Politics has always been one of the great passions of the American South, from the time of Thomas Jefferson to the time of William Jefferson Clinton. Southern politics has attracted more than its share of students, each of them determined to discover the foundations of power. Bradley Bond’s book promises to help make sense of the politics of the confusing 19th century, the century of both democratic constitutions and disfranchisement, of wealth and poverty. The somewhat trendy title, however, is misleading if it leads one to expect a fresh perspective. It seems unlikely that many readers will be surprised to learn that white supremacy provided the great continuity of Mississippi politics, or that white Mississippians spent most of the second half of the century trying to regain the unchallenged power over black people they had enjoyed before the war, or that demagogic politicians diverted incipient class conflict into racial channels. There is useful information here on a fascinating state, but little that will startle.
This book packs a great deal of information, based on recent scholarship, into its exposition of patronage from 1400 to the early 16th century. Often great works of art are left all but undescribed. Michelangelo’s Pietá is dealt with in a single sentence as a work commissioned by a French cardinal. The writing is flat, indeed lifeless, but the author redeems herself when she says that Michelangelo’s Bacchus illustrates a “dissolute figure barely able to keep his balance”—an apt antidote to the lugubrious, improbable allegories often read into the statue by scholars.
This fascinating, gossipy chronicle and social/ cultural history shows how these late American Romantics took literally the aphorisms and preaching of Emerson and Whitman to evolve a now-legendary lifestyle that was both creative and unfortunately often self-destructive. Major poets like Ginsberg come alive in their relation to less major figures like Kerouac and Burroughs and their friends, hangers-on, and competitors. The book is full of photos that evoke the personalities, the idealisms, the era, and especially the desire to express non-conformity in the stifling, but paradoxically quite culturally fruitful 1950’s. It was an interesting time to be young, creative, and high, and Watson gives us much of the story.
Cohén compares, through a series of sensitive historical arguments, the lives of Jews under both Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. The unsurprising conclusion that Jews lived less secure lives under Christian than they did under Islamic rule is, however, not Cohen’s main point. Instead, he seeks to uncover for the first time the specific religious, social, and economic reasons why that was so. Cohén is opening up a debate that exists in medieval religious history by recasting its main terms and the parameters of its articulation. Both specialists and general readers will find this book challenging and compelling.
In French history, the decades between the two world wars are especially rich, both politically and artistically. Yet, as Golan argues in her lucid, detailed, and self-proclaimed “revisionist” study, rather than celebrating the end of the Great War and the enthusiasm of victory, French culture in the 20’s and 30’s tended to “rusticize the modern”—a tendency marked by a return to the soil, a subtle fear of industrialization, and a distrust of urban life. In art, figures as important as Léger and Le Corbusier, as well as Picasso and Matisse, began to distance themselves from the geometric “machine aesthetic” of their early work in order to embrace the inherently nostalgic organicism of their countrymen. What Golan invites the reader to consider is the contribution of this organicism to the origins of modernism. Although the concept of national nostalgia is hardly groundbreaking, Golan’s well-researched and sophisticated book is an important contribution to art history and French studies, one that synthesizes political, historical, and artistic currents without becoming overly deterministic.
God’s Chinese Son proves, as did The Death of Woman Wang and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, that the art of historical narrative is still alive, and that Spence is among its greatest practitioners. Spence’s latest installment tells the story of Hong Xiuquan, who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and who lead the Taiping uprising, a massive millenial movement that cost 20 million Chinese their lives between the years 1845 and 1864. Spence is attentive to detail and anecdote, but he also provides a sweeping panoramic perspective. This is a major contribution to Chinese history, and it may very well prove to be a lasting contribution to the narrative art of story telling.
For more than two decades, the journal Reviews in American History has been essential reading for American historians, providing deep analytical reviews of important recent works in the field. Starting in the mid-1980’s, each issue of the journal has closed with an essay which reexamines—or sometimes rediscovers—a leading historian or a seminal work of earlier decades. As part of a series entitled “Retrospective,” these essays, the journal’s editor, Stanley I. Kutler, explains, were “designed to remind historians of significant writers and books of the past, ones that had in various ways made present-day work understandable.” In this volume, Kutler brings together some of the best “Retrospective” pieces, including essays by such noted scholars as Alan Brinkley, Thomas K. McCraw, Suzanne Lebsock, James Campbell, and James Oakes. Focusing on historians and histories from the 1930’s through the 1970’s, the essays consider such topics as the Progressive Era, women’s suffrage, slavery, the rise of big business, and American diplomacy. Like the journal from which the essays were drawn, this book will be an indispensable tool for American historians, increasing numbers of whom are only vaguely familiar with the scholars and histories at the core of the book.
