, the many historical inaccuracies and anachronisms also detract from the plot’s cohesiveness. Hill recreates with admirable accuracy, however, the intellectual, ethical, and social climate of this era, which as she observes has remarkable parallels to our own fin de siecle. The murder mystery plot may not be as suspenseful as others, but the novel offers far more food for thought than most dishearteningly thin contemporary novels.

Star Flight, by Phyllis A. Whitney. Crown $20

This is another in a long line of atmospheric, romantic suspense novels from the prolific Whitney. Set in the mountains of North Carolina, the story centers on Lauren Castle, a young woman who returns to the site of her grandmother’s suicide to explore the suspicious circumstances of her husband’s death. Throw in an old Hollywood romance, a mountain man, a faith healer, and some kudzu recipes, and you get an inkling of the elaborate plot that Whitney weaves. It’s a plot that moves slowly, however, and it’s not aided by social relationships that seem frozen in the 1950’s. Then again, for Whitney’s fans, that may be its great attraction.

Notes from the Country Club, by Kim Wozencraft. Houghton Mifflin $19.95

Told in the first person, by Cynthia Mitchell, a battered woman who has killed her brutal husband, Notes from the Country Club takes place mainly in the Veritas Unit of the Fort Worth Federal Correctional Institution. There she gets to know (and so do we) a lively crew of female fellow inmates—Herlinda, Emma, Lulu, Kissy, Three Sheets etc., and we follow her trials and tribulations as she undergoes psychiatric evaluation and eventually wins her freedom under the rubric of selfdefense. With the authenticity of a truestory documentary—one of the affirming blurbs comes from true-life inmate Jean Harris—Wozencraft manages the neat trick of marrying fiction to a trendy subject and a trendy argument and, in fact, succeeding on both sides of the equation. Her first book, Rush, enjoyed considerable success and made a lively movie. This one seems likely too, as a new wrinkle on the old women-in-jail genre, to find its way to the silver screen.

Death on a Cold, Wild River, by Bartholomew Gill. Morrow $19

The is the tenth in a fine mystery series that features Peter McGarr, police inspector and head of Ireland’s Murder Squad. In this episode McGarr is drawn to the tiny village of Ardara in Donegal by the death of an old flame, Nellie Millar. Known around the world as a writer and master of fly-fishing, Nellie had drowned in the Owenea River, a circumstance that leaves McGarr convinced that foul play was at work. Casting about him he finds plenty of suspects who stood to benefit from Nellie’s death, and with the help of several finely drawn supporting characters, McGarr baits the hook and reels them in one by one, finally netting the murderer. This is literary entertainment of a high order.

Fast and Loose and The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton. Virginia $49.50

Left too long in the shadows, Edith Wharton’s first and last works offer many wonderful surprises for the many readers who have not had the opportunity to read them. This new edition of The Buccaneers, which had been out of print since it was first published in 1938, follows closely on the heels of another version that contemporary writer Marion Mainwaring has completed. Because Wharton left the manuscript nearly finished and heavily revised many sections of it, serious Wharton fans and scholars will want to read the unadulterated version before Mainwarings’. Wharton even left us a sketchy plan of an ending to this spirited account of several American young women of the “new rich” who go hunting in Europe for husbands with aristocratic titles.Fast and Loose has been reissued before, and although it is not as interesting a work as The Buccaneers, it is useful to see it juxtaposed here for the first time against Wharton’s most mature novel. The sentimental charm and sly wit of this adolescent love story foreshadows Wharton’s later work and enhances our appreciation of it.

Strip Tease, by Carl Hiaasen. Knopf $21

Congressman David “I love naked women” Dilbeck is caught with his pants down (so to speak) at a South Florida strip joint. The congressman’s misstep couldn’t have come at a worse time. Not only is he up for reelection, but he is deeply entrenched in the pockets of the powerful—and sleazy— sugar growers of the Sunshine state. Murder and mayhem ensue, but Hiaasen—a columnist for the Miami Herald—turns an otherwise somber novel into a rich and hilarious romp. Off-the-wall characters and hilarious dialogue make this work even better than his best-selling Native Togue. You won’t be disappointed.

