Skip to main content

Notes on Current Books, Summer 1994


ISSUE:  Summer 1994

As unlikely as it seems, Barbara Bellows’ title is not ironic: she really does chronicle the rather impressive attempts by the slaveholders of Charleston, South Carolina, to take care of the white poor in the city for nearly a century. It turns out that the slaveholders—the heavies in most accounts of American history—were more complex than we might have thought. They tried to stay abreast of national and international innovations in poor relief, constantly revising their strategies as one after another proved inadequate. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, however, the slaveholders saw themselves acting out of noblesse oblige rather than out of a new kind of civic humanitarianism born of liberal ideas. Bellows’ account is beautifully written, even elegant, and it tells a story that complicates once again our understanding of the Old South.

The Fronde, by Orest Ranum Norton $35

American’s premier historian of 17th-century France has written a lively yet solid account of a forgotten revolution. Its oblivion, especially within the “hexagon,” is doubly paradoxical. First, the Fronde was anything but a routine uprising: beginning as a strike by ambitious civil servants, it grew to threatening proportions under the princes of the blood, whom Richelieu and Mazarin had failed to domesticate. Second, if the Fronde had been successful (and it nearly was), Louis XIV might never have reigned (or he might have been the puppet of that odd and finally incompatible coalition); the ancien regime might have been less rigidly authoritarian; and (most importantly, perhaps) 1789 might well have been a year like any other.

In the Beginning. The Advent of the Modern Age: Europe in the 1840s, by Jerome Blum. Schribners’ $30

Whether the 1840’s did indeed constitute the “most amazing epoch the world has yet seen,” as the late Jerome Blum argued in this, his last and perhaps finest work, is highly debatable. But it was full of wonders and world-shakers in the form of railroads and Karl Marx, photograph and Charles Darwin, bleak reaction in Central and Eastern Europe and the seeds of major revolutions in the West. The decade marked at once the fulfillment and the collapse of the upheavals generated by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, and those who live history are deeply indebted to Blum for bringing it to all its vigorous life.

luzovka and Revolution, Vol. II: Politics and Revolution in Russia’s Donbass, 1869-1924, by Theodore H.Friedgut. Princeton $49.50

Named for the Welsh craftsman who founded a great coal and steel complex in the region, luzovka (that is, Hugheston) came to play a role in Russian industrial life comparable to that of Pittsburg and Cleveland rolled into one. Having discussed the economic and social background in the first volume, Friedgut, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, moves in this sequel to a detailed analysis of the political history of the city, naturally paying special attention to the labor movement. The volumes are indispensable to specialists.

The Politics of Despair: Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars, by Tracy Camp bell. Kentucky $28

The Tobacco Wars erupted in Kentucky and Tennessee early in the 20th century, the product of farmers furious at their exploitation by giant tobacco companies and frustrated at the unwillingness of some of their fellow fanners to join in a boycott. The war was in effect two wars, one against the American Tobacco company and the other among farmers. Campbell tells the story thoroughly and fairly. His major contribution is to show that the farmers’ revolt—the largest and most successful in American history—extended beyond the western districts with which it has long been associated and into the burley districts of central Kentucky. His is not really a stirring story, but it is a story worth having nevertheless as the family farm continues it relentless decline.

The Birth of Fascist Ideology, by Zeev Sternhell. Princeton $29.95

Fascism is a virus that lurks just beneath the surface in all Western industrialized societies. It grows in the soil of what Federico Fellini, speaking of his film Amarcord, describes as “arrested adolescence, narrow horizons, mean dreams, easy solutions and—saturating everything—ignorance” (this is actually Clive James’s paraphrasing of the maestro). This is the message that comes from Zeev Sternhells’ scholarly, meticulous’ investigation. Published earlier in France and Italy, the work should find a considerable audience in America; it deserves it.

News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844—1897, by Menahem Blondheim. Harvard $39.95

With all the talk today of an “information superhighway,” this book offers a welcome historical perspective. Concerned specifically with the ascendancy of news wire services, especially the Associated Press, Blondheim shows how this form of instant communication, which he sees as a centripetal force in national life, affected economics, politics, and society. The amount of research in primary materials is impressive.

Blueprints and Blood: The Stalinization of Soviet Architecture, 1917—1937, by Hugh D. Hudson, Jr. Princeton $35

The Soviet Communists genuinely wanted to give the masses something beyond bread and circuses, namely shelter, but when Stalin and his apparatchiks took over their ideas about architecture revealed nothing so much as the utter absence of any understanding of it. In this fine study based on newly released archives, Professor Hugh D.Hudson of Georgia State University traces the development of those neo-Gothic, “weddingcake” monstrosities and other structures that insult the eye everywhere in the old USSR.

The Madness of Kings: Personal Trauma and the Fate of Nations, by Vivian H.H. Green. St.Martins $35

This sloppy and gossipy book skips from the worst Roman emperors through the weakest kings of medieval England, to Charles VI of France, and on to Don Carlos and the other troubled Habsburg descendants of Queen Juana “la loca,” Eric XIV of Sweden, George III of England, Christian VII of Denmark, and Ludwig II of Bavaria, glancing also at Russian czars and Tuscan grand dukes. Green emphasizes royal inbreeding and nauseating corruptions of power as frequent causes of royal breakdown. He winds up his amateur psychologizing by retailing tidbits about British prime ministers and American presidents along with glimpses of Hitler, Stalin, and the other monsters of this century. If the book has a serious thesis, it is the obvious one that the physical and mental incapacity of leaders has had a large impact on political history. Breathless from his romp through two millennia, he rarely pauses to wonder what he (or anyone) means by “madness,” or whether the criteria for mental disorder have shifted over time.