These nine essays by leading historians of the Civil War era were originally papers presented at the opening of a Lincoln exhibit at California’s Huntington Library. As such, most are too short to make a lasting impression upon those readers familiar with recent work on Abraham Lincoln. Still, the essays by Kenneth Stampp on Lincoln’s historical perspective, Phillip Paludan on Lincoln’s constitutionalism, Harold Holzer on Lincoln’s ineffective off-the-cuff remarks, and Merrill Peterson on international views of Lincoln all make substantial contributions, as does Mark Neely’s contentious piece on the wartime party system. This small volume makes a good companion to David Donald’s new and widely acclaimed Lincoln biography.
Odem traces the use of state regulation to control young women’s sexuality. She focuses on both the policies themselves, and their enforcement, by examining moral reformers, state officials, working-class teenage girls, and their parents. These efforts were part of growing attempts to control sexuality that did not conform to married, middle-class ideals, as young women were experiencing increasing independence. Reformers initially worked to raise age-of-consent laws, arguing that young women were victims of seduction. By the 20th century, reformers viewed these women as delinquent products of permissive families. Reformers then sought to control women themselves, rather than their male seducers. Exploring efforts at moral reform, Odem opens a window on intersecting ideologies about race, class, gender, and sexuality in contention at the turn of the century.
Believing in nothing if not economies of scale, beginning in 1928 the Bolsheviks tried to make all Russia—that is, the USSR—one big factory, part of which was devoted to providing food for the other part and for export. They found the peasants tougher and harder to crack than the workers and other urban dwellers. This came as a surprise to the Bolsheviks, who proceeded to slaughter them the way Depression-era farmers in the United States despatched piglets, only with less sentimentality. The peasants fought back with everything they had, which in the end was not much more than the ability to run away to the cities, or to get and stay drunk. The moral degradation so evident today comes from Bolshevik economies of scale and inhumanity.
For the author, Herodotus’ History is a deeply political book. The ancient historian’s stories contribute to the evolution of the political community. They are the beginnings, we learn here, of international relations. Thompson shows that Herodotus is linked to Homer and the pre-Socratics. She also relates The History to modern theoretical issues, choosing not to pursue this topic in depth. Although the author talks about Herodotus as a poetical writer, her own account, except for a nice, concluding page on Arion, is astringent and unpoetical.
Some day somebody will write a fascinating sociological study of the art historical textbook, but this is not the place. Suffice it to say Art History is another ten-pound, elephantine survey of European art from its prehistory to modernism (with Asian and African thrown in, de rigueur) and the requisite plates in color and boxes filled with historical or technical bites that add to the story. A glossary of terms rounds out this highly conventional book, which resembles all the other “surveys” cranked out by Abrams.
A collection of 17 brief essays on the various ethnic communities that have inhabited Washington D.C. since its inception. While some of the essays are individually interesting, the volume is little more than a collage. It is sadly silent on fundamental questions: did different groups share common experiences? How did different groups co-exist? Is culture autonomous, interactive, or hegemonic? This is an important topic deserving of considerably more depth than this book provides.
Sherry, author of The Rise of American Air Power, attempts here a comprehensive interpretative survey of recent American history, united by the thesis that the past 60 years have been dominated by war—hot and cold, real and metaphorical—and by preparation for war. Sherry calls the dominance of war and its imagery “militarization,” as distinct from the jackboots and stiff salutes of “militarism.” This synthesis appears to ignore some relevant works, and it often hammers home its central thesis too hard, especially in matters of language and culture. On the whole, however, Sherry pulls it off with impressive subtlety and persuasiveness. He understands that even such developments as the rise of the national security state could spark widely divergent reactions at different times and among different groups and could lead to liberation for some and repression for others. Not everyone will agree with Sherry’s conclusions, but most readers will find his work stimulating.
Russian historians have recently begun to reveal the extent to which the Kremlin directed and funded Communist operations around the world, and some Western historians are pursuing the other side of the coin—Western operations inside Russia against the Bolshevik regime established in November 1917. Foglesong, who teaches at Rutgers, has assembled and carefully evaluated a wide variety of evidence, including much from the Russian archives, indicating that the Wilson administration undertook and under-wrote a major campaign to bring Lenin and his people down. There is blame enough to distribute for the campaign’s failure, and in this important work Foglesong has performed a considerable service in helping reset the conditions of the investigation.
Contrary to its implicit claims, this volume does not—indeed cannot—supplant Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Poetic Closure (1968). Nonetheless, Bahti comments intriguingly on development, effect, and meaning in a polyglot garland of mostly early modern and modern lyrics whose last sections do seem to lack finality, stability, or integrity. Bahti’s carefully chosen texts and quasi-deconstructive readings hardly prove that the Universal Norm of Poetry (or Good Poetry) is to bounce back from an anti-closure ending to the beginning (or middle) then start out again toward another false finale and, inevitably, another rebound. Still, Bahti’s analyses model new, potentially useful ways to describe and categorize certain non-linear structures—not only those slighted by Smith but others discovered and explicated in detail during the 70’s and 80’s by Americans seeking to make sense of the notoriously meandering French baroque lyric.
