Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Summer 1984

ISSUE:  Summer 1984

Despite the prominence of women in Southern life and mythology, their history has largely remained unwritten. White women as well as black have remained hidden behind a shroud of half-truths, stereotypes, and misconceptions. Suzanne Lebsock’s new book, while focused on an atypical place—not only one of the relatively few cities in the slave South but also one of only a handful of industrial cities in the entire region—is the best study by far of Southern women. Lebsock coaxes interesting arguments out of mute governmental records; she subjects longstanding orthodoxies of women’s history to fresh scrutiny and tempers her findings with a reassuring measure of common sense. Historians of Southern women still have much work to do, but at least they now have a high standard by which to gauge their efforts.

The History Men: The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance, by John Keynon. Pittsburgh $14.95 paper

Since it is generally accepted that we learn nothing from history, it remains something of a mystery why we pay any attention to historians. John Kenyon’s witty, rather idiosyncratic book takes the professional historians seriously, which is surely a mistake, and dismisses the amateurs such as Macaulay and Gibbon, which is close to a crime. History was doing very well until the historians got hold of it, but Kenyon seems not to recognize that. Still, his is an entertaining book in the grand tradition, and it is well worth reading.

The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898—1917, by Peter Conn. Cambridge $29.95

This book looks fascinating. Its attempt to restore intellectual complexity to an era that is often caricatured, its surprising and refreshingly broad cast of characters, and its supple introduction all seem to bode well. But the analysis never takes off; rather it reduces a host of intellectual figures, visual artists, composers, and radicals to the same bland level. Henry Adams, W.E.B. DuBois, Edith Wharton, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Ives, and even Emma Goldman, Conn argues, took at least one step backward for every step forward. The author considers this to be “dialectical,” but more often it seems merely self-canceling. The Divided Mind will be valuable to those interested in American culture at the beginning of our century but largely in spite of its thesis.

Fascism from Above: The Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in Spain, 1923—1930, by Shlomo Ben-Ami. Oxford $45

We have been told more—and have consequently learned less—than many of us want to hear about the Spanish Civil War of 1936—1939, yet how many of us have any idea how Spain was governed in the 1920’s? Professor Ben-Ami of the University of TelAviv has written the first major study of the seven-year dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, a regime he finds a kind of transitional fascism from above. It is an important study based upon meticulous, thorough research, and it helps put the events of the next decade into much better perspective.

The Uneasy State: The United States from 1915 to 1945, by Barry D. Karl. Chicago $22.50

Professor Karl sees the first half of the 20th century as a time when the United States struggled with its own national identity. On the one hand, 19th-century individualism, localism, and the democratic tradition militated against national conformity on any level. On the other, technological advances, industrialization, and the United States’ new position in the international community provided the impetus toward centralization. In Karl’s view, the traditional values have won out. Despite the New Deal and two world wars, our national identity appears as an indecipherable hodgepodge when compared to the more monolithic European states. The ultimate question, of course, is whether our lack of national consensus on most issues is good or bad. While we may suffer the absence of a national guiding star, we should not underestimate the benefits that individualism and pluralism have wrought. Karl beckons us to rethink this perennial dilemma.

Servants and Masters in Eighteenth-Century France, by Sarah C. Maza. Princeton $32.50

Domestic servants were the largest single occupation category in most French towns in the 18th century; they figured importantly in the literature of the period, and their influence was considerable. Yet they have until now been neglected by historians on both sides of the Atlantic. Professor Maza of Northwestern University has attempted to fill this gap in our knowledge, and she has succeeded: this is one of the best studies in French history to appear in a long time. We see the evolution of the serving class over a century and come to understand that class’s sometimes pivotal social role.

Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790’s, by Joyce Appleby. New York University $16.50

Appleby does a nice job of combining republican ideology and early capitalist thought to support her thesis that the Jeffersonians were agrarian capitalists, rather than the proponents of a static, traditional order. In her view, Jeffersonians recognized that farmers could profit by selling their surplus products on the market. However, they reacted adversely to the Federalist version of capitalism, one that called for a centralized economy and gave an unfair advantage to established elites. Appleby’s vision of the 1790’s, as presented in these, the 1983 Phelps Lectures, is intriguing but raises important questions. One wonders, for instance, if most agrarians were really fledgling capitalists or merely yeoman farmers concerned with their own subsistence. This short work promises to generate a new wave of scholarship in the already burgeoning area of Federalist period political ideology.

Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China, by Kay Ann Johnson. Chicago $23

Professor Johnson of Hampshire College traces the evolution of the position of women in China from the traditional Confucian norms to the emancipation wrought by socialism. She uses very few Chinese sources, relying heavily upon secondary materials in English, but she adopts a “cross-cultural” approach and brings to bear many of the insights—and too much of the jargon—of sociology and anthropology. Deeply involved in feminist studies, she has made a genuine contribution to our knowledge of Chinese social history.

The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880—1920, by Perry R. Duis. Illinois $24.95

This book is more than a sentimental tour of turn-of-the-century “watering holes” in the Windy City and the Hub. Using difficult-to-find source materials, Duis has identified the saloon as an important social and political institution in early urban America. Initially, saloons were welcome havens for immigrant laborers seeking an escape from the drudgery of tenement living. The local drinking establishment served as an information clearinghouse for the community. As the nation drifted toward prohibition, however, reformers succeeded in portraying the saloon as a center of crime and moral corruption. Adverse publicity, coupled with the development of alternative forms of communication and entertainment, contributed to its demise. The only shortcoming of The Saloon is that its comparative format does not succeed. The Chicago experience is much more fully documented than that of Boston.

