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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1978

ISSUE:  Summer 1978

German students, by French or Russian standards, have always been pretty reasonable. When they did seem to be getting out of hand, there was usually a Carlsbad Decree or a draft notice from Bismarck or an irresistible appeal from the Kaiser to bring them into line. But the Weimar Republic after the First World War had no decrees, no Bismarck, and of course no Kaiser. The center could not hold, and the students went to the extremes along with the rest of the country. They tried and failed to establish a viable national student union. The clearer heads urged in vain for a more skeptical look at the Fascists and Communists. Nothing worked. Hitler triumphed, and the students, the intellectual bud of the German future, rotted on the tree. This is a good, serious account of that melancholy process.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSToward a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia, by Michael P. Johnson. Louisiana $15

This is an important book. Not only does it contain one of the two most sophisticated analyses of voting behavior in the antebellum South ever done, but it also offers a stimulating and original interpretation of secession. Georgians seceded, Johnson argues, not because of external threats to slavery or slavery extension but because of an internal social crisis in the state. Conservative slaveholders, fearful of the growing hostility of nonslaveholders who might join the Republican party, effected secession in order to protect the social status quo and their own elite status in that society. They cemented their, triumph in the secession convention by rewriting the state constitution in ways that insulated the government and the elite from the demands of slaveless Georgians. Secession was a conservative revolution achieved through democratic processes. Some historians will question whether Johnson has sufficient evidence to support his argument, but all will have to consider that argument seriously.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSMexico and the United States in the Oil Controversy, 1917—1942, by Lorenzo Meyer. Texas $19.95

Meyer offers a tedious account of the politics of Mexican oil development. With little consideration for economics or world factors, Meyer promotes a simplistic interpretation of Mexico struggling to take from American oil companies and their ever-willing agents, the American government, control of her own destiny. Meyer’s own evidence suggests a more complex relationship between interest groups in both countries. Meyer did assiduous research in American and Mexican archives; sadly he leaves his best material in his copious (102 pages) footnotes. A book for the specialist to mine, not for the general reader to gain understanding and insight.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe British Revolution, 1880—1939, by Robert Rhodes James. Knopf $17.95

A readable study of this unsettling period in British history has long been needed. Briefer periods have been treated competently but have lacked the overview that an examination of 60 years ought to have. Mr. James has fulfilled both needs with a detailed treatment, reflecting a shrewd judgment regarding the relative importance of events.”Revolution” is, however, an overused term and might be applied in the sense Mr. James used to almost any 60-year period of British history during the last 200 years.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Catholic Church and the Soviet Government, 1939—1949, by Dennis J. Dunn. Columbia $17

Stalin’s query as to the number of divisions at the Pope’s disposal is well-known. Less clear is the Soviet policy toward the Roman Catholic Church during and just after World War II. In this slim volume based upon impressive research, Professor Dunn has given us a readable, reasonable account of the totalitarian state’s assault upon an enemy whose own arsenal contained only morality and faith. It was not an even struggle; but Stalin, one notices, has gone on to his reward, and the Church lives.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAn Introduction to the Sources of European Economic History: 1500—1800, edited by C. Wilson and G. Parker. Cornell $17.50

Nine noted economic historians cooperated to write seven essays setting out, in quantitative terms, the pattern of economic growth of Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries, the British Isles, France, and Germany. Each essay follows the same pattern, covering, as data permit, population, agriculture, industry, trade and transport, money and state finance, prices, wages, and social structure; each also identifies the primary sources for studying these subjects. This is a most useful manual for the serious student of European economic history, but it is a limited survey of parts of that history. It reveals little of the larger history into which the parts presumably fit.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSCauldron of Hell: Tunguska, by Jack Stoneley. Simon & Schuster $8.95

If you like to ponder, of a winter’s evening, what happened to Judge Crater, then consider sharpening your imagination on the great Tunguska mystery. On June 30, 1908, some sort of explosion occurred near this godforsaken Siberian hamlet. Indeed, “explosion” is hardly the word: whatever it was, it flattened the forest over an area about the size of Albemarle County, Virginia; the noise could be heard 750 miles away; and experts have reckoned the force as the equivalent of a thirty-megaton nuclear bomb. The area still suffers from an abnormally high radiation rate, although it poses no present threat to animal or plant life. What was it? Well, about the Judge. . . .

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSTo the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, by Howard Jones. North Carolina $15.95

This solid monograph, based on extensive archival research on both sides of the Atlantic, sheds new light on a host of Middle Period historiographical issues. It will long remain a stable reference for specialists in Anglo-American relations in the 1837—1843 period. Jones’s most important contribution to the existing literature stems from his treatment of the important legal questions—matters of state versus federal power at home and matters of international law in the Atlantic community—that cut across all the diplomatic controversies of the era.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSRichmond During the Revolution, 1775-1783, by Harry M. Ward and Harold E. Greer, Jr. Virginia $10.95