This is the first serious attempt to look at modern Spanish culture from a cultural studies perspective, that is, an attempt to take into account not only “high” cultural artifacts such as literature and the fine arts, but also to grapple with questions of gender, cultural identity, ideology, cinema, and the mass media as they play themselves out in Spain today. The editors have brought together 57 short pieces by the 37 experts on a wide variety of topics focusing on 20th-century Spain. National Identities, Sexual Politics, Cultural Politics, Cultural Control, Opposition Culture, Democracy and Cultural Change, Gender and Sexuality, and Artistic Experimentation and Diversification are just some of the sections included here. The writing is clear and jargon-free for the most part, and the breadth of coverage makes this book essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the complex and often conflicting components of Spain’s rich cultural life. The editors properly lament a lack of historical context in much of Spain’s desire to be European and “with-it,” but they nonetheless discover “not a single, homogeneous “modernity” but many potentials.” Contains a useful Glossary, Chronology of events since 1890, and Index.
Patricia Williams is a brilliant essayist, as this new collection of 13 essays (some previously published) demonstrates. The tone here is colloquial, the wit sparkling, the intelligence evident in every paragraph, the self-reflexivity admirable and honest. Williams takes on such topics as race and IQ, affirmative action, welfare mothers, and talk radio. What links these disparate pieces is the theme summarized in the book’s subtitle: Williams unerringly punctures the outrageous and enraging mythology of the reigning conservative ideology, exposing the ugly racism and sexism that lie beneath its glib surfaces.
The historian Harvey Graff has done much in the past decade to show that literacy is not a single, constant thing (“literacy” with a capital L), but something that varies in time and place. He has especially done this with regard to North America and Europe, thereby complementing the work of a number of anthropologists. The essays in this revised and expanded edition of a 1987 book are particularly valuable for perspective in relation to education, employment, criminality, literacy campaigns, and concepts in terms of which literacy has been debated.
In this stimulating and well-illustrated book, Peter Wagner demonstrates the inadequacy of the idea that the relation between literature and painting, between text and picture generally, is one of analogies and similarities. He adopts the term “iconotext” because of the often intimate interdependence of the two. Indeed Wagner suggests reviving the word “intermedial” for the multiple ways in which novels, poems, paintings, print, even musical pieces, may allude to each other. These fascinating accounts of 18th-century European materials should be valuable not only to historians and literary scholars, but to all, anthropologists and others, who analyze interdependence of modes of communication.
In this detailed and engaging study, Warner traces the origins of the fairy tale and its tellers going as far back as the classical Sibyl and neatly bringing us up to date by including contemporary writers such as Italo Calvino and Angela Carter. What follows is a study that touches on the religious, mythical, and secular influences which have shaped both the story and the story-teller. The importance of the link between women’s history and storytelling is explained by Warner who states: “Fairy or wonder tales, however farfetched the incidents they concoct, take on the colour of the actual circumstances in which they are or were told.” The focus of this critical study is on fairy tales with family dramas at their heart. In the process Warner herself becomes a spellbinding teller of women’s history. Through meticulous gathering of information and intelligent analysis of the tales, Warner goes beyond any previous studies including those by Bruno Bettelheim, Jack Zipcs, Ruth Bottigheimer, and other critics whose importance she acknowledges. This book is a brilliant scholarly work which makes it essential reading for specialists and anyone interested in the genre and in history from a feminist point of view.
The number of books devoted to Leo Strauss which have come out in recent years is testimony to his growing stature and the deepening recognition that he was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century. Lampert’s book explores the vexed question of Strauss’s relation to Nietzsche. On the surface, Strauss’s works appear to constitute one long polemic against Nietzsche and his nihilistic influence, but, like several others, Lampert argues that Strauss had a secret affinity for the thinker he appears to condemn. The largest part of this book is devoted to a painstaking and exhaustive commentary on a brief essay on Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil which was one of the last things Strauss wrote. Lampert presents Strauss as a brilliant interpreter of Nietzsche, but one who unfortunately failed to join his predecessor in the task of charting a new course for philosophy in response to changed conditions in the modern world. Lamport’s interpretation of Strauss’s interpretation of Nietzsche is provocative, but not always convincing. In fact, Lampert’s assurance that he always knows exactly what Strauss intended may strike some as presumptuous to the point of arrogance. And Lampert’s charge that in siding with Plato Strauss “gave heart to the irrational” seems odd in view of the way Nietzsche is the one who appears to have encouraged so many forms of irrationality in 20th-century life. Still this book is worth reading, if only for the serious questions it raises about both Strauss and Nietzsche.