The Birth of the Elizabethan Age, by Norman Jones. Blackwell $39.95

Professor Jones has set himself a formidable task in attempting to bring the very first decade of Elizabeth’s reign alive by bringing the national into focus through the effects it had on the average people. Where he succeeds, his book is delightful, truly informative, and creative: his discussion of marriage and its rules for most Elizabethans, for example. Where he fails, his book deals too narrowly with the tiny minority who comprised the movers and the shakers. A more irritating flaw is his inability to finish stories; he will cite an interesting piece, illustrative of his point, but the full impact of that point is missed because one is left to wonder what happened. That he makes the people come alive, usually in their own words, is marvelous, but his lack of completion makes his book frustrating. Overall, it is a good read for the general enthusiast, and a mine for lecturers seeking material, but it only imperfectly captures the spirit of the early Elizabethans.

The Economy and Material Culture of Slaves, by Roderick A.McDonald. Louisiana $39.95

The difficulty of the slave’s work in the Louisiana sugar plantation system is not the focus of this interesting socio-economic history. The author focuses upon the economic life of slaves in Jamaica and Louisiana. This study contributes to a growing understanding of African-American life outside of the direct control of the slave master. McDonald helps one to see the slave as an individual who produces and consumes goods through his own work. The exposure of slaves to a limited outside economy helped prepare some for the coming of emancipation. The conclusions are documented by appendices that occupy almost half of the book. This valuable volume is meant for the economic and African-American historian of the ante-bellum period.

The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665—1740, by Charles E.Clark. Oxford $49.95

The development of the media is something that many assume is a modern invention. Clark has documented the development of the culturally influential newspaper industry from its British ancestors. These avenues of information and propaganda grew up in the cultural and financial centers of colonial America. They served the dual role of reinforcing British ideals and yet contributing to the development of a uniquely American perspective on the world and on media. The reader with historical interests in the formation of the American newspaper will be richly rewarded in reading this stimulating volume.

Muted Fury: Populists, Progressives, and Labor Unions Confront the Courts 1890-1937, by William G.Ross. Princeton $39.50

Muted Fury, by William G. Ross of the Cumberland School of Law, is a pathbreaking exploration of a neglected era of American legal and constitutional history. The period between 1890 and 1937 witnessed a series of attempts first by Populists, and later by Progressives and by organized labor, to press for far reaching reforms of the judiciary, which was seen—with good reason—as socially conservative, if not reactionary. This “fury” was “muted,” Ross argues, by three factors. First, the courts’ critics were divided over questions of tactics and goals. Secondly, much of the general public and the legal establishment saw a powerful and independent judiciary as a guarantee of social and legal stability. Finally, and most important, judges proved themselves extremely sensitive to public opinion. This was especially true of the Supreme Court. Time and again, when faced by a firestorm of destructive criticism, the court was able to change course in a moderate, if not a liberal direction. This fine book can be recommended, not only to students of the period, but to anyone wishing to understand the quarrels that have shaped the Constitution.

Feudal Society in Medieval France: Documents from the County of Champagne, Translated and edited by Theodore Evergates. Pennsylvania $32. 95 cloth, $14. 95 paper

This collection of documents centers on one of the most cultured and economically vigorous regions of France in the High Middle Ages. Champagne was the locus of the most important trade fairs of the 13th century as well as the center of one of France’s most brilliant courts. The documents translated here, however, reveal a simpler, more traditional society. Marriage agreements, wills, and inheritances describe a traditional world dominated by an increasingly self-conscious warrior class. Like most collections of documents, this book is most interesting when the reader dips in and searches for material on particular topics rather than passively reading from beginning to end.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Critics Who Made Us: Essays from the Sewanee Review, edited by George Core. Missouri $39. 95

Rarely has a title been so freighted with meaning. By “critics,” Core and his collaborators refer, by and large, to New Critical theologians and explicators of literature— not deconstructionist mystifiers, feminist firebrands, or reader-response narcissi. “Made,” to Core and Company stands for “educated,” or “cultivated” (as opposed to “trained in the rote of political correctness”). And a quick glance at the contributor’s notes reveals “us” to be middle-aged or elderly, white, mostly male Anglo and Protestant, as well as tenured at colleges in the “most selective” category. In other words, the volume appears to be nostalgic, even irrelevant. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The spirited, compellingly written essays (one on each critic’s masterpiece, or in the case of Warren, Orwell, and Burke, the whole oeuvre), show the subject’s formative power and more: its value as a continuing model of erudition, rigor, and articulacy, as well as effectiveness at fostering civil yet incisive dialogue. Above all, perhaps, the maitres à penser remembered here taught the subtle and almost lost art of responsible risktaking in the humanistic disciplines.

The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story, by John T.Irwin. Johns Hopkins $39.95

A labyrinthine investigation of Borges, this study ranges over a wide variety of subjects: philosophy, history, mathematics, mythology, etc. Plato, Plutarch, Averroes, Sir Thomas Browne, Pascal, Schopenhauer, Jung, Lacan, and Derrida are just a few of the writers whose relations to Borges are explored in this learned, capacious, and ultimately amazing book. While the author admirably emulates Borges’ intertextuality, he lacks his subject’s concision. A book only for aficionados of litcrit—not for mere lovers of Borges’ fictions.