A Hovering of Vultures, by Robert Barnard. Scribner’s $20

The master of the comic mystery has written another smooth and witty exemplar of the genre. Detective Constable Charlie Peace is assigned to shadow scam artist extraordinaire Gerald Suzman, whose most recent interest is in establishing a society to celebrate the writers Susannah and Joshua Sneddon. The two were rescued from literary obscurity by the luridness of their murder-suicide deaths and the newlyformed Sneddon Foundation gathers the pompous, pretentious, and various other “culture vultures” to honor them. Charlie suspects that the profit motive has stimulated Suzman’s literary efforts and that is the main puzzle Barnard offers. In the meantime, the author sends up every type of literary poseur, from the hack writer flogging his books to the Ph. D.candidate hoping that the Sneddons will be her ticket to the academic gravy-train. Barnard has lost none of his wonderfully deft touch, and this story is a comic delight.

The Wrong Man, by David E. Fischer. Random House $22

Two independent themes are woven together. The first is an attempt by an Israeli Mossad agent (the same hero of the author’s previous political thriller Hostage One) to prevent the assassination of the German chancellor, on his visit to the United States, by a professional Nazi hunter who believes that the chancellor is about to ressurect the Third Reich. The second theme is whether a simultaneous pre-emptive military strike, to maintain world peace, should be made on biological and chemical warfare factories in Iraq, Syria, and Iran, as Israel did in 1965 to wipe out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear installation. The merging plots, which are complex but understandable, reflect current events so accurately that the story scarily reads more like a live news report rather than a novel. An intellectual feast for a sophisticated observer of the modern international scene.

Not Where I Started From, by Kate Wheeler. Houghton-Mifflin $19.95

Kate Wheeler has a thing for the Third World. She has apparently wandered through Argentina, India, and Colombia, as well as some less desirable parts of Oklahoma, Her stories capture the smells of these places, but less of the feel than one would like. Her writing exceeds the standards of minimalism, but doesn’t quite reach the level of full-figured prose. This volume, Not Where I Started From, leaves a reader wondering where she plans to end up.

The Holder of the World, by Bharati Mukherjee. Knopf $22

A native of Calcutta, a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and an American citizen since 1988, author of four previous novels and an award-winning collection of short stories, Ms. Mukherjee adds to her familiar subject of culture clash and shock, the element of clashing time. Beigh Masters, narrator of the novel, is an American woman with deep New England roots. Her obsession is the life and mystery of Hannah Easton, a Puritan New Englander born in 1670, who in her own time became Salem Bibi, the “Precious-as-Pearl” of an 18th century Indian Mogul. Putting together the life of Hannah from shards, in bits and pieces, Beigh has a life of her own with an Indian-born, MIT computer scientist, Venn lyer, whose obession is the future already previewed by his marvelous machines and programs, his serious adventures with virtual reality. And ultimately the two obsessions join together as one quest. It sounds complicated, but is not, being smoothly, swiftly conveyed and accessible in Mukherjee’s clear and elegant style.

Streets of Laredo, by Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster $25

This sequel to Lonesome Dove traces former Texas Ranger Woodrow Call’s pursuit of a murderous young train robber back and forth across the Texas-Mexican border. Call, now a bounty hunter, must pit his experience and cunning against the brash Mexican bandit. The book offers a cast of fascinating men and women whose virtues and vices stand out starkly against the bleak, unforgiving border country. The conclusion of this mortal conflict between two gifted killers, each on different sides of the law, demonstrates civilization’s relentless encroachment into the West. Add in the excellent pacing characteristic of a master storyteller and the conclusion is clear: McMurtry has produced another winner.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The Fulbright Difference, 1948—1992, edited by Richard T. Arndt and David Lee Rubin. Transaction $49.95

In the era of the post-Cold War world and budgetary retrenchment, the timely appearance of this volume provides a powerful argument for the continuing relevance of the Fulbright experience. In the 41 essays presented here, former participants in the Fulbright program reflect not only on their own personal life-changing adventures, but also on the larger processes of cross-cultural exchange, understanding, and penetration. This collection is not merely a series of random memoirs haphazardly assembled; rather, it ambitiously attempts to trace the history of the Fulbright Scholarships through the five decades of its existence. The contributions, mostly from natives of the U.S.A.but also several from non-Americans who came here to study, are arranged chronologically, from the beginnings in the 1940’s, through the expansion and growth of the 1950’s, and then the gradual decline starting in the late 1960’s coming down to the present.