Griffith’s new study contextualizes Conrad’s work within historical and contemporary anthropology, placing Conrad squarely within the late 19th-century debates concerning culture, progress, imperialism, and “primitivism.” Questioning the assumption of Victorian self-assuredness and superiority in what has been traditionally viewed as “a confident melioristic age,” Griffith demonstrates the dislocation and cultural anxiety experienced by many intellectuals in the face of “primitive” peoples, cultures, and societies, which were coming into increasing contact with “civilized” Europe. Griffith succeeds in widening our understanding of Conrad’s concerns and questions regarding the European traveler’s physical and psychological voyage into the dark and mysterious landscape of the “primitive.”
This valuable, groundbreaking guide will help serious readers of English literature make up their reading lists for decades to come. It is a daring study in that it attempts a sort of Marilyn Butler-esque New Historicist approach to the literature and culture of the very recent past.
Probably most scholarly readers of contemporary literature will have their own take on the patterns in society and culture that Waugh lays out, and their own “canons” or anti-canons that may include writers that Waugh neglects. But there is a very useful bibliography which should help Waugh escape the charge of being narrowly post-modern and culturally elitist.
This is the latest in a wave of publications by Dowling, Feldman, and many others which raise complex questions about gender in the 19th century. Covering Carlyle, Pater, and Tennyson, among others, the author explores the ways in which male writers of the Victorian period define their vocation as the embodiment of masculinity. He thus explores the forms of Victorian literature in relation to “the social logics of masculine self-fashioning” and, as the last phrase indicates, he does so with a jargon accessible only to fellow academics.
A new and essentially post-modernist approach to Irish cultural studies surrounding the great tragedy of the Famine, Morash’s work assesses the representation of the Famine in 19th-century literature. Attacking the formal structure of the Famine as an historical “event” per se, Morash approaches the Famine as essentially a textual creation; that is, the creation of an “Event” as a cohesive narrative which has been constructed in human memory through a dissemination of individual texts representing a series of often disparate though interrelated mini-events, rumors, occurrences, and individual tragedies linked both geographically and chronologically. In assessing 19th-century Famine literature Morash’s critical eye falls upon the great and obscure alike, and in so doing offers a compelling argument for the textual fashioning of an historical “event.”
The debt to Fenichel’s crucial text is enormous. As crucial now as it was 50 years ago when it was first published, this book is indispensible for approaching, either theoretically or practically, the unique problems posed by psychoneuroses. This 50th Anniversary Edition features both an introduction and an epilogue by one of the leading psychoanalysts, Leo Rangell. Rangell accomplishes the laudable task of contextualixing, both historically and theoretically, Fenichel’s seminal work.
By exploring Spanish writings about the sexual proclivities of Americans, Trexler sets out to compare European and American sexual behavior around the time of conquest. Second, asserting that discourse on sexuality is primarily a discourse about hierarchies, he explores the relation between power and eros. Finally, he attempts to discern the relationship between sexuality, power and ideas about cultural conquest. Deviant sexual practices justified conquest and the need to convert Americans to Western belief systems. At the same time, asserting the masculine strength of a group also justified complete domination. European culture also confined the discourse available to label the sexual behavior of conquered groups. Exploring the means by which the powerful used both women and boys to foster their own status opens a dialogue into the current relationship between sexual coersion and power.
This ground-breaking book explores how Nietzsche applies his critique of and contempt for modernity to the terms of the physiology of man and culture. Ahern sees in Nietzsche’s philosophical works a vision of history and historical interpretative practice that is above all shaped by symptoms, “the health or sickness of which
Nietzsche determines from his clinical stand-point.” Nietzsche is a kind of doctor of culture, a grand diagnoser of society’s ills. Symptoms of decadence, according to Nietzsche, are especially prevalent in Socrates, the ancient philosopher whose own cultural situation was excruciatingly similar to that of Nietzsche’s own. This book does a superlative job of providing the reader with a sense of Nietzsche’s political and cultural criticism.
Readers of the first three volumes of William James’ letters have eagerly awaited this volume, and they will not be disappointed. The letters from 1856 through 1877 are an aperture through which we look into the mind and heart of one of the great figures in American cultural history—a philosopher, psychologist, and prose stylist whose overall accomplishment cannot be limited by the conventions of literary genre. As in the previous volumes, the notes are excellent.