Miscellanies by Henry Fielding, Esq; Volume II, edited by Hugh Amory, with introduction and commentary by Bertrand A. Goldgar. New England/Wesleyan $75

This volume—which includes the prose fiction fantasy A Journey from This World to the Next, the farce Eurydice, and the comedy The Wedding Day— is the ninth published to date in the authoritative Wesleyan Edition of Fielding’s complete works. It sustains the high scholarly standards of the series even though it represents, in important respects, a radical departure from editorial principles advocated by Fredson Bowers, textual editor from the inception of the edition in 1967 until his death in 1991.Students of Fielding will find Goldgar’s introduction and explanatory annotations invaluable; particularly brilliant is the light he throws on Fielding’s sources and thematic intentions in the Journey, a minor masterpiece largely neglected by critics. And no one interested in the theory of editing can afford to ignore Amory’s “Textual Introduction,” in which a meticulous analysis of the several texts of The Wedding Day (the published versions and the Larpent MS) provides the basis for a new textual rationale

The Culture and Commerce of the American Short Story, by Andrew Levy. Cambridge $44. 95

Andrew Levy comes at the short story from all sides. He is a writer (he attended the Johns Hopkins writers’ workshop), a publisher (he has worked for Boulevard), and a critic (he is an assistant professor of American Literature at Butler University), and thus he brings a unique perspective to the genre. In The Culture and Commerce of the American Short Story he has contributed a work of major importance. Levy is a historicist, who views the short story as nexus for the intersection of individual and communal desires, “a place that offers certain forms of cultural capital in certain amounts, and attracts individuals to the extent that they seek that particular algorithm.” Looking for the origins of the short story as well as an explanation for its current revival, he turns both to authors (Poe, Wharton, and Bobby Ann Mason, in particular) and institutions (the publishing industry and the handbooks and workshops of the creative writing “revolution”), and he traces it evolution through a remarkable series of makeovers, suggesting that our cultural amnesia about the short story’s history implicates readers as well as authors and publishers in a characteristically American desire to “make it new.”

Promised Verse: Poets in the Society of Augustan Rome, by Peter White. Harvard $45

Gracefully written and grounded in painstaking research, this descriptive and analytic study of the relationship between Roman poets of the golden age and their patrons, particularly Augustus, sheds new light on classical poetry and the social matrix in which it flourished. Far from being “spin doctors” for imperial policies, poets such as Vergil, Ovid, Horace, Thibullus, and Propertius articulated a public stance which was influenced by but ultimately independent of the sources of power. In two valuable appendices, White lists in detail the social status of more than 100 poets and the social connections of the major poets.

Critical Tales, edited by John D. Lyons and Mary B.McKinely. Pennsylvania $36. 95

An increasingly ill-kept secret in French fiction studies is that Marguérite de Navarre ranks with Mme de Lafayette, Chonderlos Laclos, and the creme of the 19th-century creme: Balzac, Stendhal, Zola, and Flaubert. Marguérite’s Heptameron (1558)—available to Frenchless readers in Paul Chilton’s fine Penguin translation—has found favor first and foremost because of superb writing: it is a collection of short stories as intricate and dense as it is innovative and resonant. While giving art its due and more, these essays by major American and European specialists make a variety of clear, cogent, and animated cases for rehabilitating the Heptameron, as an integral part of early modern culture. But whether read intrinsically or extrinsically, Marguérite’s masterpiece has found its canonical place alongside Rabelais’s comic novels, Pléiade lyricism, and the essays of Montaigne.

Shakespeare Reshaped 1606—1623, by Gary Taylor and John Jowett. Oxford $60

Concerned with some of the ways in which the textual intentions of Shakespeare were subverted, these essays reveal the new tendencies of Shakespearean editing. Taylor and Jowett draw our attention to the larger social setting—official censorship, theatrical innovations—and away from the vagaries of scribe and compositor. An essential resource for the scholar, this volume will have less appeal for those who want to believe simply that “the play’s the thing.” Six appendices offer elucidation of selected editorial problems.

Dubliners, by James Joyce. An illustrated edition with annotations by John Wyse Jackson and Bernard McGinley. St. Martins $35

By far the most enjoyable edition of Joyce’s first masterpiece, this large-format volume provides all the cultural and biographical information that a modern, non-Irish reader needs in order to avoid misconstruction or mere befuddlement. And, while penetrating and suggestive, the editors’ critical “afterwords” invariably send the reader back to the text, rather than replace (re)reading with ready-made interpretations. Is it too much to hope that Jackson and McGinley will prepare a companion edition of Ulysses?

Knowledges: Historical and Critical Studies in Disciplinarity, edited by Ellen Messer-Davidow, David R.Shumway, and David J.Sylvan. Virginia $67. 50

This volume inaugurates an ambitious, necessary, and, indeed, long-overdue series which will explore the shifting compartmentalizations of knowledge. Not limited to subject matters, ideas, and methods, or the character of fact and generality; these books will recount disciplinary history and describe institutional topography while grappling with what lies beyond in the terrains vogues of inter- and antidisciplinary inquiry. The essays collected here under the rubrics “genealogies,” “boundary work,” “field construction,” “socializing practices,” as well as “postand counter-disciplinary projects,” touch incisively, rigorously, and clearly on structure, education, and scholarship in fields from accounting and art history to gay studies. This book is required reading not only for academic stand-patters but for those who would all-too-casually sweep away paradigms that continue to serve us well.

