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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1976

ISSUE:  Summer 1976

Who? Alvin Josephy, historian, journalist, and expert on American Indian affairs. What? A history of the U.S. Congress, the slowest deliberative body in the East. When? Through 94 congressional sessions. Where? From New York to Philadelphia to Washington, D. C. How? In coffee table book format, lavishly illustrated, poorly written, and superficially critical. Why? A good question.

The Politics of Catherinian Russia: The Panin Party, by David L. Ransel.Yale $17.50

Russian history has had more than its share of both great expectations and lost illusions. The Panins belonged to that group of Europeanized aristocrats, brought to prominence by the reforms of Peter the Great, who sought to temper the aristocratic rule of his successors. Catherine II, who did so much to encourage enlightened thought at the start of her reign and to create the type of opposition that the Panins led, soon tired of the game. She outwitted them and bequeathed total power to the Emperors of the 19th century. Mr. Ransel does justice to this important, if sadly predictable, contest of wits and power. His book is thoroughly researched and crisply written with due attention to the larger ironies involved.

Liberalism and Tradition. Aspects of Catholic Thought in Nineteenth Century France, by Bernard Reardon. Cambridge $23.50

This absolutely first-rate study is a survey of French Catholic thought during a period that witnessed a spiritual and intellectual revival of the Church. As such, it is more than just a history of French Catholicism; it is an integral part of French intellectual history in the whole of the 19th century. The period under consideration is roughly divided by the Napoleonic Concordat of 1802 and the Separation Law of 1905. This rich period in French history included such diverse figures as Maistre, Lamennais, Maurice Blondel, and Alfred Loisy, all of whom are sketched by the sure hand of Reardon with the greatest insight and sensitivity. He explores, with considerable grace, style, and wit, a substantial portion of French life and letters during this “second grand siecle.” This is a gracefully written work of enormous erudition. It deserves the widest possible audience.

The Spymasters, by Charles Whiting. Saturday Review Press $8.95

This is a strange, frustrating book in which the author demonstrates able research, intimate knowledge of his subject matter, and an ability to tell a good story at times. But somehow all of these threads fail to become a fabric. Perhaps the basic problems are two in number: far too many characters (two or three hundred of them at least) with pseudonyms, nicknames, code names, and presumably real ones as well. . .and 232 pages divided into two books, eight parts, and 28 chapters.

Even the introduction is flawed. The reader is told that “Twelveland” was the code name for the Third Reich during World War II, “hence the title of this book.” Since “Twelveland” is not found there, one is warned from the outset that all is not well.

The Spymasters, sadly, is a confused mosaic of intriguing bits and pieces which fail to add up to a whole. If this is how British-American intelligence operations actually were carried out against Nazi Germany during World War II, then rarely have so many of the enemy owed so much to their adversaries. Also, here may lie an unintended explanation as to why a step-child of those years (CIA, which utilized many wartime personnel) is in such deep trouble today,

The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, by Owen Chadwick. Cambridge $18.95

This interesting work is based on the author’s Gifford Lectures for 1973—74. The central problem of the study is to account for the apparent decline of the hold of the Church and its doctrines on men’s minds in the 19th century, The work is divided into two parts, “the social problem” and “the intellectual problem.” The first part is a discussion of liberalism, Marxism, worker attitudes, and the rise of anticlericalism. The second begins with a fascinating chapter on Voltaire in the 19th century, and is followed by separate chapters on science and religion, secular historicism, humanistic ethics, and the sense of providence. There are some noticeable blank spots in a study that aims, as this one does, at a comprehensive survey of the phenomenon, but few studies are ever definitive. This essay is thought provoking and a stimulating contribution to a genuine historical problem.

The Colonial Transformation of Kenya: The Kamba, Kikuyu, and Maasai from 1900 to 1939. by Robert L. Tignor. Princeton $25

A strong sense for the differential strengths of three Kenyan peoples on the eve of colonialism, careful attention to the divisions and rivalries within African societies, and an underlying emphasis on the economic consequences of colonial government policies revivify this competent monograph’s view of colonialism in Africa in terms of modernization and nationalism. Tignor explains Kikuyu eagerness for European education and willingness to accept positions as wage laborers by referring to the influence of a strong local collaborating elite; the Maasai and Kamba, lacking similar pressures and possessing resources in land and cattle lacking to the Kikuyu, found that they did better under colonialism by keeping to themselves. The study also illuminates aspects of the agricultural and veterinary history of Kenya. Thoroughly researched, readable, and innovative in its attention to the importance of political and social distinctions within African societies, this book is recommended as a model of the new approach to African colonial history.

The Victorian Gentleman, by Michael Brander. Gordon Cremonesi $15.95

A light, meager social history of upper-class Victorian England, memorable only for the quaint attractiveness of its jacket and some nice period illustrations. As Mr. Brander is an unabashedly amateur historian, one can forgive his affably bumbling incompetence—he makes vast, unfounded, vague generalizations so frequently that even his most mundane reportage becomes suspect.

