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Notes on Current Books, Summer 2003


ISSUE:  Summer 2003

In Americanizing the West, Van Nuys offers a different look at America’s history of immigration and citizenship by focusing on the early 20th-century West. He examines the way that concerns over the Americanization of immigrants in the West were linked to native Westerner’s attempts at securing a more solid place for the West within the American nation. The result was the development of educational programs for immigrants that sought to teach Anglo-American culture and break down the ethnic identity and family loyalty of immigrants that threatened ideas of individualism crucial to American identity and allegiance to the nation. Van Nuys argues that American identity depended on the maintenance of cultural and racial homogeneity, and in that respect shows that the image of the West as open to and welcoming of cultural and racial diversity has been in large part a fallacy. Because citizenship and American identity were often framed in terms of assimilation, deemed possible or impossible according to racial characteristics, the Americanizing programs that developed excluded certain immigrant groups along racial lines. Overall the educational programs were unsuccessful in producing American citizens, as immigrants often considered their own agendas in their participation in these programs. Nevertheless, Van Nuys concludes that Americanization was successful in that it reformed the West and resulted in its full integration into the American nation.

Our Enemies and US: America’s Rivalries and the Making of Political Science, by Ido Oren. Cornell $29.95

In this fascinating critical history of American political science, Ido Oren notes that the image of the profession that emerges from its own discourse is “one of an objective science that investigates politics yet remains outside politics, and whose questions and conceptual constructs are not embedded in any historical or national context.” Oren outright rejects this dispassionate, objective image. Moreover, despite the claims of a number of prominent practitioners, political science is not inherently democratic. Indeed, the conceptual categories and received/ assumed causal relationships pertaining to governance have been used as justifications for maintaining the status quo in despotic regimes (or for making negligible reforms to those regimes). Oren contends, further, that despite its insistence to the contrary, there is very little objectivity in political science. And, not surprisingly, American political science’s subjectivity comes in the form of American-ness. This work critically examines how the international political environment in four historical contexts affected the substance of political science. Over these periods, Oren identifies a conspicuous trend corresponding to pre- and post-conflict images of the enemy of the United States. That trend (positive images of the Other prior to conflict; negative images post-conflict) is far too systematic to be explained by rational learning on the part of political scientists as new events occur and as facts emerge. Oren concludes that while political science is predominantly a body of thought with an American national and historical perspective, the profession rarely acknowledges that perspective. According to political science’s own categories, “a perspective-bound human thought that abstains from self-examination and perceives itself as timeless and universal” is properly labeled an ideology.

Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, edited by John David Smith. North Carolina $39.95

About half of the essays in this volume are straight-up military history, mostly accounts of lesser-known battles in which African American troops played important roles. The remainder offer either biographies of important figures of the war and the postbellum era, or histories of specific groups, such as Noah Andre Trudeau’s essay on black cavalry units or Richard Reid’s piece, which examines the re-integration of black veterans into life in eastern North Carolina during Reconstruction. Read together, the collection is sometimes frustrating for the amount of contextual and historical information that is repeated in almost every essay, despite the presence of a good introductory overview essay by the book’s editor. There are few groundbreaking revelations here, and the collection is probably of most interest to the specialist; taken together, the essays add detail and context to the already well-known facts and contours of the conflict.

Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500—1800, by Raffaella Sarti. Yale $29.95