The Pleasures of Babel: Contemporary American Literature and Theory, by Jay Clayton. Oxford $15.95

In Genesis, difference was portrayed as punishment, as a curse, but to Jay Clayton the Babel of differences that is modern American culture contains substantial pleasures. Looking at novels from the seventies, eighties, and nineties, Clayton finds much to celebrate, calling the present, “a great period of writing,” due in large part to the growing cultural diversity of the nation. In lucid prose, Clayton ties contemporary fiction to recent developments in literary and cultural theory—particularly narrative theory—and he displays a remarkable breadth of reference. Though many of the names may seem familiar, Clayton has an enviable ability to make connections in surprising and provocative ways.

Edmund Burke’s Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution, by Tom Furniss. Cambridge $59. 95

Burke is one of the rare figures whose achievement was so wide ranging that his life and work are of interest to scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. Unfortunately this situation has led to a compartmentalization in the study of Burke. Literary scholars analyze his aesthetic writings to the exclusion of the political, focusing chiefly on his pathbreaking book on the sublime and the beautiful. Meanwhile, historians and political theorists study Burke’s political writings to the exclusion of the aesthetic, for example his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Furniss’ book has the merit of breaking out of the normally limited categories of Burke studies. Though fully aware of the tensions between Burke’s early and late writings, and between his aesthetic and political ideas, Furniss shows how Burke’s discussion of the sublime and the beautiful illuminates his analysis of the French Revolution, and vice versa. Furniss may be critical of Burke, but he treats him with respect as a serious thinker. Thus, even though Furniss frequently invokes the fashionable names of Derrida and Foucault, his book is no mere deconstruction of Burke. As Furniss writes, “the instabilities. . .in Burke’s texts are not due to the inevitable ‘free floating of the signifier, ’ but arise because Burke is strenuously engaged..with intractable problems. . .intrinsic to the ideological struggles of the period.”

The Columbia History of British Poetry, edited by Carl Woodring and James Shapiro. Columbia $59.95

This companion volume to Columbia’s History of American Poetry provides the historical overview its title implies. Essays included range from discussions of Old and Middle English poetry to surveys of contemporary poets in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The traditional “stars” (Chaucer, Milton, Blake, etc.) are dealt with, but as the editors note in their introduction, “considerable effort has gone into making available voices long suppressed— from anonymous balladeers to woman poets. . .too long overlooked.” While not revolutionary, this volume accurately reflects the on-going critical evaluation of this work, and many of the essays may force the reader to defend his previously held assumption. Nonetheless, the editors have aimed their work at the “common reader,” which reduces the use of theoretical jargon and emphasizes readable prose. Similarly, each essay (written by such well-known critics as David Daiches and Jerome McGann) is followed by a bibliography of primary and secondary works for further investigation, as well as brief biographies of the poets discussed.

LIVES & LETTERSJuan de Herrera: Architect to Philip II of Spain, by Catherine Wilkinson Zerner.Yale $50

Herrera’s career as an architect was interwoven with that of his patron, King Philip II.Philip II was an active patron who studied designs, made suggestions, and supported most of Herrera’s efforts throughout his life (ca.1530—1597). Those efforts have come to be identified as the “official” style of Philip II’s world-wide empire, buildings of imposing magnitude and careful construction which fused architecture and ideology.(Not surprisingly, the Herrerian style would be embraced by Francisco Franco in the 20th century.) While Herrera built (or contributed to) the Alcázar and the City Hall in Toledo, the Merchants’ Exchange in Seville, the Cathedral of Valladolid, and much more, his most representative building (Philip II’s, too) is the imposing and enormous allpurpose El Escorial (“arguably the greatest architectural work of the later 16th century,” according to the art historian Jonathan Brown). Zerner discusses Herrera’s “layered collaboration” with other architects, provides biographical information, details of the Spanish building profession, comments on the relationship of Spanish architecture to other forms of European design, includes documentary information of Philip’s reign and Herrera’s apprenticeship, and a wide-ranging commentary on art and architecture in Renaissance Europe. Herrera, remembered for having established the classical style in Renaissance Spain, finally has the study he has long deserved. With illustrations (photos and drawings), extensive notes, an immense bibliography, and index.

W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868—1919, by David Levering Lewis. Holt $35

This book deserves that word thrown around too easily in book reviewing circles: “monumental.” The research is astounding, the writing elegant, insights scattered on almost every page. Lewis writes with a sure hand, obviously admiring his subject but not fawning over him, proud of his accomplishments but aware of his limitations. W.E.B.Du Bois occupied the precarious position of the most visible African-American for several generations, attracting to himself most of the tensions surrounding successful black people. Whether conducting the first social scientific study of black Americans, teaching at Atlanta University, feuding with Booker T. Washington, writing The Souls of Black Folk, founding the N.A.A.C.P.and The Crisis, or forging Pan-Africanism, Du Bois was where the action was. And now, thanks to Lewis, we can look over the shoulder of Du Bois as these crucial parts of American history unfold before him.

Chiang Kai-shek’s Secret Past: The Memoir of His Second Wife, Ch’en-Chieh-ju, edited by Lloyd E.Eastman. Westvietv $28.95

The United States has a long and inglorious history of jumping through the hoops of petty dictators whose only virtue consisted of saying the right things about communism, namely, that they hated it. None of that sleazy band surpassed Chiang Kai-shek in sheer venality and brutality, yet for a generation he and his thugs held a great nation’s China policy in thrall. This memoir by one who knew him well, Chiang’s second—of three—wives, only confirms the worst: he was a rat, he was our rat, and we and China paid heavily for coddling him.

Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem, by Howard L.Sacks and Judith Rose Sacks. Smithsonian $24. 95

It’s a typical American story, but with a twist. The man who has long been widely considered the author of “Dixie”—Dan Emmett, a white, black-faced minstrel turns out to have lifted the song from a family of black musicians who lived near him in Ohio. This family, the Snowdens, traveled throughout their vicinity, playing a wide range of music to a wide range of audiences. The authors of this account, a husband and wife team, conducted an exhaustive, energetic, and engaging search for everything they could learn about the Snowdens. And they learned a remarkable amount. Displaying an impressive knowledge of local history, of African-American culture, and of American music, the Sackses present an interesting detective story. While such things can seldom be proven beyond doubt, most readers will close this book confident that “Dixie” was written by a black family from Ohio, one of the ironies that makes American history what it is.

Beria: Stalin’s First Lieutenant, by Amy Knight. Princeton $24. 95

Lavrenti Beria has few equals as a monster in human form. As Stalin’s executioner he cut off every head he was ordered to cut off, and when the supply of victims ran short he composed his own lists, knowing in advance Stalin would approve them. Amy Knight knows all this and does not minimize it, but she finds Beria acting more or less rationally at various times and indeed planning quite sanely to introduce reforms after Stalin’s death. This is, to say the least, a controversial approach, but the argument merits attention.

Herblock: A Cartoonist’s Life, by Herbert Block. Macmillan $24

Herb Block’s autobiography is thoroughly entertaining reading for anyone who has been a fan of his work for the past 50 years. His vignettes on the U.S.political process, and particularly the newspaper industry in the late 1920’s and 1930’s make for rich reading. Indeed, his accounts of newspaper life in Chicago in the 1930’s is a potentially valuable historical source. The real joy of his text, however, is seeing many of his cartoons again on some of his best-known subjects such as the “I am [not] a crook” illustration of Richard Nixon in 1974 in combination with his commentary on the characters that were involved and his interactions with them. In short, the format of extensive illustrations and commentary makes this book a very rewarding read, particularly so if one’s political opinions tend towards the liberal side.

The Beginning of the Journey, by Diana Trilling. Harcourt Brace $24. 95

Lionel Trilling was a respected American critic from the 1940’s until his death in 1975; and his wife, Diana, who in middle age became a fine critic herself, is no slouch either as a writer. In this superb memoir she gives herself credit for helping her husband forge his supple style and gives him credit for her literary education. (“Lionel taught me to think; I taught him to write.”) Mrs. Trilling tells us that she and her husband rarely did anything the easy way. They drank even though alcohol did not agree with them; they went out socially even though such occasions often made them uncomfortable; and they were so fearful of themselves and the world around them that they were constantly under analysis by psychiatrists who were seldom competent. Their problems were usually self-inflicted, and the calm demeanors they presented concealed fragile egos and brittle lives. Clinical depression or the next thing to it often rules them, especially her. The author is to be congratulated on dictating a book of such urgency and memorableness and in persisting despite her failing eyesight and other obstacles in her path. The Beginning of the Journey, which covers the years 1925—1950, takes its place among the most significant accounts of New York intellectual life in our time.

The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Vol. VIII.A Supplement of New Letters, edited by Alan G.Hill. Oxford $59

Presented here are more than 150 new letters, most of them previously unpublished, which augment the record established in this series in volumes published between 1967 and 1988.Ranging chronologically from 1795 to 1848, the letters contain many fresh insights, most notably the tender and passionate correspondence between Wordsworth and his wife Mary. Informative headnotes and explanatory footnotes orient the reader and place each letter in its position in the Wordsworth archive. An essential volume for the Wordsworth scholar and worth the investment of anyone who cares deeply about the Wordsworth circle.

Tracking the Jackal, by David Yallop. Times Books $25

At the age of 14, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was head of the Communist Youth Movement in Venezuela. Shortly thereafter he was recruited into the KGB.His idol was Che Guevara, the Latin American Marxist, whom he hoped to emulate in the revolutionary Middle East. The author spent ten years pursuing the trail of the elusive Carlos the Jackal, as the professional paid killer became known—the most wanted man in the history of international terrorism. Yallop’s odyssey led him to visits with the infamous such as Colonel Qadaffi and Yassar Arafat. The end result of this pursuit is a superb biography of the retired hunted killer who now lives a tranquil and secluded life with his wife and children in Damascus under the protective cloak of his former employer, the Syrian Government. Truth remains stranger than fiction and a great deal more interesting.

Looking for Class: Seeking Wisdom and Romance at Oxford and Cambridge, by Bruce Feiler. Random House $23

“Respect all surfaces,” Elder Olson once wrote, “the skater is safe until his superficiality fails.” Feiler certainly plays it safe in this, his second and less successful excursus into pop anthropology (the first was Learning to Bow; Inside the Heart of Japan), But superficiality alone doesn’t explain why it falls so far short of its predecessor. More to the point are Feiler’s refusal to integrate the quaint details of Oxbridge life, and the trivialization that results from so much scatter, however humorously presented. For deeper, more coherent—and thus wittier—insight, the reader is advised to read (and reread) How to be Oxbridge.