The Russian Bureau: A Case Study in Wilsonian Diplomacy, by Linda Killen. Kentucky $22

Ask the average academic specialist on Russia what the War Trade Board of the U.S. Russian Bureau, Incorporated was, and you’ll draw a blank. Tell him what it was, and he’ll claim it wasn’t important. Professor Killen of Radford University has rescued the Board from obscurity with a handy little monograph that should have been subtitled A Study in Bureaucracy, not diplomacy. The organization existed only a few months, spent some of the taxpayer’s money, then expired. But it did have a role to play in the terribly confused events of 1918—1919, and it is good to have the record set straight.

Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin, by James L. McDonough and Thomas L. Connelly. Tennessee $17.50

These two prominent military historians, both of whom grew up in Middle Tennessee near Franklin, have produced a well-researched and well-illustrated account of one of the fiercest but least-known battles of the Civil War. Sensitive to local details and the personalities of participants, the authors are usually insightful and astute in their judgments; this will be the standard work on Franklin for some time to come. Unfortunately, it is marred by occasional misuse of words and by such redundancies as “remaining remnants.” The maps are inadequate and rarely helpful. Most important, the borrowings from the more general theses of other historians are too often awkward, uncritical, and not supported by McDonough and Connelly’s own evidence. Especially annoying is their attempt to explain Franklin with the asinine thesis of McWhiney and Jamieson’s Attack and Die.

The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China, by Jane Hunter. Yale $25

At the beginning of the 1900’s, more than half of the U.S. Protestant missionary force were women. Hunter’s book is based on a study of the diaries, reminiscences, and letters of 40 of the thousands of American women missionaries in China. In her study of those women, Hunter underscores a central conflict which all American women of the late Victorian era faced namely, the tension between their devotion to their own families and their strong sense of social responsibility to the masses. An important historical study of American women. Well-written, it includes approximately 40 photographs.

Feminism in Russia, 1900—1917, by Linda Harriet Edmondson. Stanford $25

The feminist movement in Russia did not really take hold until the eve of the First World War, and as a consequence Russian women—who were to send more sons and husbands to slaughter than the women of any other nation—played only a limited role in the pacifist movement. After the February Revolution, the Russian feminists realized that the new regime was likely to be as sexist as the old, and they attacked it vigorously. Many women threw their support to the Bolsheviks—the one party that dared promise real changes. Edmonson’s book provides a lively account of the struggle for female emancipation in Russia.

LITERARY STUDIESArnold and God, by Ruth apRoberts. California $26

Ruth apRoberts frames as startlingly as possible her claim that throughout his eareer Christianity was at the center of Matthew Arnold’s concerns, then proceeds to explain that his was a religion purged by the Higher Criticism of miracles or supernaturalism—i.e., that Arnold’s concerns were precisely what we have thought they were. For him literature was the chief vehicle of this denatured faith, particularly dramatic works which purvey wisdom in wholly realized or embodied form (rather than didactic works, which serve up precepts bare)—”literature” rather than “dogma.” Arnold and God is not, then, the bearer of fresh news, but it does frame its argument in a novel way—in terms of an Arnoldian theory of metaphor—and presents intelligent readings of Arnold’s late writings on the Bible.

American Literature and Social Change: William Dean Howells to Arthur Miller, by Michael Spindler. Indiana $18.50

A host of critics and scholars have tried to make sense of the connections between works of literature and the society in which they were produced. It is a notoriously difficult task, and it may be no accident that whole schools of literary criticism have arisen that totally disavow the importance of context to literature. Advocates of such a position will find their convictions strengthened by this book, for Spindler’s attempts to link literature and society are remarkably reductive and wooden. Scholars sympathetic to Marxian analysis will wince at the clumsy use to which Marx is put in this book, which is to drain literature of its deepest meanings.

Hazlitt, The Mind of a Critic, by David Bromwich. Oxford $35

Like Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt fails to fit neatly into our generalizations about his age; we have long needed a fresh reading of Hazlitt’s romanticism. David Bromwich’s chatty and diffuse book, overlong and overly fond of quotation, reminds us of the need without satisfying it. Missing the forest for the trees, Bromwich lovingly recalls the quirky details of Hazlitt’s early philosophic writing, his dramatic criticism, his politics (too much of the book is really about Hazlitt’s politics), but rarely gives us accurate or clear accounts of any of these (his tracing of Hazlitt’s philosophic context is particularly untrustworthy). Those who love Hazlitt will find here a mine of interesting, often valuable insights about particular essays, but they will surely regret the effort needed to get at them.

Telling Classical Tales: Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, by Lisa J. Kiser. Cornell $19.50

The Legend of Good Women has long been a problem for Chaucerians: a work of obvious ambition, probably composed between two masterpieces—Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales—yet looking to modern eyes like a baffling regression. Kiser, in the most sophisticated and thorough reading yet mounted, finds in the poem a subtle agon in which the diffident author exposes and contests some of the regnant medieval misconceptions about the nature and means of poetry. Her complex argument unfolds from a startlingly simple meditation on the significance of the daisy.