Social history, it was once said, is “the history of the people with the politics left out.” Although no one who admits to doing social history today would want to define the field in this way, Trevelyan’s famous, but often misunderstood, dictum should not be dismissed out of hand. At the least it can be made to serve as a warning against the temptation to put together a catalogue of references to the family, women’s duties, houses and furnishings, clothes, food and drink, travel, and transport, without sufficient attention to the political, economic, and religious conditions which affected them. Such a work can be interesting, certainly, and the descriptions of people and places can fire the reader’s imagination and lend color to textbook generalities, but in the end the sense of development over a period of years is not realized, and the reasons for historical change are not satisfactorily explained. In the Introduction to this book, the author tells us that it “resembles a meal in which sophisticated main dishes alternate with plain and only slightly dressed salads.” Later the book becomes a painting with various scenes shown in perspective, and then a house with different doors leading to rooms to explore. This is probably not the best beginning for a work with scholarly pretensions written for an educated public, and it suggests at least two of the problems that prevent it from being a first-class survey. On the one hand, there seems to be an uncertainty about what material might be included, and, once approved, how it should be handled, as well as a hesitancy about what kind of structure the narrative should have. There is no consistent evaluation of the sources (which are heavy on the Italian side), and no obvious reason for their selection. On the other hand, an awkward prose style sprinkled with quite a few grammatical errors (whether in the original or in the translation is hard to say) will dampen the enthusiasm of the most patient reader. There is a good deal of information collected here, and it certainly will be used for instruction, as well as for pleasure, but the book is not organized or written sufficiently well to be a major contribution to our understanding of these 300 years of European domestic life.

Lee’s Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox, by William Marvel. North Carolina $29.95

This book is a cogent and elegantly written narrative of the last week of the Confederacy. Scholars who might dismiss it as yet another Civil War battle tale would miss a great deal. Marvel’s talents for diligent research, concise narrative, and insightful analysis are combined here to produce a model of historical revision. Marvel is concerned with puncturing the Lost Cause myths that continue to cling to the war’s conclusion: the steadfastness of Lee’s soldiers and the supposed cordiality and respect showed by Northern and Southern soldiers to each other. Delving extensively into the personal records that detail the human dimensions of defeat, as well as the numerical evidence of troop strength, Marvel rewrites this famous episode in American history to reveal the tensions and conflicts wearing the Confederacy down in its last year. He also builds on his previous work on the atmosphere and events surrounding the surrender ceremony at Appomattox Court House to reveal a more realistic and sobering picture. Embittered by years of brutal warfare, Confederate and Union soldiers regarded each other with deep suspicion and hostility. By reclaiming this period from legend, Marvel has done historians and the public a great service.

The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction, by James A. Baggett. Louisiana $55

Sixty years of revisionists scholarship have painted an increasingly complex picture of para-Civil War Southern politics. The varied constituency and evolution of the peace or Unionist movements of the South—some fraction of which would be labeled “scalawags”—has been studied in various locales. Baggett has performed an important feat in his analysis of the origins, activities, and outcomes of the lives of 742 “scalawags” from throughout the South, compared to the lives of 666 Redeemers. A complex and very interesting picture emerges. Politically active scalawags appear largely to have been drawn from a mid-segment of the social strata: professionals with more formal education than most Southerners. They were less wealthy than their Redeemer counterparts, and although half held slaves, they held fewer of them and their financial losses proved smaller after emancipation. In other ways, the lives and outcomes of these individuals varied remarkably, due in part to regional influences. Of particular interest are the explanations these data provide for the various solutions achieved by states during Reconstruction as various segments of scalawagdom, Redeemerism, carpetbaggery, Southern blacks, and the rest of the South struggled with such a considerable admixture of hopes, ambitions, tawdriness, and other motives to “win the peace.” This is a well-written and engaging book, containing in brief the lives of many people of whom we ought to know more.

Spies in the Vatican: Espionage and Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust, by David Alvarez. Kansas $34.95

In the past, the Vatican was reputed to be a major power in the world of espionage with extraordinary sources of information and to be involved in secret operations on behalf of its interests. Consequently some governments imagined that the Vatican was extremely well informed because of its spies. Because of its reputation, the Vatican became the target of intelligence operations by governments, including France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Soviet Union, and even the United States. Using a variety of sources, including Vatican documents which have since been sealed, David Alverez describes in fascinating detail the role which the Vatican has played in the history of espionage and the efforts of governments to learn the secrets of the Vatican by inserting secret agents into the Eternal City. On occasion the Vatican ran its own spy operations which were quite unsuccessful. Eventually it developed an extremely good cipher which the OSS could not crack. This is a tale of intrigue, the double cross, rogues, popes, and high-level espionage.

Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell, by Elaine Forman Crane. Cornell $24.95

This excellent book by a Fordham University history professor presents a true 1673 murder mystery. It tells the tale of Rebecca Cornell—an ancestor of Ezra Cornell, who founded Cornell University, and a relative of Lizzie Borden— how she lived, how she died strangely burnt in her bedroom, and how her son came to be tried for her murder. This book immediately draws you into Rebecca’s world, and it is hard to pull away. Ms. Crane’s careful and interesting illumination of life in the late 17th century stands in sharp outline to the romanticized vision of that “more simple” time when everyone worked together for survival. This is a tale of power and economic struggles between generations and between sexes. The book also describes the struggle in the young colonies to balance competing religious beliefs and to develop legal systems. This well-written, integrated, historical perspective on this mystery fascinated me. Think of it this way—when was the last time you heard about the testimony of a crime victim’s ghost being admissible in a court of law?

The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing, by Jennifer Sinor. Iowa $19.95

“Annie Ray’s Diary” is the subtitle of this intimate and intriguing examination of the type of journal usually intended for, and valued solely by, its writer. Annie Ray, a homesteader on the plains of the Dakotas in the late 19th century, is the author’s forebear, and her day-by-day account of travail and challenge here serves as the springboard for a thoughtful and meticulous investigation and reflection on matters of writing, culture, and unintended autobiography. Sinor retrieves the diary, and she offers it as a typical example of a text never intended for an audience. She then delineates its importance as an intergenerational link, and as a reflection of how the simplest daily log both embodies and articulates a particular world. This unconventional approach to an everyday account should be especially valued by anyone who appreciates a fresh and revealing perspective on the ostensibly commonplace and mundane.

Deforesting the Earth, by Michael Williams. Chicago $70

Oxford geographer Williams states simply that his book is “an account of how humans have related to forests over seven millennia.” Without a trace of exaggeration, he could well have claimed that Deforesting the Earth is a detailed, chronological account and analysis of why and how we have used, abused, destroyed, restored, and protected forests since Paleolithic times— worldwide. This book (more accurately, a treatise) will surely stand as the tour de force on deforestation, but it can be tedious reading because of an enormous amount of data presented in figures, plates, tables, and notes. In between layers of technical information, however, Williams livens this monumental work with colorful, interpretative essays on the human factors motivating the hunter to burn, the lord of the manor to reserve, the peasant to use and abuse, the colonist to exploit, the pioneer to vanquish, and we moderns to overuse the forests. The conservation and environmental movements are discussed with an objectivity and impartiality that is refreshing. This is a multifaceted, extraordinary reference book and interpretation of history that belongs in every library.

Byrd’s Line: A Natural History, by Stephen Conrad Ausband. Virginia $22.95

The author examines the region which the educated and aristocratic William Byrd and his surveying party traversed in 1728 to establish the Virginia-North Carolina boundary, a daunting project chronicled in two 18th-century classics: The History of the Dividing Line and The Secret History of the Line. Byrd’s keen journalism is here complemented by Ausband’s own meticulous research, thoughtful commentary, and personal observations on flora and fauna, landscape and culture, both colonial and contemporary. His deep appreciation of the original accounts and his own obvious shared enthusiasm for the study of natural history inform this genial and engaging work throughout. And although much is lost since Byrd’s time of the sylvan scene itself, thankfully the penchant for curiosity, wit, careful explication, and perceptive analysis in reflecting upon it survives handily to the present day in works such as this.

American Orientalism: The United States and Middle East since 1945, by Douglas Little. North Carolina $34.95

Little, a political historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., examines, in eight chapters and a conclusion in this book, the relationship of the U.S. to the Middle East from the inception of this relationship in 1945 to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Each chapter explores thematically one aspect of such a complex relationship: the U.S. economic interest in oil and trade, the blind support extended to Israel almost by all U.S. presidents, antipathy toward the rise of nationalistic leaders in the regions of the Middle East such as Nasser of Egypt, the containment of the spread of Communism in those regions, support for modernization in some countries as in the case of the blind support extended to the late Shah of Iran, and the perpetual ignorance of the cultures and languages and misunderstanding of the region as portrayed in pulp fiction, unsympathetic journalistic reporting, stereotypical portrayal in the cinema industry, cartoons, TV programs, etc. This is a commendable work to all concerned with the Middle East.