The Struggle for Stability in Early Modern Europe, by Theodore K. Rabb. Oxford $8.95

The problem that the author sets himself is to provide an explanation of the major change in European culture that took place in the middle of the 17th century. Many historians have noted this change and have attributed it to religious, political, or social causes. Indeed, the problem has been identified with a “crisis” in European culture. Professor Rabb is aware of the problems involving terminology, especially the term “crisis” and those involving historical explanation. His book can be seen as an attempt to establish “a new chronological and analytic framework for the period.” The new framework rests on the hypothesis that the change from the age of Reformation to the age of Enlightenment was due to abandonment of views of religious extension, the new domination of politics, society, and culture by the aristocracy, and the revulsion with the violence of wars. Professor Rabb sees his argument as heuristic, and one hopes that it will be taken seriously and tested in detail by other historians.

World of Our Fathers, by Irving Howe. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $14.95

Massive, monumental, World of Our Fathers is a fascinating account of the immigration of East European Jews to the United States between 1881 and 1914 and of their assimilation into American society. It is also one of the finest books about the immigrant experience in general, an excellent re-creation of life in New York City at the turn of the century, and a detailed presentation of the social, economic, political, and cultural forces which shaped both Jewish and American life in the first half of the 20th century. A work of breadth and scope—yet of individuals’ hopes, despairs, struggles, and defeats—of humor, insight, and understanding, a classic.

Imperial Germany and a World Without War. The Peace Movement in German Society, 1892—1914, by Roger Chickering. Princeton $27.50

The intellectual origins of this very fine work in modern German history probably owe more to present-day concerns with peace movements than to an esoteric interest in Germany per se. By the author’s own evaluation, the German peace movements had virtually no impact on the course of events that finally led up to World War I. The historical perspective seems to be to demonstrate the folly and consequences of not taking the movement more seriously. Indeed, Chickering takes for granted that those who argued the folly of pacifism were atavistic barbarians out of step with the directions of modern historical forces. The proposition that pacifism is more realistic and/or more moral than prudent resistance by force of arms to certain aggression is at least debatable. If the reader can sort out the history from some of the author’s personal opinions, this is a worth-while contribution to modern intellectual history beyond that of Germany alone.

The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists and Archaeologists in Egypt, by Brian M. Fagan. Scribner’s $14.95

The rich culture that flourished on the banks of the River Nile has always excited the awe and the greed of men. The destruction of this area was started by the Egyptians themselves and under Roman occupation tourists continued in the tradition of the tomb robbers. Brian Fagan’s book is an eminently readable and interesting account of the plunderers of this civilization and of the archaeologists and tourists whose interest in treasure hunting was somewhat less destructive. This work provides an invaluable contribution to the literature on Egyptology in addressing itself not merely to historical narration but in exploring the many attempts made to preserve these antiquities. The book ends on a note of poignant regret as the author reflects that there may soon be little of Ancient Egypt left for us to study or enjoy.

Louis XIV in Historical Thought, by William F. Church. Norton $6.95

Surprise! There have been changing interpretations of Louis XIV! This flimsy volume uncritically outlines a lot of them; it reads less like a book than a review of the literature from a very poor dissertation, a set of dull lecture notes from a pedantic course in French historiography, or merely a Saturday night special written solely to impress a tenure committee. The people at Cliff’s Notes do this kind of thing much better.

The Population of the British Colonies in America before 1776, by Robert V. Wells. Princeton $18,50

The ambitious task of exhaustively surveying and organizing into useful form the wealth of census materials deposited in British archives concerning the American colonies has been fulfilled in this indispensable book, In addition, the author prefaces his well-organized collection of data with a rich chapter on demographic methods, reliability of sources, and the reasons why demographic facts ought to interest the historian considerably. The important parameters of growth and change of population, family size, household composition, bondage, and military manpower are gleaned from vast numbers of unpublished records. Well’s large-scale study will undoubtedly form the skeleton of local and familial demographic studies such as might further inform historians of colonial life.

LIVES & LETTERSThe Nature of Alexander, by Mary Renault. Pantheon Books $17.95

With sympathetic imagination and masterful scholarly poise, the author sifts fact and legend to give this forthright account of the enigmatic genius of the 4th century B. C. , Alexander the Great. Drawing on sources as primary as one can find, and combining both admirable historical perspective and disarming common sense, this biography is also an engrossing narrative. Many pertinent illustrations, both black and white and in color, add to the intensity of the story. Not only is this first-rate scholarship, it is also a brilliant, handsome, and moving work.

Hans Christian Andersen, by Elias Bredsdorff. Scribner’s $10

Few writers whose names we know have written stories which possess the enduring and essential quality of fables. Despite sentimentality (often the fault of translators who missed his irony) and awkwardness, Andersen’s fables are as necessary as Kafka’s. Bredsdorff’s biography is useful, businesslike, and comprehensive in its attempt to tell Andersen’s own tragi-comic story. Of course, we know that the ugly duckling turned into a swan, but the swan, it turns out, was never completely at home with other swans—or with any other bird.

Particulars of My Life, by B. F. Skinner. Knopf$10

Skinner, for whom memory is merely a matter of the selective reinforcement of particular stimulus events, was obviously highly reinforced during his first 24 years: he remembers nearly everything. A casual remark made in the second grade, a story once told by an aunt, the size and shape of a neighbor’s Victrola, the price of a favorite Caruso recording are but a few of the reminiscences that comprise this first of two autobiographical volumes. The best part of the book recalls small-town life in the early part of the century; the worst part is the presentation of what surely must be all of young B. F. ‘s correspondence from Boy Scout camp. For along with remembering everything, Skinner has apparently saved everything—something that might have interested Freud.