Far too many Nobel Laureates reach the peak of their professional careers when they receive their award in Stockholm, and the rest of their life is downhill thereafter. This is not so for the author of this autobiography who survived the horrors of Auschwitz but did not become embittered. Instead, he is a university professor whose passionate speeches and published works are dedicated to an affirmative defense of oppressed people all over the world for which he has been acclaimed by many nations, including being the recipient of the French Legion of Honor, the U.S. Congressional Medal, and the Nobel Peace Prize. This volume is a powerful and inspirational testament of a man who has dedicated his life to the abolition of “ethnic cleansing” wherever it may still be practiced to the utter disgrace and disgust of all mankind.
This dense, learned monograph is the first extensive treatment of the literary character of Delacroix’s journal in relation to his aesthetics and practice as a painter. Quoting George Sand, who said that “Delacroix delights equally in the different aspects of beauty by the multiple facets of his intelligence,” the author underscores the many facets of Delacroix’s literary culture, commenting on the influences on him of Voltaire, Montaigne, and Pascal. This rich study will be of interest to art historians and scholars of literature alike.
When the marriage of the Victorian Eliza Gilbert ended and a love affair seemingly destroyed her reputation, she changed her name to Lola Montez, assuming the identity of an exotic Spanish dancer of noble descent. Seymour’s absorbing biography seeks to separate the facts from the elaborate fictions of Lola’s wild life of scandal and liaisons. In the fantasy with which she portrayed herself, Lola was a 19th-century Benvenuto Cellini!
This is a colorful biography of J. Paul Getty, the most ruthless and eccentric billionaire mogul in American history. Disenherited by his father for his profligate lifestyle, when he died in 1976 he was survived by numerous ex-wives, mistresses, and children, most of whose lives were characterized by decadence, greed, misfortune, and dysfunction; tainted by drug and alcohol abuse; suicide; kidnapping; AIDS, and countless court battles against each other seeking a larger personal share of his fortune. The simple axiom that is convincingly demonstrated by the author is that money often does not bring happiness and often wreaks havoc. But unfortunately, only a mere page with no pictures is devoted to the one accomplishment of Getty’s life which is the beautiful museum he created in a Roman style villa in Malibu on the shores of the Pacific to display his admirable collection of art that is a public treasure to be enjoyed by all visitors.
Andy Rooney’s very personal, very energetic account of his World War II experiences as a reporter for the GI’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, could have used the services of a severe editor. Nonetheless, when he writes of the plight of the bomber crews and the fighter pilots, he rises, eloquent, in describing the terror accompanying every flight. For an infantryman involved in eight campaigns in the ETO, this was a revelation, for our plight was in dramatic contrast. We envied the Air Boys for the comfort of the barracks and the dining room on their return, while we went for weeks without hot meals and often without sleep and perhaps a bath every three months. His eloquence continues in his observations of the infantry’s performance on D-Day and its aftermath, as the First Army slugged its way beyond St. Lo for the opportunity for Patton’s Third Army to break through the German defenses. Less eloquent is Rooney’s avowed lack of respect, indeed revulsion, for General George Patton. In all, Rooney has created a readable, if often times inaccurate account of the major campaigns in the European theatre. It is truly a reporter’s story of war, for as Rooney admits, he and his colleagues could always walk away without the charge of desertion.
“So many of my friends with AIDS,” the author begins, “have wanted to write a book or make some other kind of work of art to celebrate or at least to mark their passage on earth and in time.” Yet, while White is still living, his lover and illustrator, Hubert Sorin, is not. This amusing and satiric memoir, then, is their final celebration of life and friendship. It tells of their adventures and acquaintances, high-brow and low, in the idiosyncratic core of Paris. White’s prose is a whirlwind of anecdotes, haphazardly jumping from aging prostitutes and benign beggars, to literary priests and flashy couturiers. And while the writing does tend to wallow on occasion in a bog of name-dropping and private reflection, White’s sketches of Parisian life are clever and endearing. Whimiscal and melancholic at the same time,Our Paris is a one-of-a-kind glimpse at an inexhaustable city.
Subtitled Essays Popular and Unpopular, this diverse and surprisingly autobiographical smorgasbord of literary criticism deserves a catchier title: Naomi Schor Unplugged, perhaps. In every essay, the author betrays both her characteristic grace as a writer and her ingenuity as a scholar. Though she addresses topics as rewarding and distinct as George Sand and Émile Zola, male feminists and men in women’s writing, Schor’s most engaging pieces are those that speak to her personal experience as a feminist and a French professor. Everyone intrigued by the finer points of gender studies, French studies, cultural studies, or psychoanalysis will be happy to spend some time with this passionate and reflective collection.
This stimulating, well-wrought work relies on the letters of George Sand, Anatole France and Marcel Proust to penetrate the love-lives of major 19th-century French writers. The author retrieves an artful form of making love, which is a thing of the past in our age of technology. As he justly observes, with the telephone, fax, and E-mail, “we’ve given up exploring our emotions in long, inky letters.” As a result we lack, in our own love-lives, something of what the author calls “the musicality of love.”