Milton Studies XVII, edited by James Simonds. Pittsburgh $31.95

This distinguished annual volume has been edited this year by Richard S. Ide and Joseph Wittreich, who have subtitled it “Composite Orders: The Genres of Milton’s Last Poems.” There are seven essays on Paradise Lost, three on Paradise Regained, two on Samson Agonistes, and one on the latter two poems. As the editors point out, in Milton’s last poems there is a conscious gathering of forms, brought into a harmony from chaos. His approach to this harmonization, the essays contend, is a method imaginative and distinctive. Sometimes the method, however, is not so much an ordering as allowing the genres to compete with each other, one sometimes dominating and subduing. The collection suggests much, even when there is evident disagreement among the authors; but it is again a witness to the deliberate and challenging artistry of a great poet.

The Snarling Muse: Verbal and Visual Political Satire from Pope to Churchill, by Vincent Carretta. Pennsylvania $25

Examining scores of poets and even more drawings and prints (73 of which are reproduced here), The Snarling Muse finds a shift from principles to personalities as the live center of English political satire, 1710 to 1760.(The point is a corollary of the Namier hypothesis.) Carretta usefully catalogs the iconography of such satire.(The book does not make the kind of larger contribution to our understanding of the “sister arts” in the 18th century which it advertises.) This book innovates no generalizations but fills in our knowledge of details; it does so with irritating self-consciousness in needlessly inflated prose. Only in its final chapter on Churchill— where the weight of previous authority is least—does the author lose himself in the excitement of his subject.

The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner. Knopf $13.95

The Art of Fiction is a “how to” guide for the neophyte who wants to sharpen his writing skills. Its author, the late John Gardner, was not only an accomplished writer but a teacher as well, having been a veteran of many a fiction workshop. Gardner’s teaching experience led him to concentrate on technique as a means to successful fiction writing. His book is a collection of do’s and don’ts for the young writer, supplemented with examples of the right and wrong ways of writing. Above all, Gardner believed that practice makes perfect, and he has included numerous writing exercises for those who wish to improve. Gardner may be naïve in concluding that anyone who wants to write can, but his optimistic teaching approach is infectious and is sure to encourage those who until now have been too shy to try.

Ideas of Restoration in English Literature, 1660—1671, by Nicholas Jose. Harvard $15

When Charles II returned to the throne of England in 1660, a welcoming populace turned out in record numbers. But the Restoration was in fact a sudden affair, the work of less than a year, and enthusiasm for Charles’ return even more sudden. Surveying the works of Dryden, Cowley, Davenant, Waller, and a host of lesser playwrights and panegyrists, Nicholas Jose shows how the writers of this era were forced to create a royalist fiction of providential proportions to paper over a real lack of consensus and uncertainty about the future. Charles’ wars made the fiction especially difficult to sustain, and to the Dutch wars Jose devotes an especially learned and useful chapter. His book concludes with a reading of Milton’s Samson Agonistes as contemporary political document, telling of the way at the last minute even the most deeply entrenched monarchy may be brought down and so representing Milton’s Puritan warning that England’s providential history had not in Charles reached its final denouement.

Blake’s Prophetic Psychology, by Brenda S. Webster. Georgia $27.50

The first full-scale attempt to analyze Blake’s work from a strictly Freudian perspective reveals the strengths and the major weakness of a thoroughgoing psychoanalytic criticism. On the one hand, Webster sheds legitimate light on the obscurities of the later prophecies, particularly Jerusalem. At the same time, her narrowly Freudian approach becomes reductive when it attempts to see all of Blake’s output as a product of his fundamentally aggressive and guilty sexuality. Blake’s imagination finally resists any form of compartmentalizing. We return to the poetry anxious to see how it transcends this kind of criticism.

Ford Madox Ford and the Voice of Uncertainty, by Ann Barr Snitow. Louisiana $25

Discussing Ford’s work after the First World War, Snitow refers to him as being “still and always an old Janus head.” The metaphor reveals much about the concerns of this book, which engages both literary history and criticism. Snitow considers Ford’s characteristic discomfort in his world, unable to be wholly a part of either the world of his young modernist friends or of the Edwardian world left behind, and relates it to “the quiet voice, subtly shot through with ironies” so characteristic of Ford’s writing. There has always been something rather sad about Ford’s career, and Snitow manages to comment on it with both sympathy and yet judgment. Of the many recent books about Ford, this is among the most solid.

Passionate Virtuosity: The Fiction of John Barth, by Charles B. Harris. Illinois $16.95

John Barth is one of the major fiction writers to emerge in America since World War II, and as such he has attracted a great deal of attention from critics. Barth’s books are tailor-made for critics, possessing as they do a complexity of structure and richness of allusion that can keep any analyst well occupied. Charles Harris has written one of the few book-length studies of Barth, one which provides the fullest, most detailed, and in many respects the most insightful discussion to date of his career. Harris devotes a chapter to each of Barth’s seven books up to Letters, giving careful and close analyses which draw upon Barth’s own accounts of his intentions (in interviews and essays), as well as the various mythological, anthropological, and psychological theories which underpin his fiction. There may be more virtuosity than passion in Harris’s criticism, but he has still done a great deal to increase our understanding of one of the major writers at work today.

Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel, by Percy G. Adams. Kentucky $30

For 25 years Percy Adams has labored to persuade scholars to embrace travel writing as a full member of the literary canon. In this book, the greatest fruit of that long effort, Adams brings his astonishing range of reading to a comparative history of themes, structures, and techniques in novels and the various travel genres. His very conventional form of literary history— murky about what he means by novel, genre, and generic interrelation—prevents the book from advancing innovatory theses about its material. But Adams’ reading is so wide that, even so, he has written an important work of reference, one which will assist others in mapping the promised land Adams points to but does not enter.

Dreams and the Unconscious in Nineteenth-Century Russian Fiction, by Michael R. Katz. New England $20

The dream as a literary device is as old as the Bible, but in Russian fiction in the last century it took on a whole new dimension as Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and others employed it to investigate man’s nonrational side. Professor Katz of the University of Texas has here provided a lively and stimulating investigation of a neglected theme, and the result will appeal not only to literary scholars and students but equally strongly to psychologists and others interested in the life of the mind.

T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style, by Ronald Bush. Oxford $25

This study investigates the conflict between personality and impersonality in Eliot’s life and work, challenging the conventional view of Eliot as the objective, withdrawn, invisible poet.” Bush argues that Eliot was temperamentally incapable of the objectivity he intellectually sought, but also (and more importantly) that Eliot’s ideas on the subject are commonly misunderstood. Bush makes good use of biographical materials to substantiate his points, and his use of Eliot’s unpublished criticism, correspondence, etc., is particularly valuable and impressive. This book deserves considerable attention.

LIVES & LETTERSSwift: The Man, His Works, and the Age, Vol. III: Dean Swift, by Irvin Ehrenpreis. Harvard $35

Since the publication of Vol. II, we have waited 16 years for this, the conclusion to the definitive life of Jonathan Swift—and one of the great scholarly achievements of our time. Vol. III treats the years from Queen Anne’s death and Swift’s retirement to Ireland (1714) until his death (1745), years which include Gulliver’s Travels, the Drapier’s Letters, A Modest Proposal, and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, all of which receive masterful critical as well as biographical attention. There are no surprises in the volume: Ehrenpreis long ago showed us that Swift was never mad, accounted for the power of his later writings by reference to his new position as defender of a whole nation rather than one faction, explained even the special quality of Swift’s relations with young women. The Swift who emerges from vol. III is, until the very end, immensely sociable, conversable, taken up with the affairs of his friends and his church. Ehrenpreis’s Swift is probably the best written of modern critical biographies, so that many readers will actually wish this massive (1,066 pages) volume were longer.

The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer, by Jackson Benson. Viking $35

This massive biography of the Nobel laureate, we are told in the preface, was 13 years in the making. It shows. Benson virtually showers the reader with details from Steinbeck’s public life; personal musings and private declarations are also included from the mounds of letters at the Steinbeck Research Center. The book answers most of the questions a reader of Steinbeck might have. Unfortunately, it also attempts to answer many of Steinbeck’s critics, who, like the writer, are long since dead. The defensiveness on the part of a biographer like Benson is understandable, though unnecessary. The book’s strength lies in the catalog it provides of events in Steinbeck’s life. As a biography, it is a bit slow moving. As a reference book, it does a laudable job in chronicling a major life in letters.

Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, by W.D. Ehrhart. McFurland & Company $13.95

Bill Ehrhart did well in his Perkasie, Pennsylvania high school and then, like so many other young Americans of the past, joined the Marine Corps to see the war. Instead of triumphant beachheads and John-Waynesque glory, he discovered ambiguity and shame. Friends were blown away by booby traps that unseen enemies hoped would rid their country of foreign soldiers. Ehrhart shot an old woman trying to escape interrogation. A South Vietnamese “scout” serving with his unit told him that wherever Americans took their firepower and arrogance “the VC grow like new rice in the fields.” Having painfully acquired the understanding Sgt. Trinh recommended, Ehrhart narrates his experiences with painstaking care—his object accuracy and purgation as much as literary merit. Like Caputo’s Rumor of War and Mason’s Chickenhawk, Vietnam-Perkasie recounts hard lessons and chides blind loyalty. If you missed the war, here’s the way it was.

Chen Duxiu: Founder of the Chinese Communist Party, by Lee Feigon. Princeton $25

Chen Duxiu is almost unknown in the West, where beyond Sun Yatsen, Jiang (or Chiang) Kaishek, and some sultry ladies with British-sounding names all is murk after Confucius and before Mao. But he was a key figure in the nationalist uprising of 1911, the New Culture movement of 1915—1922, and he founded the party we identify as Mao’s. Duxiu was expelled from the Communist party in 1929 as a Trotskyite; to a certain extent this explains his obscurity in both China and the West. Professor Feigon of Colby College has written a splendid biography of this major figure in 20th-century Chinese political life.

Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life, by Elizabeth Johns. Princeton $42.50

This gracefully written, splendidly (even by Princeton’s standards) produced study manages in five brief chapters, each centering on a single painting, to provide a coherent and moving account of how Thomas Eakins understood his own mission: as witness, through his portraits in particular, to the heroism of modern American (especially Philadelphian) life. As much social as art historian, Johns relates Eakins’ portraits of Max Schmitt, Professor Gross, William Rush, Weda Cook, and Walt Whitman both to the history of portrait representations of sportsmen, artists, musicians, and doctors, and to the developments in American life which made these figures so important. The reader will thus find here engrossing accounts of the history of rowing in America, of clinical medical teaching, of the construction of pianos, of the reputation of America’s early sculptors. All this information genuinely illuminates the paintings discussed, resulting in a powerful portrait both of an artist and an age which should be read by anyone concerned with 19th-century American life.