The Long Hunter: A New Life of Daniel Boone, by Lawrence Elliott. Reader’s Digest Press $12.95

This is the definitive biography of Boone, though it, too, will appear thin when compared to biographies of other major historical figures. Boone’s own carefully dictated autobiographical notes were lost by his son, and his associates were not Boswells. However, Elliott makes full use of the Draper Manuscript Collection and other more recently published material to write the first important new book on Boone since 1939. He brings out a number of hithertofore unknown facts about Boone and neatly ties his history to the history of frontier America. However cautiously Elliott resists the temptation to romanticize his subject, Boone resists understatement; no matter how simply his story is told, he still emerges as a “transcendent figure,” a towering hero unique in American history.

Sam Adams’s Revolution (1765—1776), by Cass Canfield. Harper & Row $7.95

A passionate revolutionary is usually a very dull person by the very nature of his fiery single-mindedness of purpose. So it was with Samuel Adams, a dour fact against which any biographer struggles in vain. Mr. Canfield is no exception in his treatment of this prickly, uncomfortable man. The fault lies in the character of the biographee and not in the work of the biographer.

Stark Young: A Life in the Arts: Letters, 1900—1962, edited by John Pilkington. Louisiana $50

One of the most powerful names in literature and criticism in this country several decades ago was that of Stark Young (1880—1963). His work in fiction was considered absolutely top-notch, while his voice in the judgment of the arts was magisterial. Today he seems an almost vanished figure, for the world has revolved in the opposite direction from his own creative thrusts and critical outlook. To bring out two volumes of his letters is, therefore, a bold stroke. Their all-inclusiveness, however, their careful editing, and their revelations of their author’s approach to his art and life are a splendid reconstruction of a time seemingly so close to us, but, in actuality, so far away in attitude.

The Correspondence of G. E. Morrison, I: 1895—1912, edited by Lo Hui-Min. Cambridge $62.50

The first of two volumes of selected letters of The Times (London) correspondent in China in the late Imperial and early Republican periods, this work comprises an unrivalled record of Manchu Dynasty politics and society—if from a patrician viewpoint. Perceptive, intelligently modern, yet appreciative of Chinese cultural history, Morrison was an informed man incapable of working the services for modernization of China which his vision demanded; as a journalist, this remarkable Australian carried a deeply convincing portrait of China to the policy-makers of the Western world through his reliable reports. Troubled with the size and burden of China, Morrison perceived the Manchu demise and subsequent political vacuum. His intimate knowledge of China, his humane reflections on world affairs, even the vestiges of Victorian dalliance with a world admitting of orderliness, these qualities make of Morrison’s writings a rich historical resource—though conveyed in a style somewhat flat. His voice is one of uncelebrated thoroughness.

Monsieur Proust: A Memoir, by Céleste Albaret. Edited by Georges Belmont. Translated by Barbara Bray. McGraw Hill $12.50

For anyone interested in the man who may very well be the greatest writer this century has yet produced, this book is a necessity. Céleste, of course, is the woman who was Proust’s housekeeper during the last ten years of his life, a woman famous for her sharp integrity and passionate devotion to Proust. Only recently has she broken a hermetic silence in order to tell the truth about the man with whom she shared a great, chaste love. His kindness was as awesome as his genius; his neuroses as complex as his art.

Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, by Christopher Sykes. Little, Brown $12.50

An old friend of the great novelist, Mr. Sykes is a lucid and witty writer whose book, unlike academic biographies, is a pleasure to read. It is merely a truism in this case to say that the novelist’s life resembles one of his novels. Waugh was as fantastically cruel and hilarious as one could wish him to be in fiction, though such wit and cruelty in real life are simply odious. And Waugh was odious according to this biography, a half-monster only saved from being a monster by submitting himself to religion. Or did that complete the monstrosity?

Seventy Years, by Lady Augusta Gregory. Edited by Colin Smythe. Macmillan $15

The doyenne of the Irish Literary Renaissance and one of its most valuable and prolific members, Lady Gregory remains in the shade of Yeats, Joyce, Synge, and lesser writers, most of whom she befriended and aided. Her memoirs (partially published earlier) should be a mine of information; unfortunately she compiled the bulk of them after the death of her only son, when all motive was gone. They are patched together repetitiously, often from letters, and so shabbily annotated by the editor as to be often incomprehensible. But the chapters about her youth (written while Robert was living) and the last, on his death, are vivid and moving; Yeats, who oversaw the work, contributes some amusing moments, and Lady Gregory is totally admirable, though her memoirs are not.

Along Came the Witch: A Journal in the 1960’s, by Helen Bevington. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $8.95

Helen Bevington’s mind moves in wondrous ways, much to the delight of her readers. When she discusses the origin of her verses, the trials and pleasures of her teaching, or her interest in young children she is incomparable. On the other hand she adds little to our knowledge or experience when she writes of politics, travel, or even family tragedies. Her journal, then, becomes a half-and-half book which a little editing would have made sparkingly brilliant.

A Passionate Prodigality: Letters to Alan Bird from Richard Aldington, edited by Miriam J. Benkocitz. New York Public Library $15

These 147 letters, admirably edited and annotated, deal largely with Aldington’s work on a life of T.E. Lawrence. They are sharp, pointed, and questing, for he sometimes requested research aid from Bird. But they are also lively and intense, reflecting not only Aldington’s reaction to the facts of Lawrence’s experiences, but also many facets of his own life. Never uninteresting, and often as “passionate” as the title, the letters give great pleasure and form a work fully as important as the more formal biography.