The Bicentennial was the occasion for writing this book. The format is topical with self-contained chapters on the development of Richmond from town to city, and from tobacco depot to state capital, interspersed with chapters on the Revolution Conventions meeting in St. John’s Church, the British attacks of 1780—1781, loyalists in Richmond, and lists of Revolutionary officers and soldiers. This is a modest book, but then Richmond in 1775 was a modest town of 600. Yet the book is accurate, readable, thoroughly researched, and useful. A Bicentennial commission could not ask for more.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSBargaining for Supremacy: Anglo-American Naval Collaboration, 1937—1941, by James R. Leutze. North Carolina $17.95

Bargaining for Supremacy is a well-documented case study of Anglo-American cooperation and conflicts in the four years preceding America’s entry into World War II. James Leutze, an extraordinarily young historian at the University of North Carolina, traces the heavy weather encountered within and between the two governments seeking a common strategy. The author draws on official sources in delineating the issues which divided the emergent alliance and the fears and suspicions, uncertainties, and blunders which colored such relationships. Not only does the study throw light on the motives and tactics revealed in the communications between Churchill and Roosevelt—exchanges begun in 1939 when Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty designating himself as “Naval Person”—but traces the trust and tensions unfolding between lesser military and diplomatic leaders.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSConflict and Collaboration: The Kingdoms of Western Uganda, 1890—1907, by Edward I. Steinhart. Princeton $18.50

The African politicians, their backgrounds, and their tactics during the crucial decade in which Bunyoro, Ankole, and Toro fell under British imperial domination provide subtle and fascinatingly detailed studies of how the leaders of three kingdoms came to terms with the colonial order. The Bunyoro elite used the firm loyalty of its followers to organize violent resistance against the Europeans. The less secure rulers of Ankole chose alliance with the British since they could count less on the willingness of their people to fight on their behalf. Divisions between elite factions in Toro encouraged collaboration with the colonial authorities as each sought gains at the expense of the others. Steinhart’s elucidation of the African side of imperialism and the care and thoroughness of his reconstruction set a high standard for studies of the complex relationships between and among Africans and Europeans.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLIVES & LETTERSOnce to Every Man: A Memoir, by William Sloane Coffin, Jr. Atheneum $12.95

The man who made a multitude of Old Blues livid recalls his first 50 years. He had a patrician upbringing, aspired to be a concert pianist, served as a liaison officer with Soviet troops, was a CIA operative, ministered to Andover, Williams, and Yale, had two failed marriages, went on a Freedom Ride, and vocally opposed America’s intervention in Vietnam and the draft, for which he was tried. It is an interesting and uncommon life story but told without literary grace or emotional resonance.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSJournal of Rehearsals: A Memoir, by Wallace Fowlie. Duke $12.95

Unless composed as a ficcione by Borges himself, nothing could promise less than a scholar’s memoir. It is therefore a pleasant surprise—and more—to read this all-too-brief volume of recollections. An inspired teacher, a fine critic of Mallarmé, and a widely read popularizer of French literature—mostly modern—Wallace Fowlie appears here as a man of keen sensitivity and (within certain limits) profound receptiveness. The journal vividly recounts his epiphanies, first in literature and literary study, then in exquisitely chosen and pre-meditated experiences not only at Harvard, Bennington, Chicago, Yale, Colorado, and Duke, but above all in the literary milieux of Paris, the provinces, and Rome. Rich in revelatory and intrinsically interesting anecdotes, this book lays bare a romantic thirst for the ideal, quenched only in France, where literature, religion, and a privileged speech converge to form the still point of his turning world.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSDeath In the Long Grass, by Peter Capstick. St. Martin’s $10

An ex-Wall-Street banker is reborn, first as a Professional White Big Game Hunter, and then as a Raconteur. He relates for us in Hemingway style some of his close shaves in the African Bush with Snakes, Elephants, Lions, Rhinos, Hippos, Cape Buffaloes, Crocs, Leopards and lesser maneaters. Mucho Macho.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA Great and Glorious Romance, by Helga Sandburg. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

It is refreshing to one’s soul and spirit in this jaded age to read the true account of a warm love affair between a man and his wife. Tenderly told by the daughter of Carl Sandburg, this moving biography with its intimate portraits of the American People’s Poet and his beloved spouse is a joy to read. It almost compensates for the plethora of trash which is being published these days. The title is most appropriate.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLBJ: The Way He Was, by Frank Cormier. Doubleday $8.95

The author, a White House correspondent for the Associated Press, has written the sort of book about a President that journalists normally produce during his term, not ten years after its end. The oft-told tales reported here, such as the time LBJ showed the world his scar, are mostly stale by now. It is an honest account, with Johnson’s bigness and smallness presented in roughly equal measures, but this slender volume is certain to be overshadowed by the several big Johnson biographies now being written.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSMao Tse-Tung in the Scales of History, edited by Dick Wilson. Cambridge $19.95, paperback $5.95

A product of the Contemporary China Institute at the University of London, this book is the best introduction in English to the life and thought of the man who towers above all the “greats” of the present century. Among the contributors are the well-known specialists Benjamin Schwartz, Stuart Schram, Christopher Howe, and Wang Gungwu. They and their colleagues seek to bring Mao’s contributions in the realm of politics, philosophy, education, and morals into a focus that represents a major advance over the kind of polemical literature to which we have become accustomed. This is not a definitive book, and it does not claim to be so. But it is a very good one, and the interested layman will find it quite valuable.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSCatherine the Great, by Miriam Kochan. St. Martin’s $6.95