Clarendon and the English Revolution, by R.W. Harris. Stanford $39.50

The last full-dress biography of Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon, appeared in 1838, yet curiously little new information about this most appealing of personalities has emerged since then; nor will any modern work soon replace Clarendon’s own two volumes of autobiography. Instead of making such an attempt, R.W. Harris subordinates anecdotal biography to political history, giving over most of his study to affairs of state during the Revolution and Restoration (very usefully guided by, and compared with, Clarendon’s own treatment in the History of the Rebellion). The result is delightful, though an annotated abridgment of the History might have served the same purposes equally well.

From Middle England: A Memory of the Thirties, by Phillip Oakes. St. Martin’s $11.95

Received with great fanfare in England, Oakes’ memoir of growing up in a family of North Staffordshire Methodists during the 1930’s gives us a unique glimpse of that fascinating decade. Social history, confession, wonder, humor, all have their place in the author’s method. It is difficult to imagine a reader of memoirs, or a student of the 30’s, or anyone at all with a lively curiosity who would not be delighted with this book. After all, we may grow tired of children but never of childhood.

Beyond Love and Loyalty: The Letters of Thomas Wolfe and Elizabeth Nowell, edited by Richard S. Kennedy. North Carolina $18,95

From 1934, when she set up her own agency, Elizabeth Nowell acted as Thomas Wolfe’s literary agent until his death in 1938 and after that continued to do what she could for his work and his memory. The letters here chronicle their relationship. They show Nowell advancing from formality to fondness, telling Wolfe what needs to be done about some manuscripts, explaining what she is doing about this story or that, and often clucking over him and his affairs like a mother hen. The letters from Wolfe vary in a similar fashion from formality to Wolfean expostulation and travelogues. The letters of both show their individual styles, the affection they came to hold for each other, and the intense loyalty Nowell felt for Wolfe and never lost. This volume also contains “No More Rivers,” one of Wolfe’s stories that Nowell was unable to sell.

Herself Defined: The Poet H. D. and her World, by Barbara Guest. Doubleday $18.95

Barbara Guest, a poet, acknowledges the limits of this biography at its outset, explaining that she does not propose to add to the literary criticism of H.D.’s work. Consequently, readers may miss discussions of individual poems. But the biography is well researched and contains important material published here for the first time, along with many photographs and a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources. With the cooperation of H.D.’s daughter, Guest sets out to exorcise biographical myths and to concentrate on Bryher, H.D.’s friend and companion for 40 years. Occasionally, a breathless reverence sweeps the pages of this labor of love.

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. Pantheon $12.95

What did the Dutch Jews in Nazi occupied Holland do between 1941 and 1943? One thinks immediately of Anne Frank and of going into hiding. But thousands did not. Some hoped for a miracle, in the form of a British or American invasion. Others greeted the anti-Jewish measures with a sense of fatalism or with denial. Etty Hillesum, a 27-year-old student of philosophy, psychology, and Russian literature, determined to put her inner life in order, to define her deepest beliefs, and to try to live in accord with these belief’s. As the dragnet closed about her, she sought to cleanse herself of hatred and live with love toward God, nature, and all her fellow human beings. Her diaries from 1941 until 1943, when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died, are a beautifully written, moving account of her inner search.

Ty Cobb, by Charles C. Alexander. Oxford $16.95

This biography of baseball great Ty Cobb portrays the “Georgia Peach” as perhaps the most clever and intense player ever to don a baseball uniform. Ty Cobb lived life with a vengeance. On the baseball diamond, his aggressiveness accounted for the numerous records he established, some of which survive to this day. Off the field, his business savvy gained for him a personal fortune that made him a millionaire before his playing days were over. Yet Cobb’s intensity was also his undoing. He easily offended people, including friends and members of his own family. When he died at age 74, he was a wealthy but very lonely man. In a sense Ty Cobb’s life story is a morality play, one emphasizing that winning and success are not always as important as they are made out to be.

The Life and Art of Elinor Wylie, by Judith Farr. Louisiana $22.50

To anyone who encountered Elinor Wylie’s Jennifer Lorn at an impressionable age and who read the other novels and the poems in the same spirit, this book will come as an eyeopener. The “impeccable beauty and . . .genius of peccable character” does not come to life in these pages, but the events and people of her 43 years are fully narrated and explained. Wylie may never be known as more than a minor artist of great elegance and skill, but though there were other notable women writers in her life span, such as Millay, there were none with quite her quality.

POETRYCellar, by Lisa Russ. Alderman Press $4

In Cellar, the poet’s inner world is informed by her deep awareness of natural cycles, just as the outer world is sometimes a metaphor for her intense inner experience. She is eager for the two worlds to exchange their secrets. In “Tomatoes,” she says, “Grandmother, you taught me/to tug the skin gently/from the warm meat, /to cup the heart/with its smooth, protruding/vessels, its seepage, /to my ear/ and hear the suck and purl/suck and purl.” Sometimes the relationship between her inner and outer worlds becomes a struggle between the mind’s desire to defy gravity (“the ease with which the bird rises, / scissoring the light/to desire to see the bird that way”) and the “willful” body (“the body always has its own wishes”), as it is in the poem “Pregnancy.” Sometimes her inner and outer worlds exist in harmony, as they do in “Lenten Weeks”: “You practice scales, /Mozart. How pure, /how mathematical the melodies are./I prune the walnut and fruit trees/clipping back the dead branches/the stray stray boughs/the wisps.” Whether there is conflict or harmony, though, the poet never removes the tension, which for her is implacable, even in the beautiful closing poem, “Elegy for Momie,” where bodies rise “light as seed mote released from ice.” Cellar is a fine first collection of poetry.