Letter to My Mother, by Georges Simenon. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $5.95

Simenon, who rather disliked his mother and who, after he had left home at 19, rarely visited her, now writes an expiatory letter of understanding to her some years after her death. Although she had had a difficult life into which both affection and money rarely entered, her rigidity and repression well explained her difficulties. It is sad to see this pour soul resurrected into a world she undoubtedly despised. And, to what point?

The Correspondence of William Nelson As Acting Governor of Virginia, 1770—1771, edited by John C. Van Home. Virginia $12.50

The tenure of William Nelson as Acting Royal Governor of colonial Virginia marked a very important phase in the processes tending to revolution. Among the wealthiest and most distinguished of Virginians, his term followed that of a popular official, Lord Botetourt, . and preceded that of the temperamental and officious Lord Dunmore. This useful collection of the complete extant correspondence of Nelson as governor is filled with troubled issues: Royal prerogative, control of the Virginia domain, discipline of the colonial church, Indian relations, land speculation, slavery, and constitutional rights. The quality of thought in this correspondence reflects well on writers among the Virginia gentry and reveals a tone of Royal intransigence. It is well edited.

Max and Will: Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein, Their Friendship in Letters, 1893—1945, edited by Mary M. Lago and Karl Beckson. Harvard $12.50

A half-century of correspondence between humane and witty people is gathered together here by means of a superlative job of editing. Not only is the usual task of annotation performed with unusual excellence, but a sort of running biography of the two gentlemen is also appended. In addition, the illustrations and photographs are very fine and include an original first publication of an hilarious series of cartoons by Beerbohm on the subject of Edward VII.

Upton Sinclair, American Rebel, by Leon Harris. Crowell $12.95

Let me say at once that this is a perfectly good, straightforward biography of an unquestionably important figure in both literature and politics. Yet it seems hardly worth the effort. Because most of Sinclair’s battles have been long won, they seem a little old-fashioned. Perhaps, too, he has not yet receded into the past far enough— he lived until 1968—for his years to take on much of a period flavor. In any case, one has little sense of immediacy or involvement, both essentials in creative biographical writing.

POETRYCollected Poems, by Stevie Smith. Oxford $20

Stevie Smith was probably among the last of those ladies in the great tradition of literary spinsterhood. She was as wry and rebellious as she was proper and dutiful, and her fey, offhand poems are a kind of cross between Blake and Ogden Nash. As coolly amusing as Jane Austen, her very English mind is curiously dislodged at times by an ambivalence toward life itself. In a way, her childish, witty, and rather cute drawings are not at all innocent.

The Mahabharata: 2. The Book of the Assembly Hall, 3. The Book of the Forest, translated and edited by J. A. B. van Buitenen. Chicago $33

This is the second volume of Dr. van Buitenen’s awe-inspiring project of rendering the whole of the great Indian epic, said to be the longest poem in the world, into English. Volume I, The Book of the Beginning, appeared in 1973, and won widespread critical acclaim; this translation seems no less destined to do so. The meticulous scholarship and elegant commentative work are indeed impressive. The principal drawback is the translator’s tendency, quite understandable if one has ever had any acquaintance with the Sanskrit original, to produce sentences of enormous length. The longest noticed by this reviewer ran to 172 words without the use of a semicolon.

Collected Poems: 1951—1975, by Charles Causley. Godine $12.50 cloth; $5.95 paper

When reading these poems one is reminded of Masefield and other popular English poets. Causley writes quatrains, ballads, strong narratives about the sea and plain people. Occasionally ironic and subtle, his poetry is usually perfectly open and comprehensible. Today, when most poets try so hard to be “experimental” and coy, Causley comes as a shock and may be too quickly dismissed as “easy” and “traditional”—but he is a craftsman who writes words worth reading.

An Afternoon of Pocket Billiards, by Henry Taylor. Utah $6.00

This is an exceptionally fine collection of poems. Mr. Taylor is one younger poet still interested in form, witness his excellent sestina, “Goodbye to the Old Friends.” While he has many notable attributes— ear, eye, humor, a strong sense of irony— his great strength is his disciplined honesty. No coyness, no evasive games with his audience, no gushy emotions. Every word is authentic and controlled; his language is simple, direct; it contributes to the poem and guides it, never getting in the way. Too often we overrate the poet to encourage, and too often we use words like “major talent”; such words do indeed fit Mr. Taylor.

Olson’s Penny Arcade, by Elder Olson. Chicago $7.95

Elder Olson’s poetry is an anomaly of American letters. A rich, coherent oeuvre, published by distinguished presses, winning minor but respected awards, it is virtually unread, unstudied, and without influence. Olson’s misfortune is to be a poet of transition. As a modernist, he has cultivated philosophical concerns and a distinctive repertory of poetic masks; but he has also dealt powerfully with the master motifs of post-modern American verse: the chaos of the inner world, painful experience of the outer, and the symbolic topography of both. His poetic method is equally “transitional.” Ironic and astringent, his lyrics are—on different levels— fashionably blunt and unfashionably indirect. As such, they confuse and exasperate readers unwilling or unable to confront a poem without reference to the artificially clear-cut trends of literary historiography. Nothing short of a Pulitzer or an N. B, A. could rescue Olson’s work from benign neglect. But his aloofness from literary politics and the unevenness of this book (which contains the strongest and the weakest poems he has committed to print) almost certainly exclude such a possibility. Second best would be a prominent place in a major anthology or publication of a sound, accessible study of the poetry itself. (T.E. Lucas’s Twayne “U.S. Authors” volume deals mainly and well with Olson’s literary theorizing; the treatment of his poetry, however, is annoyingly superficial and idolatrous. ) But Olson is tough: if not immediately recognized and rehabilitated, he will no doubt surely labor on, as Stanley Kunitz did before him, in conspicuous and unmerited isolation.