This modest account of the life and times of Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst, whom the Russians in their Byzantine deviousness called Catherine II, is just that: modest. It is handsomely put together, with pleasant illustrations, and the text, while accurate, will strain one’s intellect no more than a pleasant stroll around the block will exercise one’s body.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSRemembering Poets, by Donald Hall. Harper $10

While Donald Hall’s reminiscences add little to what we already know of Eliot, Pound, Frost, and Thomas, this volume is far from being trivial or superfluous. Its very considerable virtue is to filter the facts through a fresh and open sensibility, evolving through successive encounters with the poets toward a deeper understanding of their personal and professional complexities. The book also gives charming insight into Hall’s own experience as a minor poet caught up in the politics of his craft, in and out of editorial offices, on and off university campuses. Well worth the price of admission, for example, is the account of an excruciating conversation that Hall unwittingly set up between T. S. Eliot and one of his bêtes noires, the unabashedly self-promoting anthologist, Oscar Williams.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAlfred Hugenberg: The Radical Nationalist Campaign against the Weimar Republic, by John A. Leopold. Yale $17.50

Victory has many fathers, one knows, and Herr Alfred Hugenberg hastened to join the band that cheered the fall of the Weimar Republic and claimed credit for the murder of German democracy. Of course, Hugenberg, who had once directed the Krupp enterprises, denied that he had anything to do with the rise of the Nazis. Oh, he did serve in Hitler’s first cabinet, but how was he to know what was coming? How indeed. Hugenberg was typical of an unsavory type of German who would stop at nothing to halt the spread of democracy. He gets what he deserves in this book: the condemnation of history.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAlexander Gumberg and Soviet-American Relations, 1917—1933, by James K. Libbey. Kentucky $13.50

It is surprising how little we know about the first 16 years of Soviet-American relations, from the Bolshevik Revolution to FDR’s recognition of the USSR in 1933. Central to the American posture in those years was Alexander Gumberg, a Russian Jew who emigrated to the United States in 1903. Making his fortune and his mark in this country, Gumberg returned to the land of his birth in 1917 as a successful businessman interested in improving the business and incidentally the political climate between the two countries. His efforts, little known to historians, helped keep the lines of communication open in those difficult years.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Papers of James Madison, Volume 11: 1788—1789, edited by Robert Rutland and Charles F. Hobson. Virginia $15

The preceding volume in this series provided a marvelous private view of the birth of the federal Constitution; the present volume as eloquently reports the marshaling of federalism in Virginia and in particular the leadership of Madison in a very close victory. Remarkable evidence of the patient genius of Madison’s political ability is larded with privileged glimpses of something melancholy in these pages, the calm and unsentimental reflections of unpampered brilliance. The private Madison is an essence that even escapes these private letters—but it is an essence that can be approached in no other way. Moreover, here is detailed the development of that Madison-Jefferson-Mason axis that spawned our Bill of Rights. Finally, there are political triumphs and the desperate and vindictive machinations of Patrick Henry to fill out this volume. In all, it is a record deserving of its publication.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSSherwood Anderson, by Welford Dunaway Taylor. Ungar $8

In a small and compact volume Welford Taylor sums up very well the course of Sherwood Andersen’s life and the significance and impact of his various writings, including some of the earlier and later stories, novels, and non-fiction. This is a highly selective study which points up Anderson’s continuing importance as a writer and the peculiarly American nature of the man and his approach to life.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA Marriage of True Minds: An Intimate Portrait of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, by George Spater and Ian Parsons. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

This account of the marriage of Leonard and Virginia Woolf gives full credit to the ways in which Leonard Woolf conserved and protected his wife’s genius, often at the expense of his own career. In many other books touching on Virginia Woolf and her work, Leonard is in the background. In this volume he is given equal billing. Other aspects of this famous marriage, including the epistolary role played by Lytton Strachey in promoting it, are brought out here for the first time. Many of the numerous illustrations have never been published before.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSFICTIONGoing After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien. Delacorte/Seymore Lawrence $8.95

This war novel, dealing with our military involvement in Indochina, is in the great tradition of The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and Catch 22. Read it even if you may have some trouble with the indigenous patois of the American G. I. and the Vietnamese refugee.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Ice Age, by Margaret Drabble. Knopf $8.95

In The Ice Age, Margaret Drabble shackles the story of a group of engaging though muddled Englishmen to a discussion of the fate of modern England. Her purpose seems to be to demonstrate that both optimism about our private lives and patriotism have a similar purpose. Drabble realizes that both sentiments are utterly inadequate because they ignore the obliterating change and the isolation which are characteristic of 20th-century life, but insists that only by maintaining this rosy view can we make our continued existence plausible and even desirable. The problem with this connection is that Drabble’s patriotism is expressed in such mechanical and unconvincing terms that it seems incongruous that it could bear any relationship to the motives of her shrewd and often introspective characters.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Seventh Station, by Ralph McInerny. Vanguard Press $7.95.