Thirty Years After: An Artist’s Memoir of the Civil War, text and illustrations by Edwin Forbes. Louisiana $29. 95

This enormous volume is a facsimile of an impressive book first published in 1890. Edwin Forbes was assigned, in his early twenties, to draw scenes from the Union army for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper; he did so from 1862 to 1864, portraying battlefields and towns across Virginia from Petersburg to the Shenandoah Valley. Forbes did not confine himself to the stock pictures of still battlefield heroics but focused considerable energy on the behind-the-scenes drama and tedium that constituted so much of the military experience. He was a fine artist and a sharp observer. His black-and-white drawings are invaluable and his sober text useful for those interested in a fuller understanding of the war and the people it enveloped.

Feminine Sense in Southern Memoir, by Will Brantley. Mississippi $35

Brantley’s ambition is nothing less than to rethink modern Southern intellectual history by reclaiming a feminine, liberal tradition deliberately shoved under the rug by the Agrarians and their intellectual descendants. He largely succeeds, partly through novel juxtapositions such as Glasgow with Welty, Hellman with Porter. Yet a few problems remain. Hurston has to be twisted a bit to fit a liberal mold, the Southern liberal tradition is not so gendered as Brantley sometimes (only sometimes) makes it appear, and Brantley sometimes seems as blind to his subjects’ faults as earlier critics have been to their virtues. But that seems fair enough.

Raising the Dead, by Richard Selzer. Viking $17.50

The author, a doctor and essayist, who is one of our finest prose stylists, offers us “a doctor’s encounter with his own mortality.” This is the story of Selzer’s collapse, lapse into a coma, and eventual recovery from disease. But it is much more—a poetic, witty, and thoughtful meditation on the struggle between life and death—a beautifully wrought meditation which will surely absorb all readers.

Racism 101, by Nikki Giovanni. Morrow $20

This volume contains 30 short essays by an important poet who now teaches at Virginia Technological University. Giovanni writes here on a wide range of topics, from whimsical recollections of her girlhood to Spike Lee, from teaching undergraduates to write to the importance of African-American literature, She is particularly sensible on racism, acknowledging its insidious presence in American society yet counseling young African-Americans to take responsibility for their own success. It is a small irony that Giovanni rails against her academic colleagues for writing “dumb books on dumb subjects” (p.145) while the essays collected here, though often interesting, lead nowhere in particular.

FICTIONCamellia Street, by Mercè Rodoreda Graywolf $20

Rodoreda (1909—1983) is considered to be one of the leading feminist writers of 20th-century Catalonia. This first-person narrative recounts the tender, poignant, and frequently shocking experiences of a woman remembering her infancy and adolescence in post-Civil War Barcelona. Found abandoned in a back garden by an elderly couple who evoke little affection from her, the little girl’s slightly mysterious, slightly ominous surroundings become the backdrop for acute observations on men (a vaguely threatening presence), displacement, loss, and the sense of not belonging. Rodoreda’s protagonist awakens slowly to sexual desire and suggests the tense erotic charge of growing into womanhood. Poverty forces her into prostitution. She suffers miscarriages, abortions, and abuse, and eventually she moves into a series of unsatisfying relationships as a kept woman to progressively richer men, constantly “searching for lost things and burying dead loves.” This is a disturbing novel, translated smoothly by David Rosenthal.

They Whisper, by Robert Olen Butler. Holt $22. 50

The publishers do not do this book justice when they advertise it as “the sexiest book” you will ever read, since, as a work of literary artifice, it is far more ambitious than such words would lead one to believe. This novel is a highly wrought evocation through rhythmical prose of the loves of the protagonist’s life. It focuses on his troubled marriage, weaving this story into memories of seemingly infinite loves past, notably those in Vietnam. Some readers will find that the author’s fixations on phallus, fluids, and flesh (not always sexy) prevent him from delineating a well-rounded character to whom we can relate.

With Extreme Prejudice, by Frederick Barton Villard $20

This is an interesting novel that tries to transcend the boundaries of the traditional suspense story to say something about race relations in America—or to be precise— New Orleans. Mike Barnett is a newspaper movie critic who is living in an alcoholic fog after the death of Joan, his lawyer wife. Joan had spent the better part of her career handling a complicated case that she lost, according to her, by the erroneous ruling of a well-respected judge. When Barnett’s home is burglarized and nothing taken but Joan’s case files, Barnett begins a search into the dark heart of the case—and into New Orleans’ and his own heart as well. Too introspective and sentimental for a novel of suspense, this book falls victim to its own large ambitions.

The Soloist, by Mark Salzman Random House $19

Amazingly, the august Random House “feels” itself “privileged” to issue such an “extraordinary achievement.” I say “amazingly” because this novel is almost on a par with “The Bridges of Madison County” for its sheer literary awfulness. It is a wooden account of a failed cellist, who has a socalled “epiphany” at the end, which is more an undramatic denouement than anything else. Reading for the airport, if you don’t have USA Today with you.

Billy, by Albert French Viking $20

Few readers will be unmoved by this remarkable first novel. Albert French’s Billy is a black child from Mississippi. His childhood ends abruptly when he accidentally kills the white teenage girl who attacks him after finding him swimming in her pond. The story is set in 1937, but in our current climate of racial discord, its themes strike close to home. With as much skill as Zora Neale Hurston or Jean Toomer, French captures the rich, lyrical dialect of the rural South. He brings the small community of Banes to life with realistic representations of its residents, its downtown, and its back roads.