The Oxford Book of English Traditional Verse, edited by Frederick Woods. Oxford $19.95

Ballads and folk songs, minus the music, comprise this excellent anthology, one of whose notable features is the inclusion, under the heading “Tradition in the Making, ” of post-World War II verse “by writers working within the framework of the Folk Revival, and generally accepted as writing “contemporary folk-songs.”” The editor justly makes high claims for these lyrics, which not only please with characteristic “charm, spontaneity, and bite” but also prove valuable to the study of social history. It may annoy iconoclasts that they predictably dramatize the shift in mood of the populace from contentment to bitterness as agriculture declined and urban industry prevailed; but, as Woods insists, “these verses reflect what the people knew and believed at the time; they are indeed the raw material of history.”

The Thing King, by Charles Edward Eaton. Cornwall Books $9.95

The poet’s temperament is classical, a bit antique; but, as a craftsman, he is clearly in control of the lavish detail of the poems. One leaves the book with the lingering scent of overripe fruit served from carefully crafted sterling bowls. Eaton prefers tercets and quatrains, and he furnishes these containers with rich sensory detail—vivid colors and odors—interspersed with rhyme, sexuality, and champagne. The reader feels the weary regret of overindulgence in colors too bright, flavors too fine. These lines from “In the Garden of the Fire Plants” capture it: “In the morning, a great sense of debauch—/cigarette butts, ashes, dead bones in the grate—/One almost longs for an explosion when the pilot is lit:/That huge flower at last. . . .”

Summer Celestial, by Stanley Plumly. Ecco Press $13.50

There is a kind of free verse which relies on a sudden dislocation or visionary leap in the last line to achieve closure and elevate the ordinary into the universally significant. Stanley Plumly excels at this technique. Other poems play with assonance and alliteration, though never obtrusively. Plumly is a visionary poet at heart, and these lines from “In Passing” could serve as a epigraph for the entire volume: “There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness, /then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.” In poem after poem, Plumly makes these vital connections; this fine volume should bring him the wider audience he deserves.

Midsummer, by Derek Walcott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux $12.50

Reading these 54 poems (published as the poet turns 54) is like walking through a gallery of works by Dutch and French masters—so vivid are the images, including the ones that refer to paintings—the “lemonrind light in Vermeer,” Watteau’s “amber spray of trees feather-brushed with the dusk.” Walcott comes by this talent for painting with words honestly. In one of the poems, he reveals that his father was a watercolorist, and the book jacket confirms that the poet himself painted the lush, full-summer tree on the cover. But it is the way Walcott blends landscape and language that points up his particular genius in this book. Graced with a lyrical voice that adapts in a gravely cadenced trot to the gorse and heather of England or sails without incident to reflect the brilliant water and clear skies of the Caribbean, Walcott is a master of synesthesia. He enables the reader to see movement, feel the flutter of leaves, and give over entirely to the excitement of touching something beyond scrutiny. A native of St. Lucia, Walcott grew up with classical poetry and island patois. The travels of Odysseus are never far from him; they hang like a rich undercurtain for his verbal tapestries. He lives now in both Trinidad and Boston; and while the sirens of the city that “sing” for him are those of ambulances and squad cars, the modern heart is caught and detained indefinitely by them. This, his seventh book, is the best.

Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. Norton $25

This is a large collection, nearly 450 pages, which one should take years to read so that he can not only savor each individual poem but also so that he can downplay for himself the tonal and structural repetitiveness which is the one serious flaw of this life’s work. The one section of the volume to be most admired, both the most moving and the most thought-provoking, is the 31 Letters from Hugo’s 1977 work, 31 Letters and 13 Dreams; it’s a telling fact that these poems with their remarkably longer lines and more personal address offer the greatest degree of variation in the volume.

Winter Weeds, by Harry Humes. Missouri $5.95

Brr-r-r. Prepare for an icy, unforgiving landscape in the relentless winter of these poems. Although he doesn’t say so, Humes takes his title from a Lisel Mueller poem, “The Need to Hold Still,” which begins; “Winter weeds, /survivors/of a golden age. . .” and goes on to depict the “juiceless” life of an older woman. The narrator of this book depicts the juiceless life of an older man. The poems are extremely well-crafted but devoid of blood. The poet’s intelligence is that of the detached but careful observer, and one wishes for him the prayer he makes for the bird in “He Dreams of a Hawk”: “Lord, let him be pulled downward, / at last, from the secret of ice. . ./down to his own waking, his own blood.”

etcetera: The Unpublished Poems of E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage and Richard Kennedy. Liveright $7.95

This collection of poems discovered in manuscript should prove a boon to both the serious student and the casual admirer of Cummings’ work. Anyone interested in how a poet develops will find plenty of material in the considerable quantity of apprentice work printed here, along with substantial appendices of poems written in childhood. The poems from Cummings’ Harvard years show how he moves from idealism to urban landscapes, satire, and erotic verse. But this book is of more than academic interest; 43 poems from Cummings’ maturity are also included, many of which can stand comparison with his best published work.