This is the second detective story in a delightful new series constituting a continuing provincial human comedy, featuring a priest/private eye and his contrapuntal sidekick, and ex-seminarian police captain. The author of this diverting tale is a professional philosopher, and it is most refreshing for him to demonstrate that a successful novel can be published these days which is commercially feasible as well as culturally entertaining without the use of a single four-letter word.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSIn a Dark Wood, by Marina Warner. Knopf $8.95

In a Dark Wood turns out to be a convoluted but delicious novel which intrigues one with its difficulties, its exoticisms, and its suspense. It is even intriguing in its unexpected ending in which roles are reversed while life goes on. Trust anyone who can produce a title for an earlier book about the Virgin Mary called Alone of All Her Sex.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSTransatlantic Blues, by Wilfred Sheed. Dutton $9.95

With a good idea but an uncontrolled result, Mr. Sheed overwhelms his reader with his hero’s (?) confessionals. It is like a play that begins with a scream which is not topped all evening. Finally one learns more than one wishes to know, and the result, of course, is boredom.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSIn the National Interest, by Marvin Kalb and Ted Koppel. Simon & Schuster $10

This is a gracefully written and carefully plotted diplomatic thriller, with two bonuses, First, it is a roman a clef; whether or not Ford, Kissinger, et. al. really talk and think like these characters, Kalb and Koppel (both distinguished diplomatic correspondents) make us believe that they do. Second, there is a theme. It concerns the responsibility of journalists to print what they know as weighed against the possible effects of their disclosure on the course of world affairs. On this topic professional journalists usually wax lyrical and meta-morphose into strict constructionists; Kaplan and Kalb, although they do plump for the whole truth and nothing but, treat the dilemma with thoughtful respect and without sermons. Theirs is both an enjoyable and an admirable book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSKalki, by Gore Vidal. Random House $10

In this story, America’s self-proclaimed Man of Letters has returned to his favorite medium, the novel, He relates the end of the world under bizarre Oriental conditions (with a Messiah, no less) and the breed of New Men who will take over in the Resurrection, Even as a parody, it is a pretty poor potboiler. He can and should do better by his admirers. Meanwhile, his archrival, William F. Buckley, has nothing to fear from this book.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Ringmaster, by Darryl Ponicsan. Delacorte $8.95

The author of Cinderella Liberty and The Last Detail here explores the world of the circus as seen by an insider. Ponicsan spent months working in a circus to gather material, and it shows. His descriptions of the constant tedious movement from town to town are totally convincing. So is his characterization of Starback, the ex-lion tamer demoted to ringmaster who chronicles the declining fortunes of a small circus. Unfortunately, though, Starback’s belief that he is a failure is used as a unifying device for the book. As a result, Starback’s self-pity soon becomes tiresome and his perspective warped. The rest of the characters are even less satisfying; they simply serve as straight men for Ponicsan’s less-than-novel notion that life is futile—and worse, exhausting. Still, this anecdotal narrative is full of intriguing subplots, the best of which is the story of the sideshow manager whose fat lady goes on a diet.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Game Player, by Rafael Yglesias. Doubleday $7.95

Yglesias’s third novel continues his development as a skilled and intellectually vigorous literary artist. The Game Player is more tightly structured and, seemingly, less autobiographical than his previous work; this is not entirely to the good, witness the book’s overly pat ending. But his writing is crisp and poised, and his ideas are fresh and honestly examined. It is a pleasure to read a young novelist who dares to be intellectual without being murky or faddish.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSSanshiro, by Natsume Soseki, translated by Jay Rubin. Washington $14.95

Sanshiro, written in 1908, is Natsume Soseki’s quiet and dark novel of a rustic young man’s first experience with modern education and modern women in Meiji Japan, Soseki, a scholar and admirer of Western literary trends of his day, was one of Japan’s most influential novelists of the century, and this book has remained one of his most popular works for more than 60 years. Rubin’s translation is eminently accessible to the general reader; for those desiring to know more about Soseki and his writings, a critical essay, well-foot-noted, is appended.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Widower’s Son, by Alan Sillitoe. Harper & Row $8.95

The well-known British novelist Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner) tries his hand at a theme long favored by American writers: misunderstandings between father and son. Driven by an ambitious father, the son succeeds in military service and socially, marrying a brigadier’s daughter. All certainly does not end well, but the hero survives finally the impress of his father’s personality and the torments of an unhappy marriage, compounded by the British class system—that old standby of Eng. lit. and TV serials and the constant envy of countless American writers from Henry James on down. Refreshing because of its quiet writing and because it tackles a tough subject: ordinary people living ordinary lives.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSHome Free, by Dan Wakefield. Delacorte $8.95