First Selected Poems, by Leo Connellan. Pittsburgh $2.95

These 24 poems from three previous volumes do not make up “a significant event in American poetry” (back cover), and cop-out testimony (“control,” “vital,” “powerful”) from Eberhart, Wilbur, Shapiro, and Robert Penn Warren merely arouses expectations that go unfulfilled by these conventional verses. Memories of old lovers, the loss of youth, old gravestones— such are the subjects, and they require genuine energy and originality, not merely good will. Just a caress can’t pass for child-birth, and childbirth is another of the predictable topics. The best of what’s here is, regrettably, merely “good,” and one of the most ambitious, a farewell to New York City (where everybody is dying violently), is the voice merely of retreat, not of complexity. Here as elsewhere, one senses a certain depth of feeling that wants to be expressed, but the poems themselves are mainly surfaces only.

Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well, by Maya Angelou. Random House $5.95

The 36 poems in this book are grouped, arbitrarily it seems, into five parts, the first four of which contain pieces that are all surface. The themes, chiefly lost or wronged love or frustrated desire, and their treatments are akin to country-western music. It is in the treatment that the superficiality is most obvious: motives not explored, little depth or interpretation of feelings, no sense of time or change, no allusion or any rich ambiguity, little melody. Some are merely cute. Most could be as effectively stated in declarative sentences. A few poems capture some sense of loneliness, but without conveying any insight or universal values. The twelve poems in part five are generally better, containing some developed images, a degree of music, while also finding deeper meanings in man’s actions or inactions.

Buried City, by Howard Moss. Atheneum$6.95

Howard Moss’s most recent book of poetry varies greatly in quality. At his best, in such poems as “Shorelines,” his verse shows a prose-like lucidity. At his worst, in “Sawdust” for example, his desire for concision results in extremes of diction, ranging from the trite clarity of aphorisms to the obscurity of enjambed metaphors.

Despite its occasional problems of technique, Buried City contains a number of well-wrought poems dealing with a variety of themes. “Anemones” and “Tropical Fish” show a descriptive precision that reminds one of Marianne Moore’s best poems. Moss often uses this descriptive power to evoke a sense of loneliness, desolation, or loss. In “Railroad Flat” and “Travel: A Window,” the described world evokes an emotional response from the speaker; in “The Stairs” and “Shorelines,” the speaker’s memories of human drama motivate him to render the setting for that drama. In all these cases, the speaker seeks to establish a sense of place in order not “to lose/The land, to lose the very ground you stand on” (“Chekhov”).

Moss’s most important theme in this volume, if we are to judge by the poems mentioned on the dust jacket, is the relationship between art and reality. It is not, however, Moss’s best theme, nor are these his best poems: “Chekhov” is too subtle to make its point well, “At the Masseur’s” is confused by a poor final stanza, and “Magic Affinities” sacrifices meaning to technical virtuosity. The title poem, however, manages to blend a painting, the world, and the speaker’s emotional experience into a masterful whole. In one of the poem’s concluding stanzas, the speaker tells us that the concrete world “Occasions, and subverts, . . .poetry.” It is Moss’s sense of this concrete world, and his compassion for the people who must live in it, that gives these poems their finest qualities.

The Company of Strangers, by Peter Cooley. Missouri $6.50

There is urgency and risk in Peter Cooley’s first book of poems. Many of these poems have an edge of desperation, showing us a man fascinated with death, a man confused, at times, by his own coldness, and a man who longs for the next life and for the presence of angels. The poems hunger after transformation and spiritual renewal. Cooley’s intensity is felt in his beautiful perception of edges and borders: “Touch by touch/ they graft their blessings/ to me like a skin,” and, “aren’t I Lord the world/ & aren’t I & aren’t I as long/ as I go on laying myself down/ longing to burst through my skin/ the wild cry of your blossoming?” The last two sections of the book, “Alternatives,” and, “The Company of Strangers,” are the strongest. Cooley is a skillful craftsman, and his poems are difficult, asking a great deal of the reader. But many of the poems in the early sections of his book fall short because the complex syntax and abstraction are not successfully wed to emotion. Too many of these first poems leave us with the feeling that the poems are tricks of voice and syntax, a counterfeited sorrow, instead of truths. In his finest poems, such as “Vanishing Point,” “Mirror,” and “Winter Light,” Cooley’s skillful phrasing and sharp images work beautifully with the poet’s self-awareness and feelings. Cooley’s first book deserves praise and attention. The man in the poems who moves back and forth between pain and renewal, who is struggling to get through his life, draws us into his struggle, and, finally, disarms the reader by asking, “And while we’re at it:/ how do you get through your life?”