King Blood, by Jim Thompson Otto Penzler $20

It’s hard to believe this book was first published in 1954, for it is as nihilistic and sexually explicit as descriptions of gang life in the 1990’s. This first American edition of King Blood will introduce the lurid, bloodsoaked, and morally skewed world of Jim Thompson to a generation of readers. The youngest son of an Oklahoma Territory patriarch is called home to compete with his two brothers for the old man’s vast domain. Within this framework Thompson describes a Hobbesian world of all against all—the book includes double-dealing, mayhem, and gore of almost Biblical proportions—as each character claws for all he or she can get. For those who like crime fiction the book will be more than a curiosity; for others, read and shudder.

Death and the Oxford Box, by Veronica Stallwood Scribners $20

A pedestrian mystery with joggers, developers, greens, corrupt public officials and other cliched symbols of the 1980’s dominating the plot line. Unhappily for the reader, the solution to the puzzle of the dentist’s death has absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

The Children in the Woods, by Frederick Bush Ticknor & Fields $21. 95

Frederick Bush is a darn good writer. Novels like Harry and Catherine and collections of short fiction such as Absent Friends have made that evaluation obvious enough. But when a writer—especially a recently honored winner of the Pen/Malamud Award—puts out a new collection, we do not expect the volume to be the occasion for reprinting stories 20 years old. “Now he’s a big name” is simply not enough reason for putting hard covers around fiction that deserves to be as transient as the periodicals in which it first appeared. It is not that the new stories here are unworthy of note, just that “previously uncollected” is inadequate justification for doing—while an author is still alive—what might be understandably done by family, fans, or publishers after he is dead.

The Rifles, by William T. Vollman Viking $22. 95

This is the sixth volume in the still youthful author’s novelistic saga, Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes. It is written with a breadth, gusto, love of language, and abandon that bring both Pynchon and Gaddis to mind. It is far more than an adventure story about an attempt to discover the Northwest Passage in the 1840’s. It is a great display of linguistic pyrotechnics, which will be appreciated by connoisseurs of modernist and postmodernist fiction. It is still highly debatable, however, whether Vollmann’s ambitious prose will find a broad audience.

The Vicar of Sorrows, by A. N. Wilson Norton $23

The author of the jacket notes of A. N. Wilson’s newest novel, with laudatory excess of almost heroic proportions, likens Wilson’s protagonist Francis Kreer to a character from Dostoyevsky. But Kreer is an Anglican vicar, meaning he is already too dull a figure for Russian fiction, despite his very Dostoyevskian predicaments: to wit, the discoveries that he does not believe in God, that his mother (whose recent demise causes him more grief than he had expected) had a secret and unsavory lover who is to share his inheritance, that he does not love his wife, and that he is falling in love with a gentle vagabond woman who lives in a gypsy caravan. The tale of Kreer’s fall from grace—social, religious, and psychological—is populated with comic characters who fail to amuse, bathed in the facile pathos of self-important melodrama, and narrated in the prim, forgettable prose of the modern British novel; in truth, it is a tedious and precious book, full of petulant spiritual disaffections, animated by characters of few dimensions and no appeal, and quite impertinent in its querulous demands for the reader’s sympathy. Dostoyevsky is nowhere in view.

Lieberman’s Day, by Stuart Kaminsky Holt $19.95

Abe Lieberman is an aging Chicago police sergeant whose quiet strength and wisdom are a welcome change from the usual hard-boiled macho fare found in mysteries. Abe is tough and compassionate, footsore from his walks on the mean streets, and often unable to sleep due to the daily horrors he sees. In this story crime strikes his own family when his nephew is gunned down in the street in front of his pregnant wife. It seems like another senseless street crime until Abe begins to look beyond the circumstances. As in the other two Kaminsky series, these novels feature solid characters, clean unembellished writing, and heartfelt emotions. There is no gore, no straining for effect, no trick to create tension. You want the real thing—Kaminsky delivers.

Tales of Yesteryear, by Louis Auchincloss Houghton Mifflin $21. 95

“Her voice is full of money,” said Gatsby. So too are the fictional voices in these eight new stories, gathered and published here for the first time, by a master of the genre. What distinguishes the Auchincloss world is not only his intimate knowledge of the outer trappings of the WASP environment—Wall Street, the Hamptons, Greenwich, boarding school, secluded Florida enclaves—but also his ability to plumb the psychological ironies and necessities of the characters who live and move in this narrow world. His special gift is to illuminate much more than the patina on the family heirlooms.

Alligator Dance, by Janet Peery Southern Methodist $22. 50

Where are words of praise for superb writing in this day of wasted superlatives? Janet Peery’s debut collection of short stories, a volume in the Southwest Life and Letters series, deserves such words. Her settings are South Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, border towns, areas she knows: landscape, climate, skies, rocks, trees, flowers, colors, odors. And the people. From every corner of society; the simple hired girl in “What the Thunder Said” who, like Mattie in Ethan Frame, unwittingly brings tragedy to herself; the tensions between a Mexican mother and daughter, the latter irritated by her mother’s passive servant role, while she herself permits the Madama’s son to use her sexually; in “Aligator Dance,” a pre-adolescent girl on the edge of sexual awakening, finds herself drawn to the loathesome boy in her class. Peery enters the skin of her characters, male or female, young or old, educated or not, and with exact prose, a perfect ear for speech patterns, and a faultless sense of pacing, seduces the reader into the story. Some of her stories don’t conclude, they simply stop when Peery has illuminated the moment, made her moral statement. She reveals relationships between man and wife, father and daughter, brother and brother, mother and daughter, weaving her stories into the vivid landscape. This is writing of the highest order, superior to much that is presently being published and undeservedly praised.