We have already been treated to a whole host of “sixties books,” mostly fiction, and no doubt the feast will continue apace. Most sixties novels focus sympathetically on young dropouts struggling to find themselves in a world corrupted by their elders. The quest for self-awareness is usually conducted with the assistance of drugs and sexual exploration. Dan Wakefield’s hero fits the mold pretty well: he drops out of graduate study (history, of course) in the Midwest, and after episodes on the Maine coast and elsewhere ends up, predictably enough, among the rock groupies in Southern California. Much in the novel is in fact predictable, but the writing is crisp and the dialogue well observed. An innocent way to spend a couple of hours.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Women in the Mirror, by Pat Carr. Iowa $8.95

This collection of short stories is the 1977 winner of the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. Though the Iowa award deserves attention because of such impressive past winners as Jack Cady and Barry Targan, Pat Carr’s stories prove disappointing both in their slightness and their conventionality. All the stories are short sketches of single female protagonists, in settings ranging from New Orleans to South American jungles; however, these portraits hardly ever reach beyond such fictional stereotypes as the mad, frustrated Southern spinster (“Miss Amelia’s”) or the earnest, kindhearted Peace Corps volunteer (“A Visit from the Consul”). Even the best of these stories seem insecure in their focus on one woman’s consciousness, and they finally fail to develop a full sense of either a psychological or an objective reality.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLITERARY STUDIESUnassigned Frequencies: American Poetry in Review 1964—77, by Laurence Lieberman. Illinois $12.95

If the author’s ambition of molding the book review into a “full-fledged art genre in its own right,” smacks of naïveté and pretentiousness, his critical essays are decidedly free of both vices. In fact, this collection of long and short notices originally written for Poetry, and three important reviews (Hudson, Yale, and American Poetry), must rank as our richest available trove of coherent insight into the practice of such masters as Ammons, Wright, Ashberry, Wagoner, Harper, Merwin, and Roethke. An unabashed organicist in an increasingly counter-organicist critical climate, Lieberman establishes profound intimacy with the text, in all its richness, seeks out “connections” (his god word throughout the volume), and finally seizes upon governing attitudes, visions, or schemes of value within and among poems, as well as collections of poems. That Lieberman accomplishes this in a prose that is vigorous, clear, and compellingly readable raises his work well above and beyond routine book reviewing—and most larger-scale academic criticism, as well. It is, however, and must remain, something less than art.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSMissing Persons, by Heinrich Boll. McGraw-Hill $9.95

Nobody really objected when Heinrich Boll won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972; it was clear that he was a good, even a major writer, and anyway it was the Germans’ turn. But there has not been much of note from his pen since the mid-1960’s, and this present collection of occasional pieces does his image no service. He is active in the cause of human rights around the world, and that is commendable, but here we must judge him as a writer. The reviews, the criticism, the essays, and the Nobel Prize lecture are just plain boring. Boll, like his friend Solzhenitsyn, is really an evangelist, and they do not make good reading.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSChinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays, edited by Andrew H. Plaks. Princeton $25

Written by scholars for scholars, the 13 essays that make up this book were originally presented at a conference on Chinese narrative, held at Princeton in 1974. Most areas of the broad spectrum of traditional Chinese narrative are covered, from very early historical chronicles to late Ch’ing dynasty novels. Except for the essays by Eoyang and Li, the contributions display a uniformly impressive level of critical sophistication and a soundness of methodology rivaling the best recent scholarship on the Western narrative tradition. The concluding essay by Plaks, containing a wealth of exciting and sensible insights, is especially recommended.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Literary Politicians, by Mitchell S. Ross. Doubleday $10

Buckley, Schlesinger, Galbraith, Mailer, Lowell, Vidal, and Kissinger: it is little short of astounding that given such rich subject matter, Ross has written a dull book. A recent college dropout, Ross casts himself as a modern H. L. Mencken, but he lacks the strength and consistency of prejudice to justify the comparison. Literary Politicians is a tangled mass of youthful sarcasm, too-cute rhetoric, and irritating misreadings of his subjects’ beliefs; it lacks the fundamental seriousness that humor of its type requires.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA Wollstonecraft Anthology, edited, with an introduction, by Janet M. Todd. Indiana $16.50

This full and careful selection will constitute an excellent introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft’s work. Wisely, special emphasis has been given to works not elsewhere readily available, but the more famous works have not been slighted. The volume is handsomely illustrated and printed and is prefaced with a useful biographical introduction.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSPolish Romantic Drama, edited by Harold B. Segel. Cornell $17.50

Professor Segel provides a lengthy authoritative introduction to three plays, Forefathers’ Eve by Mickiewicz, The Un-Divine Comedy by Krasinski, and Fantazy by Slowacki. The three writers are probably the most famous in Polish literature during the Romantic period, and the plays, or those by Mickiewicz and Krasinski, are longtime favorites. Fantasy is less known but reads well in what is apparently a new translation by Segel. The translations of the other two plays are revised versions of previously published translations, difficult to find or out of print. This is a most welcome collection showing that the Poles have a fine tradition in theater—whence their recent success on the stage and in films.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSHegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller, with analysis of the text and foreword by J. N. Findlay. Oxford $29.50