Each year, on the anniversary of Churchill’s famed “Iron Curtain” speech, Westminster College at Fulton, Missouri hosts the annual Crosby Kemper Lecture on a Churchillian theme. Thishandsome volume brings together twelve of the lectures, each delivered by a distinguished authority on some aspect of Churchill’s life and career. Rich in anecdote and affection, this collection is an undemanding addition to the voluminous array of Churchilliana.
The Life of a Painter is the autobiography of the Italian futurist painter Gino Severini (Cortona, Italy, 1883-Paris 1966). Written in Italian in 1944, published partially in 1946 and entirely in 1968, Severini’s book is now available for the first time in English. Relying on personal recollections, private letters, and contemporary published reports, Severini describes vividly and enriches with anecdotes his encounters with Parisian artists and literary figures (such as Picasso, Braque, Delaunay, Apollinaire and Cocteau), his key role in connecting the Italian futurists with the protagonists of the Parisian avant-garde, and his increasing embarrassment with futurist rhetoric. His autobiography is pleasant reading and a valuable source for critics on Severini’s art and aesthetic theory but also on the intellectual, artistic and political debates of the Parisian art world in the first two decades of this century.
Walton spent several years in Mississippi researching this meditation on the exceptionally poisoned state of race relations in the state. Both of his parents migrated from small towns in Mississippi to Chicago, where they successfully entered the middle class. Walton returns to see both his and his country’s roots. What he sees is not pretty. The state is beset by a legacy of virulent racism which lives on in traditions such as those at Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, where white students and alumni wave Confederate flags as they cheer on their football team composed largely of blacks. Walton’s father tells of his intense desire to leave Mississippi for a place where he would be paid what he had earned. The book wanders at times, and unnecessarily repeats earlier literature, including a large section on the Civil War, but Walton personalizes the state’s grisly history and shows how it led his parents, and millions like them, to flee.
Renaissance courtier, painter, and architect, Vasari was, above all, the author of a truly great and enduring book, the Lives of the artists. Patricia Rubin’s well-researched, balanced work is a learned and judicious account of both Vasari’s career and masterpiece. Rubin provides the reader with an excellent, brief biography of her subject and a subtle, richly textured analysis of his masterful writing on art. Her book is a major contribution to our understanding of the rhetoric and cultural context of Renaissance art in general.
This is the first critical biography of a fascinating polymath, a poet and keeper of prints in the British Museum, who also just happened to write important books on Chinese painting and Botticelli as well as produce one of the finest translations ever undertaken in English of Dante’s Divine Comedy. We can only hope that this carefully researched and informative book will gain for Binyon many new readers, who will surely profit from his criticism, scholarship, and poetic insight.
The Mayflower Madam is back with her “secrets about men” in a self-help sex book. She tells you ‘exactly what to do when you wake up drooling on your pillow and with bad breath while “his hard little chin-chin” is pressed into your thigh after his testicles “have been busily brewing hormones all night.” On the topic of nightgowns, she advises against “those plaid L.L. Bean numbers that make you look like a lady lumberjack.” All the cliches are here, but with four-star good humor.
Irvine Welsh belongs to the new wave of Scottish writers, including last year’s Booker prize winner James Kelman. Hailed as the chief scribe of Britain’s youth culture, Welsh broke all the rules of the literary establishment in his previous novel, Trainspotting, and story collection, The Acid House. In Nightmares, Welsh goes even further, employing multiple narratives, flashbacks, a variety of typefaces, and Scottish dialect, to tell the life story of Roy Strang, a soccer thug in a coma in an Edinburgh hospital room. As Roy drifts through different levels of consciousness, he relives the sordid past that brought him to this state, suffers interruptions from nurses and visitors, and travels around South Africa in his hallucinations where he and a friend hunt the marabou stork, a scavenger-predator that represents the inner demon Roy must kill. A difficult book that strains the reader to find any sympathy for its low-life characters, it is nevertheless brilliant in its description of the brutality of working-class life in Scotland.
The author is surely one of the most gifted among prose stylists writing fiction today, and it is therefore not surprising that one recent critic observed, “If Henry James were around, the only writer he’d be reading with complete approval would be Anita Brookner.” Her 15th novel is the same novel she writes over and over again, in different versions, a doleful tale told with a delicate sense of humor in language uncommonly elegant and penetrating.
These lucid, elegant tales take wing from the worlds of history and science. The title novella is a griping evocation of a Canadian doctor’s service at a quarantine station for immigrants fleeing the Great Famine in Ireland. Gregor Mendel, Carl Linnaeus and contemporary American researchers infuse other stories with their grand curiousities. This is fiction of failure as well as success, of knowledge gained late and passions unquenchable. With the deep intelligence of Alice Munro and the spry imagination of Angela Carter, Barrett illuminates the shadowy path of the quest and the questing heart.