Public Education: An Autopsy, by Myron Lieberman. Harvard $27.95

The author boldly brings into the open what education theorists and philosophers now realize—and what the rest of us have known for years—that the idea of public education is no longer tenable, and, like the former Soviet Union, the present system must soon collapse under its own bureaucratic weight. What replaces the beast is yet to be seen, but if the author is even remotely prescient, the current producer-run monopoly is soon to become a battle ground where the NEA and its political hacks will be the losers to a coalition of parents, interested local politicians, and big business, who, in a consumer-driven frenzy, will wrest control of America’s system of education via the free competition of the marketplace. Whether or not a new system of hope and success emerges along with the demolition of the archaic 19th-century ideas that underpin the status quo, this book is must reading for anyone interested in to salvaging anything out of the existing mess. In spite of the author’s insipid prose and seeming unwillingness to consider in advance even the most simple criticisms and counter-arguments that will be advanced against him, the range and coherence of this book make for compelling reading, and to his credit Lieberman avoids the usual educationese prevalent in books of this nature.

The Ghost of the Executed Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union, by Loren R.Graham. Harvard $22.95

Peter Palchinsky had a scientist’s discomfiting habit of calling things by their right names, and that ultimately cost him his life during the Stalin Terror. A firstclass engineer with a social conscience, he loved his country even more than his work. Stalin and his minions had no use for such types, bent as they were on eliminating or neutralizing everyone who could think independently. This was to cost the USSR heavily, and to lead to the sudden disintegration of the state. Graham tells this story effectively.

Happy Days Were Here Again, by William F.Buckley, Jr. Random House $25

Depending on your political affiliation, conservative Bill Buckley is either a modern American Reniassance man or the enfant terrible of the 20th century. This is a collection of 132 of his previously published essays on national figures, important events, and crucial issues. Even those who disagree with him, will concede that he has a keen mind, a sharp wit and an exquisite sense of satire. The volume may well be the publishing bargain of the year because it will take you four months to read an essay a day, which will give you much cause for reflection at a cost of only 19 cents per item.

Den of Lions, by Terry Anderson. Crown $25

This book should be prescribed by doctors, lawyers, and members of the clergy for all those who seek professional help when it develops that the main, if not the sole problem, presented is whining. The volume is the autobiography of an innocent victim of a political kidnapping in the Middle East by Arab terrorists. The author’s strength of character and unyielding spirit triumphed over seven years of torture and despair while he was chained in darkness and solitary confinement. And yet, since his release from captivity, the author bears no bitterness towards his captors. After reading this harrowing and inspirational story, none of us should ever have any cause for complaint no matter how grave our situation may seem to be. Indeed, Nietzsche said it best when he wrote “that which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Thanks, Mr. Anderson.

Exit from Communism, edited by Stephen R.Graubard. Transaction $19.95

So long as there are bookshelves to fill and minds to befuddle, people will keep publishing profoundly superficial books on Russia and Yugoslavia and other countries presently in grave crisis. This collection has an interesting but dated—1991—essay by Anders Aslund on Gorbachev and Yeltsin, an impossibly turgid, unenlightening theoretical piece on the end of communism by S.N.Eisenstadt, and other brief studies of varying quality. It is all, or nearly all, irrelevant in view of the extraordinary pace of events.

The Imperiled Academy, edited by Howard Dickman. Transaction $32.95

These essays by nine prominent academics address the questions the universities face in reconciling the movement for multiculturalism with the traditional concept of academic freedom. Among the themes explored is the potential for intolerance that lurks behind the desirability of multiculturalism.

The Islamic Movement in North Africa, by Francois Burgat and William Dowell. Texas $13.95 paper

This book can be read as an analysis of the Islamic movement in the Arab Middle East, not merely North Africa. It challenges Western perceptions of the phenomenon and offers a perspective of the rise of Islamism from inside, taking account of the specific political conditions in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Based on Burgat’s long experience in the region and contacts with Islamist leaders, this study offers insights into a world view far more sophisticated than most Westerners would imagine. The combination of Burgat’s expertise and the extensive interviews with leading Islamists make this the best book in English on the subject.

The Next Battleground: Japan, America, and the New European Market,


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