An excellent edition of an important text. Mr. Miller’s translation is careful and readable, and Professor Findlay’s “Foreword” and “Analysis of the Text” “are meant to orient the reader in the thickets of the text, not to provide exhaustive or wholly reliable guidance.” This is a valuable contribution to Hegel studies.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSNew Dimensions in the Humanities and Social Sciences, edited by Harry R. Garvin. Bucknell $7.50

This collection of essays is divided into four parts: “Rethinking the Grounds of Understanding,” “Emergences Within and Without,” “Reassessing the Tradition of Understanding,” and “New Dimensions of Understanding.” The essays deal with important questions, but the answers given are not particularly helpful.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSEssays in Ancient and Modem Historiography, by Arnaldo Momigliano. Wesleyan $20

This new selection of Professor Momigliano’s essays provides studies not only of Greek and Roman historical problems but also methodological problems pertinent to the writing of history. The most provocative essay in the collection, “Historicism Revisited,” asserts the author’s faith in a historicism governed by moral judgments derived from beliefs that are not historical.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSShrovetide in Old New Orleans, by Ishmael Reed. Doubleday $8.95

The 32 essays in this collection range from the reprinted “Remembering Josephine Baker” to “An American Romance” (turned down by three publishers) and form a recent autobiographical portrait of a penetrating mind thoroughly engaged in intimate, provocative, and often humorous acts of vision. Covering 1970—76, Reed examines the multicultural meanings and motives of Patty Hearst, HooDoo, “Gliberals,” tenure decisions, and Charlie Parker, showing, like the “guedes” of Mardi Gras, each man his own devil.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Victorian Critic and the Idea of History: Carlyle, Arnold, and Pater, by Peter Allan Dale. Harvard $13.50

Believing with Johnson that men need more often to be reminded than informed, Peter Dale in lively fashion assembles the best critical opinion on his three subjects. His book is to be praised for skillful marshaling of means rather than for originality; Dale’s reliability in expounding philosophical contexts shows a particularly sure hand, and his clarification of the social commitments that bottom Victorian critical dispute reflects the best Harvard style of Victorian scholarship.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Social Thought of Bernard Mandeville: Virtue and Commerce in Early Eighteenth-Century England, by Thomas A. Horne. Columbia $12.50

In less than a hundred pages Home succeeds admirably in giving a conspectus of all the major questions surrounding Mandeville’s theories of morality and social policy. He finds relevant contexts from which to explicate Mandeville in the English movement for a “Reformation of Manners,” in the Jansenist moral tradition of France, and, for Mandeville’s later work, in the thought of Shaftesbury. Home goes on to clarify Mandeville’s relation to Mercantile economics, in the process showing how misleading are recent attempts to see Mandeville as an early proponent of laissez-faire. Home’s is the most useful essay on Mandeville available, and, despite its brevity, the documentation is also excellent.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Immoderate Past, by C. Hugh Hoiman. Georgia $7

In these Lamar lectures C. Hugh Hoiman elaborates once more on a familiar theme, that “the past has been and still is an inescapable element of the southern mind, not as a myth, not as a retreat, not as a mask, but as a mystery to be understood, as a burden to be borne, as a guilt to be expiated, and as a pattern which can—if anything can—point us to the future,” Once more, too, he shows the ways in which “we have seen representative southern writers in every period utilizing the various novelistic modes to say what they have to say, but being consistently concerned with history as event and process and distrustful of the individual outside the context of time and society.”

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSPOETRYDay by Day, by Robert Lowell. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $8.95

This is the poet’s last collection of poems. The long journey which began in 1939 with the publication of two poems in the Kenyan Review has come to an end. If the years were often agonizing for Lowell, they were of considerable importance to the development of modern poetry in America. The lofty rhetoric of the early work has been deepened, softened, and changed. The subject of this last book is autobiographical, the breaking up of his marriage, and the mode is a remarkable turn in the possibilities of the lyric in English. Everyone interested in poetry will value this book. Lowell was, quite simply, the greatest poet of his generation in America.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSGaudete, by Ted Hughes. Harper & Row $10

Hughes is a difficult poet, not because of his obscurity (he is lucid compared to many) but because of his unrelenting picture of a universe “red in tooth and claw.” Gaudete, a novel-length poem in a variety of poetic forms, is a grotesque version of Hughes’s usual savagery, a fantastic commingling of English life and Druidical horrors. Hughes is, of course, an important poet; but demonic pagan intrusions into the “real” world become tedious when they belabor the reader with monotonous violence. Does Hughes believe in his own vision any more? Or was there always something pasteboard about it?