Last Train from Berlin, by W. T. Tyler Holt $22. 50

Who is Alexei Andreyev? Why is frank Dudley, an old CIA hand, trying to find him? And how will young, brash, Kevin Corkery track Dudley? Once again Tyler explores the machinations of the intelligence community, and the moral ambiguities that plague its members. To complete his assignment, Corkery must delve into Dudley’s past. In so doing, he exposes not only the Agency’s secrets, but his own.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSCuba on the Brink: Castro, the Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse, by James Gight, Bruce J.Allyn, and David A. Welch. Pantheon $30

An unimaginable meeting took place in January 1992 in Havana, and this unique and dramatic work of international politics takes the reader right to the conference table. Around it, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, Alexander Alekseev, and many other protagonists and scholars came together to confront their actions and their memories of a momentous event. The suddenly talkative historical actors discover, often to their own horror, how they took the world much closer to nuclear destruction than any of us sitting along with them at the table could previously have imagined.

Extreme-Occident: French Intellectuals and America, by Jean-Phillipe Mathy. Chicago $16.95

Many of the most profound—and some of the most confused—books about America have been written by foreigners. In this volume, Mathy offers the first comprehensive analysis of how French intellectuals have understood (and often misunderstood) the United States. Mathy’s account is extremely rich and remarkably clear (though, sadly, neither quality can be adequately conveyed in a short review). Suffice it to say that he shows with great learning and some wit how both “proAmerican” and “anti-American” French intellectuals have fashioned largely imaginary Americas. Mathy’s fine book helps us to understand more than French intellectuals’ views of America; it helps us to understand France, America, and the very nature of modernity.

The Soviet Social Contract and Why It Failed: Welfare Policy and Workers’ Politics from Brezhnev to Yeltsin, by Linda J. Cook. Harvard $45

Rousseau first codified the notion of the social contract, the unwritten agreement between rulers and ruled that exists in every organized society. Political scientists have used it for years in Kremlinology, but Professor Cook is the first to devote an entire book to it. She provides a useful summary of the 1970’s and 1980’s experience.

Fundamentalism and Gender: 1875 to Present, by Margaret Lamberts Bendroth. Yale $22. 50

The attitude of Fundamentalist men and women toward a woman’s appropriate place in society and church is documented in this ground-breaking study. The author destroys the myth that Fundamentalists always maintained a constant attitude toward the role of women. The male leadership both followed the times and went against it in their struggle with the perceived worldly enemy of modern society. The apparent contradictions in how women viewed their own roles is insightfully dealt with as a part of the larger context. The author destroys simplistic myths about fundamentalist women while setting the stage for further discussion. An insightful and penetrating work worthy of the time for anyone interested in the topic.

Morality and Politics in Modern Europe, by Michael Oakeshott. Yale $22. 50

Twentieth-century Britain produced no greater conservative thinker than Michael Oakeshott, and as Tory politics reels between black-guardism and bureaucracy, another such voice rising from the welter is unlikely in the short term. These 1958 Harvard lectures provide a kind of genealogy of modern political thought, and are characterized throughout by a patient curiosity, a moral rigor, and an impatience with conceptual haste or formless sentimentality. His defense of “good individualism” and his rejection of the collectivist politics of “mass man” are never dogmatically strident. Still, his failure to discuss a distributionist view of property as a safeguard against the destruction of individual humanity, and his aporia on certain aspects of communal obligation, give these pages a slight note of moral indifference, the only note likely to be audible to the ears of Thatcherite brutes and indignant liberals.

Cultures of United States Imperialism, edited by Amy Kaplan and Donald E.Pease. Duke $18. 95

Weighing in at 672 pages, Cultures of United States Imperialism provides a hefty plug—both literally and figuratively—to fill the gap its editors claim has existed at the heart of American Studies: a “denial of empire.” Whether or not that gap is as wide as its editors suggest, however, should not detract from the quality of many of the volume’s individual essays. According to editor Donald Pease, writing with characteristic nominalization, “Through an uncovering of reciprocal interanimations of U.S.cultures and U.S.imperialism, the contributors to this volume intend the restoration of heterogeneous cultural histories.” Translation: the book is about how imperialism and culture interact. Although one could argue that such a question has always been a part of American studies, the essays collected here quite clearly belong to a new generation of Americanists, concerned not only with American influence abroad but also with how that influence affects cultural differences at home. Some of the book’s highlights include Bill Brown on “the prosthetics of empire,” Donna Haraway on the Museum of Natural History, Eric Lott on racial cross-dressing, and Michael Rogin on the connection between political spectacle and covert operations.

The Masterless: Self & Society in Modern America, by Wilfred M.McClay. North Carolina $45

The author analyzes the tension between the autonomy of the self and social solidarity that exists in American social and political thought. He surveys the diversity of opinion regarding this tension, drawing upon thinkers from Edward Bellamy to Norman Mailer. Although a foray into the history of ideas, McClay’s work also contributes to contemporary conversations regarding the role of the individual in society.

Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home, by David Halle. Chicago $29.95

Sociologist Halle questioned the adults of more than 200 households in six neighborho

0 Comments

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

Recommended Reading