The Poems of Patrick Branwell Brontë, edited by Tom Winnifrith. New York University $37.50

Like the man himself, Branwell Bronte’s poems are an embarrassment to all but the most committed specialists: they are childish, overblown, verbally inept. Yet here they are, more of them than have ever been published before, in a beautiful format and with full notes, rescued from the disfiguring hands of their last editor, the wicked Thomas J. Wise. The editor’s task is done well, and we trust will never have to be repeated.

New and Collected Poems 1961—1983, by Alan Dugan. Ecco Press $17.50

Wit informs Alan Dugan’s poetry the way a skeleton informs a human body. At its best, as in “Funeral Oration for a Mouse,” this preoccupation with wit and metaphor creates a poetry that strikes at human concerns by its appeal to our intellect—a poetry of radiant light. At its worst, this preoccupation produces mere verse puzzles akin to mind-teasers. On the whole there is more poetry than puzzlement in this collection, and it is to be recommended to all who appreciate strong lyric poetry.

A Chance to Live: Children’s Poems for Peace in a Nuclear Age, edited by Gayle Peterson and Ying Kelley. Mindbody Press $4.95

Inspiring poems and drawings by children, grades K through 8, at the Berkeley Arts Magnet Public School, on the themes of “peace and hope,” “fear and despair,” “action,” “reflections on the future,” and “straight stuff,” which offer advice to the adult world by the children. The poems are generally predictable, sometimes naïve, but nonetheless moving. This book should be must reading for politicians and nuclear policy makers.

The Great Riding: The Story of De Soto in America, by Lily Peter. Arkansas $9.95

“The Great Riding” is a phrase that might describe the method of this long poem as well as its content. Despite the learnedness of her writing, Peter’s book is somewhat cloying in its attempt to create “epic-like” stuff out of Hernando de Soto’s stumbling upon the hot springs of Arkansas. And while it can be no accident that it is the University of Arkansas Press that has reissued this poem (earlier edition 1966), one might wonder about the audience to which it is directed. Earnestly intellectualized, Peter’s poem seems as unlikely to attract much interest as popular history as it is to succeed in its endeavor to generate myth.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSWithout Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia, by Arnold R. Isaacs. Johns Hopkins $19.95

Isaacs spent much of the period between the 1972 Paris peace accords and the fall of Saigon covering South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for the Baltimore Sun. His account of those three years, combining personal experience with an ambitious use of documentary sources, explores the human cost of the U.S. decision to abandon the struggle in Southeast Asia. Though necessary to meet our own needs, he writes, “it was also an act of betrayal.” Isaac’s book suggests the poverty of the old debate between “realists” and “moralists” in American foreign policy and diplomatic history— between the Henry Kissingers and Woodrow Wilsons. Our good intentions in Vietnam brought corruption and devastation; our cynical departure brought ruin and despair to a great many ordinary men and women. We may join Isaacs in the wish that they “had had a cause or a leadership worthy of their sacrifices” and in the hope that we gain from our Southeast Asian misadventure.

The Supply-Side Revolution: An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington, by Paul Craig Roberts. Harvard $18.50

“The Grumblings of a Frustrated Supply-Sider” would be a more apt title to this book written by a former member of the Reagan team. Its pages are so replete with sour grapes that one’s lips veritably pucker when reading it. Roberts reserves his most pointed barbs not for liberal Democrat “big spenders” but for the administration’s “closet Keynesians,” including David Stockman and James Baker. The author’s tale is one of the supply-side revolution betrayed, and his affection for most “Reaganauts” mirrors that of Trotsky for Stalin. Roberts is a supply-side theorist who believes that his policies were never given a fair try, and he may be right. This polemic, however, will only further impair the credibility of the supply-side position.

Marxism: Nomos XXVI, edited by J. Roland Pennock and John W, Chapman. New York University $35

With sections on Marxism and morality, political relations, and law, this volume in the Nomos series includes essays by 13 serious scholars earnestly bent on proving that Marx is indeed still relevant to our world. It is not a widely shared assumption, and some of these essays just do not come off. It is a bit like doing Rubik’s cube: it may make your fingers more nimble, but it is not clear what it does for your mind. Nevertheless, great fun for Marx buffs.

Post-War: The Dawn of Today’s Europe, by Richard Mayne. Schocken $16.95

Post-War is a disappointing book. Richard Mayne, a close associate of Jean Monnet and Walter Hallstein and a longtime official of the European Economic Community, sets out to tell the story of the Europe built upon the ruins of the Second World War. In eschewing a personal memoir, Mayne dispenses with the one approach that might have shed new light on the men and women who wrestled with one of the greatest challenges of contemporary Western history. Instead Mayne tries to provide a panoramic sweep of a continent reborn, but he often succeeds only in dating a patchwork of episodes. Thus in one chapter Mayne includes sketches of the Czech Jan Masaryk and his murder, the Churchill-Stalin “percentage” agreements in the Balkans, the seizure of power in Albania by the despot Enver Hoxha, and the Russian psyche. It is Mayne’s failure to treat these and other interrelated events in a sufficiently thematic fashion that prevents Post-War from fulfilling its creator’s intention.

The Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism, by John B. Dunlop. Princeton $32.50

It is well known that each generation has to learn history all over again. The Great War of 1914—1918 should have taught us for all time that nationalism is stronger than class ties, yet in the late 20th century we are still surprised to see the unmistakable emergence of Russian nationalism in the homeland of socialism, the Soviet Union. Mr. Dunlop has put together a persuasive case for taking the remarkable resurgence of national identity—and arrogance— among the Russians as a major development with profound implications for the West. Mother Russia may yet teach Marx and Lenin an unforgettable lesson.

Growing Minds: On Becoming a Teacher, by Herbert Kohl. Harper & Row $13.95

At a time when the ranks of college graduates entering the teaching profession are steadily dwindling, Herbert Kohl reminds us that a career in education is still one of the most spiritually rewarding endeavors. The author is no Pollyanna; he recognizes that low salaries, inflexible administrators, and apathetic students and parents have already driven many good teachers to other pursuits. Yet by recounting his personal experiences, Kohl shows that our schools still have a place for creative, concerned teachers. Of course pep talks alone will not redeem our education system, but it is reassuring to know that there are teachers like the author whose commitments have not diminished in the face of economic and institutional barriers.

First Born: The Death of Arnold Zeleznik, Age Nine: Murder, Madness and What Came After, by John Katzenbach. Atheneum $14,95

The ongoing debate over the use of the insanity defense in criminal trials has heated up significantly since John Hinkley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan. John Katzenbach’s account of the 1974 murder of a nine-year-old boy and the subsequent aquittal of the murderer on grounds of insanity will undoubtedly add to that controversy. In some ways, Katzenbach’s story is more horrifying than an assassination. It describes a completely random, unplanned killing of a child by a man with no motive, a psychopath so deranged that one psychiatrist called him “the craziest man I’ve ever seen.” To add to the tragedy, we learn that the killer had been diagnosed as homicidal in a Massachusetts mental hospital but then negligently released only days before the killing. Katzenbach succeeds in portraying the brutality and sense of terror surrounding this crime. Unfortunately, he has no answers to the dilemma we face as a society confronted by the conflicting demands of a protective system of justice and the therapeutic needs of the very mad.

The Shadow Network: Espionage as an Instrument of Soviet Policy, by Edward van der Rhoer. Scribner’s $17.95

Someone forgot to introduce Mr. van der Rhoer to John Barron and the other writers on the KGB. This new book is a silly mishmash of all-too-familiar tales, some true and some not, about the vaunted Soviet secret police. Van der Rhoer writes like so many Washington bureaucrats and politicians speak: if you only knew what I knew you’d agree with me—but I can’t tell you what I know. Thirty years ago that worked; now we all know it for the cover up of ignorance it is. This is a ridiculous book.

Trouble in Our Backyard, edited by Martin Diskin. Pantheon $9.95

According to Henry Kissinger, “the axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington, and then goes on to Tokyo.” As half-truths go, that perspective is both arrogant and dangerous when one considers Central and South America: arrogant in its tendency to view our southern neighbors as America’s “backyard, ” dangerous in its willingness to employ means antithetical to our own traditions in the name of combating the “Soviet” threat. One need not subscribe to all the viewpoints expressed in the present volume to appreciate the importance of the discussion. Especially instructive are the positions argued by Central and Latin American social scientists. Perhaps too polemical for the palates of some readers, the Diskin volume is useful for setting current Central American unrest in its broader social and historical context. What is at stake, after all, is America’s commitment to its own best ideals and instincts as well as the practical choice between sensitive diplomacy and mere crisis management.

The Trimtab Factor, by Harold Willens. Morrow $10.95

In recent months, much has been heard about the possibility and practicability of a freeze by the superpowers. Conspicuously absent from that debate has been the American business community; Harold Willens, in this modest volume, challenges that sector to join the discussion. The book, simply put, is a “briefing” for business executives. It offers a concise, fairly balanced history of international nuclear competition and a sober analysis of the costs and consequences of continuing escalation. Willens is out to challenge both the conscience and the pragmatism of business leaders, for he believes that they, perhaps alone among present constituencies, possess the “unique combination of pragmatism and political clout” required to lead toward a favorable resolution of the nuclear dilemma.

Life in Russia, by Michael Binyon. Pantheon $15.95

A former Moscow correspondent of The Times of London, Mr. Binyon lived in the Soviet capital for several years and spent his time not only in reporting political news but also in observing life in the streets. Binyon effectively describes the everyday problems of coping that face Soviet citizens, he analyzes the moods of those citizens, and he tries to penetrate their dreams. The result is one of the better glimpses of the real Soviet Union to come along in several years.

Welfare CapitalismAnd After, by Bert Cochran. Schocken $18.95

Bert Cochran’s earlier volumes are well known to readers on economic matters. Though hundreds of books appear each year, offering an astonishing array of “solutions” to recurring stagflation, Cochran’s tone has been consistently more measured (those enamored of the “quick fix” might say more cautious). In the present book, Cochran is less concerned with band-aid schemes than with a thoroughgoing analysis of the institutions and strategies of power which will determine the course of postindustrial society. Rather than choosing among “welfare-state,” neoconservative, or “industrial policy” remedies, Cochran offers more general reflections and prognoses. He argues that there is no real point in trying to identify specific developments or concrete alliances to be fashioned from today’s actors on the national and international scene. What he does present is the nature of the challenge that faces us in the final sixth of the 20th century—the decision to be made betw


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

Recommended Reading