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLiving Among Others, by Daniel Halpern. Viking $8.95

Calm and melancholy in tone, the poems in Halpern’s fourth collection are diminished, weaker than his earlier work, at best simple sketches or dream scenes. A few, like the last piece, “I am a Dancer,” have a strong, clear voice, but most are less elegant, less animated, and rich in metaphor, a backing away from illuminating intelligence towards blankness, suspension, “white images that lift away.” Nature is good, man evil in the scheme proclaimed by the title; and an orderly life excludes relationships, so that one lives among, not with, others.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSPalm Reading in Winter, by Ira Sadoff. Houghton Mifflin $6.95

Sadoffs second book, though often dramatic, lacks the originality and striking imagery of his first collection. The dominant mode is first-person confessions, flat prosaic lines, and deadpan irony. In the surreal flow of time and scene he resembles Ashbery; also he is heavily influenced by Richard Howard, narrating many pieces in the guise of historical figures. As if to add a sensational note to a somewhat enervated tone throughout, the last group of poems takes off from the “Romance of the Rose” in an androgynous voice to explore ambivalent sexuality.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSPoems of R. P. Blackmur, by R. P. Blackmur. Princeton $12.50

As René Wellek has cogently reminded us, poets seldom make good critics and vice versa. The paradigm case is R. P. Blackmur. His criticism, for all its crankiness and religious bias, remains among the most useful of the modernist period. His poetry, however, collected here with an introduction by Denis Donoghue, is Lenten fare—to be read only for penance. Languorously pedantic and vacuously mannered, it too often echoes the turns, cadences, and images of his contemporaries, from Yeats to Williams (not W. C., but Oscar!). One is reminded of Eliot’s first reaction to Ezra Pound’s verse, except that in Blackmur’s case the incompetency is less touching than tedious.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Sandpipers: Selected Poems (1965-1975), by David Posner. Florida $5, $20 deluxe

David Posner’s best poems are vibrantly imagistic and filled with arrestingly fresh insights. Too often, however, his images are merely flashy and his observations striking but fundamentally banal. This selection of poems written from 1965 to 1975 contains disappointing poems but also some fine poetry which fully repays the reader’s attention and justifies high praise.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSBreathing Tokens, by Carl Sandburg. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $8.95.

This is a treasure trove of 118 previously unpublished poems by the great American prairie poet to commemorate his centenary. They were compiled and edited by his eldest daughter, who is the family archivist. An introductory note happily informs us that this volume contains only a representative selection of his uncirculated gems so we may hopefully look forward to future publications containing like works of joy.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSBest Poems of 1976: Borestone Mountain Poetry Awards 1976. Pacific Books $5.95

This annual volume includes 69 fine poets, the top prizes this year going to Maxine Kumin, Galway Kinnell, and Dan Masterson. One of the best anthologies to be found, it compiles graceful, lucid, quietly moving poems and provides a consistent reference point from year to year, recording current styles. The excellent assortment, chosen to scrupulously high standards, is always a welcome and rewarding experience to read.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSEven Tide, by Larry Woiwode. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $7.95

Woiwode has said that these poems are “a thread in the tapestry” involving his marriage novel, What I’m Going to Do, I Think, and his immense autobiographical four-generation novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall, both fine books. Yet the poems do not link to one another without great effort (with results that may or may not be valid), much less connect satisfactorily with the novels, although Jerome, one of Bedrooms’s characters, appears, and the dead mother and the (now) “five adults” in one poem must refer to the Neumiller family. Evidently the solder is human emotion: memory, sense of loss, generation, love, distancing, the sorrow of failure in sorting out emotions. The male speaker, frequently rather pretentious, is engaged over a period of months in night writing (and thus exorcising, it would seem); he talks to himself, to a wife, to children, and to private others, with abundant energy and almost total absorption with the “idolatry of inner speech,” “Alone in my past,” seldom inviting the reader across the rim of the circle. Twice he falls asleep at his typewriter, once gaining insight in a morning dirge: “I’ve burned up my best words in prose.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the drift becomes increasingly religious, finally invoking “The Word” (as the ambiguous title itself is part of the “Abide With Me” plea).

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923—68, by Louise Bogan. Ecco Press $3.50

This collection of Louise Bogan’s poems has been sadly out-of-print, and this reissue is very welcome, for one can see why Bogan has been admired by such people as Adrienne Rich, Theodore Roethke, and Edmund Wilson. Her poems are short, sharp, and intellectual; yet they contain much pain. Her anti-romanticism is desperate; her grip on life white-knuckled. Those who first encountered Bogan in her recently published letters ought now to read the poetry, which gave her both heaven and hell.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSLucky Life, by Gerald Stern. Houghton Mifflin $6.95

Twenty-three of the 57 poems here have “I” or “my” in the first line alone, but (sweet relief!) these are not the unrealized private visions or inert little dream simulations or free-association bravado ramblings that constitute the usual egoprattle of today. Stern, deserving winner of the Lamont Award for this book, has reached middle age without feeling driven to stupid sacrifice. City in its fullness is here (New York), but so is village and river and field. Present-day America (eastern Pennsylvania and some beaches), with all its energetic tackiness, proves suitable material, but powerful also is the great flow of history and tradition, sorrow and occasional anger, in Stern’s Jewish consciousness. There are creatures—catfish, pigeons, opossum, duck, an obese collie— and any number of fleshful fantasies and obstinate illusions: Van Gogh, swearing German farmers, Mayor Rizzo, Emma Goldman. Stern has language and lines for about everything: striking similes, forceful Whitmanesque declarations, and nicely untempered outbursts of feeling for what senses and mind encounter. If more verve than form and perhaps too much of the merely prosy, still there is an irresistible wholeness that one rejoices at seeing not sacrificed.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Hunchback and the Swan, by Fred Ostrander. Woolmer/Brotherson Ltd. $6.95