A Nip in the Air: Poems, by John Betjeman. Norton $6.95

The odd sense of humor and meditation of the present English Poet Laureate is a puzzle to almost everyone, though his crisp vocabulary and bright verse entertain nearly so many. This tiny collection houses in miniature Betjeman’s appealing distractedness: the contradictory eccentricities of a lover of the picturesque and off-hand celebrator of the traditional. It is difficult to say whether this poetry is good; some of it probably is not. It is often difficult to sort the good out of poetry contrived of a knack for apt expression and excellent rhythm. Considerably gifted as a craftsman, Betjeman leads one to expect more than this collection provides.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSLonely in America, by Suzanne Gordon. Simon and Schuster $8.95

Loneliness troubles Americans more than hunger or even death. Madison Avenue to the contrary, it is not solved by toothpaste, or a new car, or a high level of material success. Suzanne Gordon in this latest exposé of emptiness in American life documents the malaise of our time in short and sometimes extended case histories in which we all will find ourselves described. Loneliness in America has even spawned an industry to cope with it, but neither singles bars nor swingers clubs do more than relieve an occasional dreary weekend. But beyond identifying (and possibly magnifying) a central problem of white urban America, the book suggests its dimensions: single women tolerate loneliness better than do single men—but married women suffer more than do their husbands; thus even marriage is no absolute solution, nor is affluence, or education, or travel. Since this book touches a nerve in all of us, it is certain to be one of the most discussed books of the year. But, alas, while it raises the question of loneliness, it offers no answer.

The Wind Will Not Subside, Years in Revolutionary China—1964—1969, by David and Nancy Milton. Pantheon Books $15

China experts ‘are agreed that this is one of the best, if not the best book on the Cultural Revolution. It combines scholarly accuracy and thoroughness with the immediacy of an eyewitness account— two eye witnesses, in fact. The Miltons, as teachers at Peking’s Foreign Language Institute, shared intimately with their three sons in the turmoil of this crucial period.

Especially valuable are their accounts of the revolution’s differing character in Peking and Shanghai, of the surprisingly active role permitted resident foreigners and their consequent fate, of the intricate interplay of students, bureaucracy, cadres, and army as they vied for control. In an illuminating concluding chapter, they review the events up to 1975, placing the revolution and its leadership in perspective. Among its key achievements they cite: the establishment of China’s national sovereignty and independence from the Soviet Union, the practice of struggle from below, and the principle of continuous revolution. As events today seem to indicate, the wind will indeed not subside.

The Shotgun Behind the Door, Liberalism and the Problem of Political Obligation, by Philip Abbott. Georgia $8.00

At the present time it would appear that the most interesting and thought-provoking essays in American political thought are from classical liberals. Mr. Abbott’s new work is a case in point. His is an excellent example of the revival of a tradition of political discourse that had (prematurely) been laid to rest only a decade ago. It is an argument that is basically contractual in tone if not in form. Abbott argues that liberalism has suffered in its theory of the state by its negative image of the state as solely an instrument of coercion. The result is that government is justified in terms of prudence rather than morality. Abbott accepts many of these liberal assumptions himself but discards the theories of obligation that have accompanied this tradition. This is a well written, stimulating, thoughtful essay. It is well worth the time invested in carefully reading it through.

Hume’s Philosophical Politics, by Duncan Forbes. Cambridge $27.50

This excellent study of Hume’s political philosophy joins a growing shelf of recent studies of a writer whose importance in the development of political thought seems to be growing each year. Essentially, Forbes maintains that political philosophy is central to Hume’s thought from the beginning and not an afterthought. This tends to place his argument as counter to that of Letwin and Stephen, for example. By stressing the overall unity to Hume’s thought, however, Forbes has sided in most respects with the more recent scholarship on Hume by Passmore and Stewart. The scope of Forbes’s work is slightly more far-reaching than the earlier studies. He lays stress on the wholly secular nature of Hume’s natural law and describes it as fundamentally modern in its premises. A part of this study is designed to show that Hume is far less conservative than most previous studies have held. A welcome addition to the literature on Hume.

The Russians, by Hedrick Smith. Quadrangle $12.50

For three years, Mr. Smith was stationed in Russia as Moscow Bureau Chief for The New York Times, and he has emerged from that experience with a book as rich in anecdote, information, and intelligence as a reader could wish. Cheerful and very well-written, The Russians seems to span its subject both geographically and culturally with a curiosity unimpaired by prejudice or linguistic ignorance, and the result is a picture of a society as lively and perhaps as horrifying as a novel by Dostoevsky.

The Hard Years: A Look at Contemporary America and American Institutions, by Eugene J. McCarthy. Viking $8.95

No less than the remarkable vigor of his politics, the simple eloquence of this distinguished American marks the writings of six years collected in this volume. Expressive, idealistic without illusions and despite the characteristic cynicism of these times, the words of these essays and speeches are fresh and persuasive. There is a disarming candor and a gift for plain speaking filled with common sense that characterize the style of Eugene McCarthy; he is a man passionate, yet without pretense or fripperies. It is not for political wisdom that this book is most to be commended; the great virtue of this collection is that it affords weary Americans the opportunity to revive native optimism in the realization that men of caliber and honesty are still at work for us. As a statement of principles, a critique of institutions, a remembrance of some noble persons and worthwhile fights of these past few decades, this book challenges America to realize the good that is not so difficult to find among us.

Organized Social Complexity: Challenge to Politics and Policy, edited by Todd R. LaPorte. Princeton $16.50

This is an interesting and important collection of papers on the notion of complexity in social systems. The book is significant because of its theoretical contributions on the subject, the sophisticated and lucid style with which difficult problems are addressed, and the inter-disciplinary but integrated nature of the contributors’ perspectives. The authors explore in depth the idea that the world is becoming more complex in ways that may affect crucially social, political, and economic life. The insights here should be particularly valuable for students of organization theory and the policy process.