LITERARY STUDIESFantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self, by Marina Warner. Oxford $29.95

Rules of thumb: (1) genuinely scholarly books are no delight to read, and (2) “antiquarian” studies do not illuminate the life and culture of (post)modern readers. Exception: Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds. Based on Marina Warner’s Clarendon Lectures in English, 2001, this irresistibly styled and splendidly illustrated treatment of generation, evolution, growth, and decay touches most of the mythological—and many of the literary-artistic— bases, but goes beyond them to encompass photography, cultural anthropology, folklore, and lepidoptery. Warner’s working concepts— Mutating, Hatching, Splitting, and Doubling— prove less simple and obvious than they seem, and she sharpens them to a fine point of analytical and explanatory power, without predetermining the interpretation of works she does not mention. For instance, she provides a framework for making at least preliminary sense of several brilliant new American films on identity and (dis) continuity: Adaptations, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and The Hours. Strongly recommended.

Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, Volume VI: 1956—1963, edited by Robert Baker and James Sexton. Ivan R. Dee $35

The sixth and final volume of Aldous Huxley’s essays completes a series of quite extraordinary richness. It is remarkable to consider not only how pertinent these works remain but also how pleasurable most are to read. At best, he writes extremely well and clearly. Most of the essays sparkle with fast-paced wit and erudition. Reflections on the uncertain boundaries between reason and mysticism, science and humanism, are major themes of Huxley’s final works. So are ecology, literature, beauty, education, and technology. Final adjustments on the trajectory of the prophecies of Brave New World indicate his view that the actual course of future human history may prove worse than expected. He judged it likely that most of the Utopian negatives he foresaw would be fulfilled without the few beneficent compensations he initially predicted. Huxley has few peers in the art of essay writing—Montaigne, Pascal, Lamb, Emerson, and Carlyle among them. Essays of this “first water” quality remain essential to our education, sanity, morality, and equipoise. One hopes that collections of their works—examples of which are to be found cheaply in any good used bookstore—continue to find an honored place at our bedside tables. Huxley’s essays are harder to find. The somewhat greater expense of six of these very well made volumes—what one might spend in a day or two at Disneyland—is trivial. Consider the pleasure that they will sustain through a lifetime at one’s bedside table and then the bedsides of their lucky inheritors— one’s children if at all possible, or as may more often be the case, caring strangers who find them in the used bookstores of the next few centuries.

Lines of Flight: Discursive Time and Countercultural Desire in the Works of Thomas Pynchon, by Stefan Mattessich. Duke $21.95

The centerpiece of Stefan Mattessich’s new book-length study of the work of Thomas Pynchon is a reading of Gravity’s Rainbow carried out with interpretive tools adopted from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s AntiOedipus, bringing together two of the 20th-century’s most difficult and intimidating books. In the author’s words Lines of Flight is a series of “theoretically saturated” close readings, and indeed Benny Profane, Tyrone Slothrop, and Oedipa Maas are often crowded out of Mattessich’s prose by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari and a host of other French theorists. Mattessich has written a study to match the difficulty of his subject matter, enacting some of the same processes of self-reflection and self-erasure he identifies in Pynchon’s work. The digressions and disintegrations that characterize the form of Pynchon’s novels, Mattessich argues, are best understood as both a response to and the performance of a historically specific desire associated with the postwar counterculture, a desire which, aimed at escape rather than revolution, can only end up erasing itself. For Mattessich, the paranoia in Pynchon’s parodic novels calls attention to the walls of our cages through a self-conscious attention to the ways they are deeply implicated in the systems they critique.

Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes, by Niall W. Slater. Pennsylvania $59.95

Contrary to the Wizard of Oz, Aristophanes’ plea is one of “do pay attention to that man behind the curtain.” Such is the central thesis of Slater’s superb book, an apt sequel to his fine study of Plautus’ similar approach to Roman comedy. As entertaining as Aristophanes’ gags and jibs were, they were also meant to nurture critical minds. Revealing the tricks underlying his staged effects and those of his characters was his way of teaching the public to “listen to the gears clanking” in the performances of their lawyers and politicians, not to mention their artists and philosophers. Compelling readings of eight plays, fluently supported with copious references to vase paintings and other sources, teach us a great deal about the invention of satire, the uncertainties of spectacle, the mixed blessings of pricking illusions, the importance of replacing passivity with a mind prepared to listen and challenge. Fresh and deeply appreciative insight into the art of Aristophanes is admixed with provocative consideration of the perils of democracy, despotism, and sophisto-Euripidean atheism, not to mention the process of theater and the fragile dependence of comedy on the idealism that engenders tragedy. Exceptionally clearly written consideration of these and other issues results in a book that should greatly appeal to anyone who is interested in the process of human thought and action. The themes are as pertinent to our world as they were to that of Aristophanes’ audience.

The Satanic Epic, by Neil Forsyth. Princeton $22.95

Forsyth’s work explores the seductive power of Milton’s Satan, arguing against scholars such as Stanley Fish that Milton really was, as Blake put it, “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” He also makes the case that Satan, and his fate, serves an essential structural role in mankind’s salvation—though whether this refers only to Milton’s text or to Christian doctrine more broadly is unclear, and Forsyth can at times seem unfortunately to revel in the ambiguity. The book is certainly very rich, and much of its joy comes from his attempts to communicate Milton’s own genius and erudition to readers. Yet while it is a book that general readers would enjoy and learn much from, one has the growing suspicion that Forsyth’s central argument about Milton’s Satan is simultaneously more pedestrian in its arguments, and more outlandish in its self-aggrandizements, than is fully warranted.

The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon, edited with an introduction by Lana A. Whited. Missouri $34.95

This book will change few minds; those who admire J.K. Rowling’s books will find their interest stimulated and challenged, but those who share Harold Bloom’s disapproval will find the apologetics unconvincing. The first several essays suffer from either giddy adoration or facile comparisons with literary sources, folklore methods, and psychological theories. The second half of the book is better. Easily the best essay in the book, Farah Mendleshn’s “Crowning the King: Harry Potter and the Construction of Authority” is also (coincidentally?) the one most critical of the series. Roni Natov’s “Harry Potter and the Extraordinariness of the Ordinary,” which describes how Rowling’s fantasy is a “reconfiguration of everyday reality,” offers a much more convincing explication of its appeal than the essays immediately preceding and following it. Natov’s literary criticism has difficulty with Harry Potter on three counts: it is children’s literature, fantasy, and highly popular. Though all are dealt with in this book, one finds that understanding need not lead to enjoyment.

Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture, by Douglas Lanier. Oxford $18.95

A time period’s appropriation of Shakespeare often reveals many of its literary preconceptions and values. Unfortunately, Lanier’s book fails to capture our own moment. Part of the failure arises from the fluctuation of definition: Lanier so often defines and revises his sense of “popular” that the reader is left in a muddle. Certainly, any such definition must remain open to qualification; but Lanier’s attempts at certainty, followed by implicit disregard for what was ascertained, erode the book’s cohesion. The obverse is the occasional appearance of an explicit Marxist prejudice, which does no useful interpretive work. Nonetheless, the book has strong points. Lanier finds a multitude of strange and wonderful instances of how our culture uses Shakespeare, the quirkiest being William Shatner’s “No Tears for Caesar,” a rap adaptation of Mark Antony’s funeral speech. Lanier deftly avoids lambasting even the oddest or most commercial appropriation, preferring to distance himself from highbrow nostalgia and discern what such seemingly bastardized uses of Shakespeare show about our culture. The reader finally takes away this use of Shakespeare, by academics, by directors, by artists, and by advertisers. Rather than an icon to be reverently encountered and interpreted, Shakespeare is a tool. This book would serve well as a primer to the subject of modern Shakespeare appropriation, perfect for upper-level undergraduates. But graduates and professional academics will use it merely as a springboard to investigations of more depth.

Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice, edited by Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland. Alabama $39.95

Rejecting Hemingway as a misogynist has been one of the most significant challenges second-wave feminists leveled at the accepted literary canon of modernity. This collection of scholarly essays provides much-needed balance to the feminist assessment of Hemingway. The 17 essays cover a range of topics within the rubric of Hemingway and women, including biography, characters in his books, and, perhaps most interestingly, the response of the reading female. Many of the authors deconstruct feminist objections to Hemingway, but none stop there. While these investigations do accept and elaborate on the rightly perceived negative tensions between Hemingway and the women in his life, his books, and his audience, they also enlarge the arena for discussion to include ambiguities, pleasure, and the need to understand rather than simply reject study of this great American author.

The Oxford English Literary History, Volume 8: 1830—1880: The Victorians, by Philip Davis. Oxford $45

Philip Davis’ The Victorians appears as one of the inaugural volumes in Oxford’s new series of “literary histories.” The intelligent and discriminating overview presented by this early volume bodes well for the overall quality of the series. Davis presents a neat survey of the key social, economic, and intellectual trends which shaped the Victorian period’s literature. For Davis, the mid-19th century is the “essential period,” an age in which writers tell stories “about the process of semisecularization.” This secular drift, as Davis points out, not only challenged and changed the shape of the society as a whole, but also prompted Victorian writers to undertake a crucial reevaluation of the literary forms necessary to relate such changes. Chapters included here offer thoughtful consideration of literature’s reaction to rapid urbanization and industrialization, the uneasy relations of religion and the new science, and contemporary developments in psychology. Davis also gives lengthy coverage to the “conditions of literary production,” grounding his survey upon a foundation informed by material and economic conditions. The volume is especially noteworthy for the generous place granted to the voices of contemporary writers and thinkers.

The Oxford English Literary History, Volume 2: 1350—1547: Reform and Cultural Revolution, by James Simpson. Oxford $45

Surveys of literary history rarely break new ground; mostly they compile received wisdom into a volume of assumptions and clichés. But this second volume in the successor series to the venerable Oxford History of English Literature will snap some scholarly heads back. Just look at the title: Chaucer and Henry VIII in the same volume? Simpson organizes around a theme, medieval as an age of reform, and Renaissance sweeping the evil (medieval, Catholic) past away while trying to preserve things from that past that the king might use, like Chaucer. Traditional scholar-readers will blink at discussing the comic and the romance under the same heading. Lots of clichés get tossed, and some hardly get mentioned at all. And he praises authors generally consigned to the drab bin, such as Lydgate. In short, if you think of the English 15th century as a dull slough between brilliant Chaucer and brilliant rebirth, read this book and think again.

Consciousness: A User’s Guide, by Adam Zeman. Yale $29.95

Philosophy of mind remains an important branch of philosophical inquiry, one that unites ancient speculation with modern science. It is not surprising that neurologists should pursue the complex problem of consciousness every bit as avidly as philosophers. University of Edinburgh neurologist Adam Zeman lays out a fine analysis of consciousness in this new book. Although Yale University Press purports in the publicity materials to be marketing this book to a broad audience, this study will prove a hard sell. For the material is inevitably complicated. Until ten years ago, when David Chalmers published a bold new study of consciousness, the field had waned. Zeman’s new book, in tandem with Chalmers’ acclaimed one, should jump start the philosophy of mind and bring ever closer together the work of neurologists and philosophers.

Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination, by J. Robert Earth, S.J. Missouri $29.95

This book which, “admits to being a personal statement as well as a critical study,” is short-sighted for precisely this reason. Earth, a Jesuit priest, seems to have written this book in response to recent critical assertions that the Romantic writers that he so loves are honored for their skepticism toward religion and not for their belief. His thesis that their belief is what made them “important figures in our intellectual history” leads him into sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications and forces the reader to question whether he really believes what he is writing or simply wishes that it were true. However, Earth is very conscious of his bias in regard to these poets and their religious belief and is to be commended for his candor. The book does contain some subtle and attentive close reading that discloses Earth’s earnest and solemn conviction in what seems to be a doomed undertaking from the start.