Annotations is John Keene’s first novel. It is also a kind of extended prose poem, and an experimental autobiography. The narrative is largely internal, in the stream-of-consciousness mode of Joyce’s Ulysses. Keene is clearly influenced, as well, by African-American authors, like Jean Toomer and Ralph Ellison, and the New York City poets, most notably John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. The outcome of this blend of influences is a densely allusive, elliptical, and intimate memoir, which is simultaneously a meditation on race, social class and sexuality.
This is the latest novel by a successful academic writer-in-residence. It is the story of an explosive conflict between an aggressive logger who seeks to cut the timber in a Maine forest in strict compliance with the technical letter of the law and an idealist, if not a radical environmentalist, who is willing to risk his life as well as that of others in this battle between man and nature. A feminine journalist joins in the fray. If you enjoy the exciting out-of-doors adventure tales of London and Hemingway, this is your cup of tea.
Dogs and men. Men and loss. Loss and busted accommodation. Watson’s eight taut tales are quartered by canines whose lives are “simple and unadorned.” Yet they heal us no better than we heal ourselves. They are sent outside when they “crunch on the bones” of our mistaken attitudes. Loyal, they are never our excuses. In stories as lean and wirey as a working pointer, the author hunts the hedgerows of responsibility and failure, and he hunts well. The best work here is as fluid and piercing as a fine wingshot.
This anthology of stories is a compelling experiment in the gathering of a wide variety of short stories that chart the cultural impact of World War I. Hemingway, Faulkner, Kipling, Wharton, Woolf and D.H. Lawrence are among the authors whose works probe various aspects of the Great War and how it shaped the responses of those who lived through its horrors. The editor, as she makes clear in a stimulating introductory essay, is particularly interested in the role of gender during the war.
As the former managing editor of a university press, this author is one of the literary elite. Upon his retirement when he became an octogenarian, he turned his talent to the writing of short (very short) stories. This is the collection of 14 of them whose length ranges from four to 16 pages. Each one is a gem. They deal with various aspects of love and life in rural America decades ago. A droll wit is combined with fragile sensitivity that makes them most enjoyable. May there soon be a sequel!
Hulking Stanley Moodrow, a retired cop now in his sixth outing, is hired to trace a little girl kidnapped by Jilly Sappone, a psychopath fresh out of prison. Moodrow teams up with an appealing ex-cop named Guinevere Gadd to track him down and the two, plowing through bodies and blood, finally do it in the end. If the dialogue is a bit uneven, the characters at least are fairly well developed. And while Solomita may be trying to become the king of Tough, his writing does exhibit something that is rare in this breed of novel, actions do have consequences.
This is a collection of 11 stories by the author of the Inspector Morse series. Although uneven in quality, they are all written with verve and wit, and can be consumed all at once without dyspepsia, or one at a time, like a bonbon at bedtime. They are, however, no substitute for a full-length Dexter novel.
This novel is intended to be a Canadian-style legal thriller featuring four young Toronto defense attorneys, their high flown ideals, their growing cynicism, their illicit loves, their seedy clients and their highly-publicized cases. But the plot is overblown, the characters one-sided, and the dialogue flat. In short, it is a Grisham knock-off, and a bad one at that.
Dorfman’s mysterious brooding new novel presents a series of telephone conversations between Leon (maybe it’s Max) and Barbara (maybe it’s Susana) in two Paris hotel rooms during the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Barbara has been drawn to Paris from Germany in order to find her lover Martin (maybe it’s Hans), possibly a traitor and a spy in the clandestine anti-Fascist operation in Paris. But it is Max and Susana who are arrested by the French police, interrogated, and (perhaps) imprisoned and deported. The threatening tone and plot underscore the political tensions of the time and are multiplied by the sexual tensions between Max and Susana. The various narrators reveal information cautiously, not entirely truthfully (perhaps as a spy would do), and the result is hypnotic, disconcerting, and moving.
The former Soviet Union and the countries once known as the East Bloc have remained as fertile a ground for the post-Cold War espionage novel as they were for its predecessor. In this novel, Francesca McDermott, an American art historian, is asked to organize a major exhibition of Russian experimental art in Berlin, which will include the greatest Russian paintings of the 20th century. The Russian expert she must work with is obstructive and insensitive in comparison to men she has previously known. Yet despite herself she is drawn to him. In the meantime, an investigation is taking place from Moscow into the whereabouts of a former highly placed KGB officer who has not been reconciled to the political and social changes taking place in Russia. Written with a style and elegance rarely found in “thrillers,” Read has, more precisely, written a fine novel.