From Georges Sorel. Essays in Socialism and Philosophy, edited by John L. Stanley. Oxford $15

For most of the English-speaking world Georges Sorel is little more than a name. His myth of the “general strike,” however, was once one of the most hotly argued ideas in politics of pre-World War I Europe. This fine collection from Sorel’s major writing should help make accessible to more readers his overall significance. John Stanley, who has earlier translated the whole of Sorel’s The Illusions of Progress, has put together a fine selection. These excerpts include the famous letter to Daniel Halévy on violence, critical essays on Marxism, pragmatism, socialist ethics, and a critique of Bergson.

The Socialist Left and the German Revolution, by David W. Morgan. Cornell $19.50

In this history of the German Independent Social Democratic Party, Morgan argues that it was the two Social Democratic parties, and not the workers and soldiers councils, that were the political basis of the revolutionary regime in Germany after World War I. While Morgan is very much aware of the political theories of the Social Democrats and therefore sensitive to the problem of the relationship of theory to practice, such discussions take second place to the day-to-day struggles of incisively portrayed persons within a particular political environment. Excellent tables at the end giving voting percentages for the Socialist Parties in the national elections complement the general argument. An annotated bibliography completes this fine study. A major work by the most exacting standards.

The Survivor: Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps, by Terrence Des Pres. Oxford $10

The topic is “the capacity of men and women to live beneath the pressure of protracted crisis, [and] sustain terrible damage in mind and body.” Rejecting many of the analyses of death camp survival published since the end of World War II, the author opts for a sociobiological interpretation. He examines a large number of first-hand accounts of existence in the German and Russian camps and writes that survival was a structured phenomenon, “neither random . . .nor immoral,” revealing “a fixed system of. . .biological. . . [activity] specific to humanness as such.” On the basis of the evidence presented, the reader is likely to remain unconvinced.

Toward Social Hope, by Theodore Caplow. Basic $11.95

This brief and eminently readable book by a prominent sociologist is a timely addition to the literature on organized social improvement. As if to correct the pessimistic plaints of the “let us lower both our voices and our expectations” school of thought (as exemplified, say, by the Public Interest crowd), Caplow urges us to recognize that success and failure in matters of social reform are not happenstance; instead, successful reform is possible (and has been achieved often enough in the past) when our knowledge of social life, social dynamics, and technology is applied straightforwardly to perceived problems.

In an impressive survey of social innovations—emphasizing, but not limited to, this century—Caplow attempts to show that successful reforms have been characterized by adequate definition of problems, means, and ends. Applying these elementary observations to such phenomena as the New Deal and Great Society programs and contemporary “liberation movements,” he enumerates “lessons” which may be drawn from our experiences and applied to the future.

Caplow does not ignore the criticisms of those social scientists who fault conventional liberal social engineering notions for political naiveté. In fact, he assumes away the complex political problems of consensus, conflict, and planning by arguing that social reform is possible in rational societies which incorporate “a measure of humility, an awareness of mortality, and abundant good will.” Nevertheless, at a time when attention has been directed to the substantial political limitations on improvability, Caplow’s exhortation to vision infused with knowledge is eloquent and encouraging.

LITERARY STUDIESF. O. Matthiessen; The Critical Achievement, by Giles Gunn. Washington $9.95

For F. O. Matthiessen, literary criticism was a vitally necessary effort to recover the moral tensions embodied in a work of art. His study of Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Melville was an effort to recover the moral vision of America. Whereas his examination of the mid-19th century brought forth a masterwork of hope and light, his examination of the mid-20th century brought only personal despair. The analysis of another’s critical intelligence is not the easiest of assignments, but Matthiessen is worth it, and Giles Gunn is up to it. However, Matthiessen’s American Renaissance is a prerequisite.

Zeus and Hera: Archetypal Image of Father, Husband, and Wife, by C. Kerényi. Translated from the German by Christopher Holme. Princeton $13.50

The beautiful Bollingen Series is publishing Kerényi’s extremely interesting works on archetypal images in Greek religion; viz., Prometheus, Dionysos, Eleusis, etc. Kerényi is above all a scholar, and his book is less psychological or Jungian than an investigation of the linguistic and archaeological data on the Greek conception of Zeus and Hera, gods whose significance for the ancient Greek was immediately and intimately involved with human life. Mythology thus becomes closer to religion and assumes a vital role in the progress of culture.

Dramatic Satire in the Age of Walpole, 1720—1750, by Jean B. Kern. Iowa State $7.95

Kern’s study (photographically reproduced from typescript) is a curious mingling of oversimple, unenlightening summary/criticism and excellent bibliography. Her suggestions about satire’s origins and its Augustan significance ignore most of the useful recent work on both subjects (work surveyed, for example, in P. K. Elkin’s Augustan Defence of Satire). This book’s value is only as a compendious guide to the literature for students specializing in the Augustan period.

Voltaire and the Century of Light, by A. Owen Aldridge. Princeton $20

Little of the immense literary output of Voltaire is read today. The “great” philosopher has been reduced to the ranks of a writer for children. On the other hand, his life was an awesome achievement which could not possibly make for a dull biography. Aldridge’s book performs the service of filling gaps in our factual knowledge of Voltaire and of describing his relationship to his times. His attempts to promote him as a thinker and to turn him into something relevant are less successful. But Voltaire was wonderfully amusing.