The speaker in these poems is a descendant of mystics and monks, the landscapes haunted by images of crucifixion and hell. The contorted syntax and linguistic mixture are reminiscent of Ashbery’s dream sequences, but here unfortunately there is not one really memorable poem. Rather the poems evoke a consistent mood, a medieval, Gothic sensibility of starkly opposed symbols—skulls, lanterns, lightning, statues, hunchback, swan. But the grotesque, baroque visions, though striking and original, are not cohesive enough to be moving.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Romantic Will, by Michael G. Cooke. Yale $15

In recent years, there has been a general repatriation of the great romantic poets, but the charge against them of excapism is still made. Cooke proves the flimsiness of such a charge. Anguished and ambivalent but unquestionably a mode of being accessible to reality, the romantic “will to art” attempted to comprehend experience without dishonesty or shallowness. For Cook, the romantic poet avoids easy solutions and effects “a negotiation between the necessary self and an inevitable world.”

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSAbout Men, by Phyllis Chesler Simon and Schuster $10.95

Phyllis Chesler’s latest book might well be called Against Men, since the aim throughout is to challenge the bases of patriarchal civilization. Jarring the reader with images chosen and interpreted to make us see the familiar in a new way, she explores the male psyche in a vivid, compelling style, sometimes profound, sometimes self-indulgent. The book includes interviews, clippings of sex-violence news stories, and recollections of her own relationships with men, interspersed with poetic meditations and paintings ranging from Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” to Dali’s “Shirley Temple,” What she draws most attention to is repressed fatherson hostility: “It is essential that men deny their unrequited love for, and their fear of, other men” in this society—and she sees this as the source of “his-story, the making of war, the triumph of phallic will.”

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSNATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSPR as in President: A Pro Looks at Press Agents, Media, and the 1976 Candidates, by Vie Gold. Doubleday $8.50

Vie Gold gives us an engaging and succinct account of public relations in the 1976 presidential campaigns. His most shocking observation is of the degree to which shabby public relations tactics are now conducted openly. In former times, manipulation of a candidate’s image to suit the current whims of the electorate was, as much as possible, kept hidden. Jimmy Carter’s public relations experts, however, cultivated relentless personal exposure; in frequent interviews on national television they candidly discussed the ways in which they tailored the candidate’s image to fit the exigencies of the political moment. The absence of public outrage, as Gold tellingly observes, indicates that political flim-flam is the reward of wide-spread apathy and vapidity in our political life. In contemporary American political campaigns, increasingly, says Gold, “what you get is what you see.”

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSThe Vast Majority: A Journey to the World’s Poor, by Michael Harrington. Simon & Schuster $9.95

The man who did so much to make Americans aware of the poverty within their midst in the 1960’s now turns his attention to the far more extreme and extensive poverty in the southern half of the hemisphere. In this polemical, disputatious book, he repudiates the ideas that Western prosperity, free trade, or even economic growth in the Third World itself have relieved poverty or have any hope of doing so. Americans, he charges, are guilty of a cruel innocence which blinds them to the evil done in their names, especially by multinational corporations.

Too often the arguments are asserted and reasserted but not proven. After all the polemics and scholarly references, diary entries from his trips abroad as a “poverty tourist” prove almost refreshing. Although Harrington is an avowed socialist, he is also an ardent democrat and anti-Stalinist, so his prescriptions turn out to be similar to those of Robert McNamara, his archetypal cruel innocent.

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSA Rage for China, by Robert Payne. Holt Rinehart Winston $10

The title was adopted, Mr. Payne tells us, “to suggest an overwhelming affection for that beautiful land and also to suggest the dismay of the Chinese people at seeing their country at the mercy of historical forces they could rarely understand.” Mr. Payne does not profess to understand them either, but he does tell a straight and co-herent story, based on his experiences in China during the war years when he came to master not only the Mandarin language but also the essentials of Chinese intercommunication. Thirty years after his first encounter, he renews his experience with that strange entity called China, and his perceptiveness and calm acceptance of change mark him as distinct from the “China watchers” and the reporters whose basis for understanding is usually minimal. Mr. Payne knew Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai in “the old days,” and his seasoned judgment on the China of 1977 (at which time he traveled with a party through eastern China) is a delight. It is seldom that one finds a travel diary that one has difficulty in putting down. A beautiful and informative account!

NOTES ON CURRENT BOOKSSmall Comforts for Hard Times: Humanists on Public Policy, edited by Michael Mooney and Florian Stuber. Columbia $14.95

Humanists cannot supply solutions to age-old problems of public policy; they can ask questions which illuminate and clarify the significance of those problems and the consequences of proposed solutions. To this end, the National Endowment for the Humanities supported an 18-month-long series of seminars at Columbia University. From the resulting 38 papers and 80 hours of discussion the editors selected 25 essays covering five broad areas of concern in public policy: justice and equality, private right and public good, education and the good society, war and social order, the humanities and public policy. It is a thoughtful, often engaging, often provocative c


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