The premise of this thriller is plausible. A religious sect with a membership of seekers, down-and-out drifters, outcasts, and the ignorant are held spellbound by a charismatic leader in the grip of his own apocalyptic vision. And Dibdin has shown in previous novels that he is a talented writer. But however much the characters scream and rant in this novel, they provoke little or no emotion in the reader. Part of the problem is that the dialogue does not ring true. And part also is the design of the book, with two strands of narrative carried on in alternating chapters, leading to a choppiness that never allows the reader to build an emotional head of steam.
Last season brought us the love life of the libidinous, 64-year-old puppeteer, Mickey Sabbath, in Philip Roth’s prize-winning Sabbath’s Theatre. Here in Doris Lessing’s latest novel we are presented with the love story of the 65-year-old woman of the theatre, Sarah Durham. More than this, Lessing’s book is a rich psychological portrayal of a woman’s life, a story of love, sorrow, and deprivation, all intertwined in memory. By contrast to the Rabelaisian overflow of Roth’s saga, we encounter a more subtle and nuanced psychological probing of character in Lessing’s tale, which has everything to do with the relations between art and life.
This is the seventh mystery in a series starring Sister Joan, an English nun of the Order of the Daughters of Compassion. Despite her desire for a quiet, monastic life, Sister Joan, much like TV’s Jessica Fletcher, seems to attract dead bodies. In this caper she gets permission to go to her art school reunion where she finds a larger proportion than normal of her schoolmates dead. This is not an original plot contrivance nor does Black bring much that is original to the story. In fact, the story is flat, the characters one-dimensional, and the narrative clogged by repetition. Even fanciers of the English drawing room mystery will want to give this one a miss.
Where else but in a Murdoch fiction would a character whose “heart was heavy . . .pick[. . .] up Heidegger now to distract himself from misery”? The crisis is a jilted groom and a missing bride; the action of Murdoch’s 26th novel involves the musings, lamentations, and self-recriminations of a group of friends, all upper-class British with time and money to burn, country and London houses, and unrealized intellectual and/or artistic aspirations. This is a familiar cast of Murdoch characters. Also familiar is the mysterious, unexplained figure, Jackson, who exerts a strange “power” over people whose affairs he sorts out. A kind of deus ex machina, Jackson steers events so that they end in not one but three weddings, all hastily accomplished in the whimsical manner of a Shakespeare comedy. Murdoch’s triple-tiered adjectives (“her pale wistful pre-Rhaphaelite look”), and her often melodramatic characters may not appeal to all, but her writing is as intelligent as it is idiosyncratic, and her refusal to condescend to or merely satirize her sometimes silly cast makes the reader think twice about what can be expected of human nature. On life in general,
Murdoch is more certain: “did such weird things occur? Of course they did.”
Two Cornell University professors have teamed up to write a polemic that attacks the Christian Right for breaching the high wall between church and state enshrined by the Founders in the U.S. Constitution. The authors convincingly explain the secular nature of the federal government and guide the reader through the thinking that lay behind its creation. Along the way they explore attacks on the Constitution—the fight over Sunday mail and a Christian amendment—as well as the proponents of a strict separation—like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Perhaps the most striking observation in the book is the role American Baptists have played historically in supporting the idea of a secular state; a far cry from their present attempts to designate the U.S. a Christian nation. Thank the Supreme Power Who Created Us All, that the Founders of this republic were wiser than that.
The American South has seemed an American problem for as long as there has been a United States. Ever since the Constitution was written around the problem posed by a slaveholding republic, scarcely a year has passed when people have not worried over the challenge the South’s experience poses to Americans’ sense of themselves as free, democratic, optimistic, progressive, and prosperous. Southerners themselves, black and white, have worried over the problem for generations, mumbling to themselves and anyone else who will listen. This interesting collection addresses many of the ways the South has been problematic, ranging from climate to slavery, from secession to race relations, from law to literature. The essays, each by a well-known scholar, provide helpful overviews of the terrain and ruminations of varying levels of profundity. All in all, virtually anyone interested in the problematic South will benefit from a perusal of this volume.
This well-documented study looks at the role of the military in Spain’s transition from Franco’s dictatorship (1939—1975) to democracy (following Franco’s death in 1975). Begun as a doctoral dissertation at Duke, Aguero’s book addresses serious issues and asks thoughtful questions. How did Spain succeed in moving from totalitarianism to democracy when other authoritarian regimes (in South America, for example) failed to do so? What were the factors which set Spain apart? How was the military brought under civilian control without backlash or revolution? How does Spain’s experiment compare with those in other countries, and what are the lessons to be learned from this example? Aguero draws on archival documents, the public record, i