Suppliants, by Aeschylus; translated by Janet Lembke. Oxford $7.95

A volume in “The Greek Tragedy in New Translations,” this version of Aeschylus’ play about the 50 daughters of Danaos who flee marriage with the sons of Egypt will strike some readers as too free. Mrs. Lembke, as she acknowledges, has sometimes translated feelings rather than words, but her intimacy with the play gives her warrant for doing so. For the most part, she remains true to Aeschylus while making him intelligible to the modern reader.

The Plays of D. H. Lawrence, by Sylvia Sklar. Barnes & Noble $14.75

This is a somewhat pedestrian book which doggedly defends Lawrence’s dramatic efforts. It is nevertheless useful in providing a chronological survey of the plays, in relating them to the rest of his work, and in gathering together from various sources relevant comments on the theatre by Lawrence and others.

The Poetry of George Herbert, by Helen Vendler. Harvard $14

To follow Mrs. Vendler in her rediscovery of Herbert is to have one’s understanding of the poet raised to a new level. Instead of operating within the framework imposed by the critical clichés which have been applied to Herbert in the past, she gets inside the poems, registering their contours of feeling with subtlety and wit. The key to Mrs. Vendler’s interpretation is her perception of the “provisional quality” of Herbert’s poetry, a quality resulting from the poet’s willingness to change direction or modify his stance at any point in a poem in order to be true to his feeling. The reader who allows himself to be guided by this book cannot but conclude that the author has been true to Herbert as no one else has.

The Brontës, by Brian Wilks. Viking $14.95

When Charlotte Brontë wrote to Robert Southey for literary advice, she was warned that: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it.” Fortunately for literature, Miss Brontë disregarded the poet laureate’s advice. The fact that she persisted in writing is all the more astounding when one considers the “proper duties” of life at Haworth parsonage. When not ill themselves, the three Bronte” sisters spent most of their time running a household and nursing sick relatives in the days before hot water, plumbing, or sanitary hygiene. Surviving the cold Yorkshire winters was a major struggle. The family resources were lavished on the education of Branwell, who ended his days as a neurotic and drunken wastrel and made life at Haworth a misery. Yet out of these depressing and sordid conditions, literary talent flourished. Brian “Wilks’s illustrated biography offers a tribute to the courage and imagination of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte”. Wilks has drawn on the Brotherton Collection at Leeds and the Bonnell Collection at Haworth to amplify this realistic portrait of the Bronte world. The text of his essay is extremely fine and should not be obscured by the sumptuous photographs and rich illustrations in the volume.

Forms of Modern British Fiction, edited by Alan Warren Friedman. Texas $10.95

Readers who approach this collection do so in the hope that the essays included will lead one stage onward in the understanding of that elusive literary concept, “Modernism.” Indeed, a panel discussion transcribed at the end suggests ideological coherence. Despite Alan Friedman’s introduction and a noteworthy list of symposium participants, this collection never transcends its own sprawling, inorganic form. The book remains a series of interesting, if somewhat idiosyncratic papers, on Galsworthy, Hardy, Lawrence, Joyce, Woolf, Beckett, et al.

Super Fiction, or The American Story Transformed: An Anthology, edited by Joe David Bellamy. Vintage $3.95

This collection of 20 stories by such authors as Vonnegut, Pynchon, Reed, and Barthelme supposedly demonstrates how anti-realists confront reality. If one accepts Bellamy’s categories—”Myth-Parable” or “Neo-Gothic” for example—most modern writers are superfictionists.

Bellamy’s “Introduction” is more stimulating than much of the fiction collected here. SuperFiction is good for an afternoon escape from reality.

Southern Literary Study: Problems and Possibilities, edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr. , and C. Hugh Holman. North Carolina $12.50

The title of this book adequately covers its substance, which is the record of a working conference on the study of Southern literature held at Chapel Hill in 1972. Twenty participants, joined by six members of the English and history faculties of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explored various aspects of the general subject. Four suggestive papers were followed by five general discussions. An appendix provides an extensive list of topics suggested for further study, which will be of considerable use to anyone interested in Southern literature from early times to the present. No book of this nature is ever exciting, but this one provides many valuable comments and clues.

The Genius of Thomas Hardy, edited by Margaret Drabble. Knopf$12,95

The essays in this collection are divided into three parts—the life, the work, and the genius of the author. Those dealing with the life are perhaps the most interesting, for Hardy was one of the few writers whose life, as opposed to his work, was full of interest, incident, and contradictions. But the remaining essays are essential for the well-rounded image of Hardy the editor sought to produce, an effort which was not only successful but which was well buttressed by the many fine photographs included.

Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays, edited by John Halperin. Cambridge $16.95 hardback, $5.95 paper

This splendid anthology testifies admirably to Jane Austen’s continuing fascination, 200 years after her birth, for our best critical minds. A very few of the 19 essays have appeared elsewhere (such as Reuben Brower’s “From the Iliad to Jane Austen”); most concern particular works, though biography and history of reception are not slighted. In the last category, Donald Greene’s “Jane Austen’s Monsters” and Alistair Duckworth on games are excellent. Most of the specific readings of novels continue arguments each critic began earlier (usually in a book); Brissende


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