LIVES AND LETTERSThe Letters of George Santayana, Book Four: 1928—1932, edited by William G. Holzberger. MIT $55

Santayana’s towering intellect functioned in large measure as he wished it to do, in a sort of splendid isolation, “entire and majestic,” separate from perplexing distractions of life. But as with any other mortal, his separation from the complexities and personal issues of life was not absolute and his opinions and ideas were not without blemish of error or prejudice. The finger of retrospective judgment can be waggled at many of his conclusions, but the will to do so rapidly diminishes upon acquaintance with this honest and generous philosopher. He was an exceedingly complicated and interesting person, and the teeming forces that played at the edges of his existence are well worth knowing about. His life and thought were countless-fold richer than the few terse observations by which he is now chiefly remembered. Holzberger’s unparalleled knowledge of the work and life of Santayana and of Santayana’s intimate circle of friends is further enriched by great editorial intellect, sensitivity, and mastery of language. The superb interplay of subject and editor has rendered the preceding volumes of this series uncommonly fine. This volume, covering a particularly productive but turbulent period of Santayana’s life, has achieved particular brilliance—it is as fine a “Letters” volume as can be found.

My Dear Stieglitz: Letters of Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz, 1912—1915, edited by James Timothy Voorhies. South Carolina $39.95

This volume presents the correspondence between two key figures of modernist art in the United States, the painter Marsden Hartley and the photographer and art impresario Alfred Stieglitz, during the first great phase of American modernism, the few years leading up to World War I. Stieglitz reports on events at his “291” gallery, the very nerve center of the New York avant-garde world. Hartley sends back dispatches on all the important events and figures of the art world in Paris, Berlin, and Munich. The extremely perspicacious Hartley witnesses many of the first large public exhibitions of cubist painting and is invited to show his work with the leading lights of expressionism in Germany. Most remarkable is the vividness and the depth of Hartley’s descriptions of the images, collections, and exhibitions he has seen (collections of artists’ writings are often frustratingly thin when it comes to discussion of the work of colleagues and competitors). The editor’s introduction presents a useful biographical account but little in the way of an interpretation of the two writers’ aesthetic beliefs. The individual letters are thoroughly and helpfully annotated.

Abraham Lincoln: A Penguin Life, by Thomas Keneally. Penguin $19.95

This number does not disappoint readers of this remarkable series of short biographies of historic icons by distinguished authors. Keneally has confronted the difficulty of writing about this mythic figure and the stereotypes around him without fearing them—without getting too wrapped up in debunking them. Along the way from Lincoln’s humble origins, through his marriage, political career, and wartime presidency, he points out important distinctions for contemporary readers, such as positions on slavery and attitudes toward native Americans, plus necessary background on the political and economic developments of the time—briefly. The whole thing is under 200 pages, which is both its virtue and its weakness. There is unfortunately not much personal Lincoln here, other than repeated references to his depression (by his own term “hypo”). Lincoln’s assessment of his generals McClellan and Hooker as not aggressive enough and too wary is, I suppose, accepted historically, but Keneally could have acknowledged their relative positions in terms of danger as quite influential and understandable in terms of their decisions and fears. Like the Union generals, Mary Todd Lincoln comes across as a caricature, while some of the notes in the Sources section show that fuller information on her is available elsewhere. The juxtaposition of her domestic concerns and bipolar behavior in the midst of the massive tableaus and consequence of the Civil War narratives strikes one as apt, but also begs the further characterization of Lincoln’s home life and smaller concerns, such as his relationship with his son Tad and his love of books, which seem to disappear during the war years. Overall, Keneally provides all the most essential knowledge, whetting the appetite for further reading. A very enjoyable, readable, couldn’t-put-it-down addition to anyone’s library.

Anna: The Letters of a St. Simon’s Plantation Mistress, 1817—1859, by Anna Matilda Page King; edited by Melanie Pavich-Lindsay. Georgia $49.95

Over the last decade, dozens of letters and diaries written by white women of the plantation South have been published, revealing to us the sorrows and joys in women’s lives before the Civil War. This new collection of edited letters written by Anna Matilda Page King of coastal Georgia is a rich addition to this growing genre. In her informative preface and introduction, Pavich-Lindsay situates Anna King in her time and persuasively argues how the examination of one woman’s letters can reveal much about an entire society and period. King’s letters read almost the same as a diary, or even a novel. Her life was a difficult one, due to her spendthrift and frequently absent husband. King spent much of her married life alone, managing the plantation her father left her and raising her children. The letters chronicle the multiple roles a plantation mistress played and the struggles that elite white women had in moving from flirtatious belles to burdened wives and mothers. Throughout the letters, we also catch glimpses of her interactions with slaves. Those interested in the Old South or women’s history can learn much of interest from this collection.

Dear Catharine, Dear Taylor: The Civil War Letters of a Union Soldier and His Wife, edited by Richard L. Kiper. Kansas $34.95

Edited collections of Civil War soldiers’ letters have appeared at a brisk pace during recent years. Although they offer a vast amount of useful testimony, they often seem to be of a type, chronicling in roughly the same fashion the experiences of camp, march, and battle through the soldiers’ eyes. Readers are often left with a sense of having glimpsed only half the story of how the war altered the lives of Americans North and South. What about the people to whom the soldiers wrote? This collection of letters does a splendid job of showing the whole picture. It includes excellent correspondence from Taylor Peirce, whose service in the 22nd Iowa Infantry took him through major campaigns in both the Western and Eastern Theaters, and from his wife Catharine, whose letters shed considerable light on the ways in which families of soldiers coped with a variety of hardships on the home front. Written almost weekly, the letters underscore the couple’s strong Republican convictions, their deep devotion to the Union cause, their tender attachment to one other, and their frustration at being separated. Readers interested in battles will savor Taylor’s clear descriptions of the campaigning around Vicksburg and other operations. But the real strength of the volume lies in its illumination of the ways in which the home front and battlefield intersected during conflict.

The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, Volume 10: March-August 1792, edited by Philander D. Chase et al. Virginia $70

This volume offers scholars a detailed portrait not only of the foreign and domestic policies of the Washington administration, but also of the private life of the first president during the spring and summer of 1792. Prominent in the papers are Washington’s efforts to deal with the recent defeat of General Arthur St. Clair’s forces in the Northwest, a strategy that involved reorganizing the military while simultaneously pursuing a vigorous diplomacy with less hostile Indian tribes. The correspondence also reveals the administration’s attempt to maintain a positive and stable relationship with Revolutionary France, despite the rapidly changing political climate in that country. Diplomatic efforts with Britain to resolve outstanding issues related to the Treaty of Paris also occupy an important place in the volume. On the domestic front, the papers provide insight into Washington’s veto of the Apportionment Act of 1792, the first exercise of presidential veto power in the nation’s history. They also show his determination to make progress on the construction of the new federal capital, despite the recent removal of Pierre L’Enfant, its chief architect. In addition, the letters reveal Washington’s mixed feelings about standing for a second term in office, an ambivalence rooted in his conflicting desire both to lend stability to the new federal experiment and retire to his beloved Mount Vernon. This volume will serve as an essential resource for anyone interested in the political history of the new nation, the formation of the executive branch, and the personal life of the first president.

Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding Ancient Wonders, by Vaughan Hart. Yale $60

Even after Peter Ackroyd’s haunting novel about Hawksmoor, this wonderful architect is not exactly a household name. But he is now better known, and this is to the good, because his imaginative works and ideas—the churches in London, his dreams for transforming Oxford and Cambridge, and his work at Blenheim— represent an important chapter in the history of English architecture. If his powerful, captivating buildings bespeak the Baroque, they also foretell the thinking of post-Modernist architects. For this reason alone the appearance of Hart’s book is especially timely. As ever, Yale has produced a beautiful book. The photographs in color are superb.

American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism, by Dean Grodzins. North Carolina $39.95

Although the Transcendentalist movement in American history is commonly associated with intellectuals such as Emerson and Thoreau, Dean Grodzins acquaints the reader with another equally important figure, Theodore Parker. By examining Parker’s personal and public life from childhood, Grodzins illuminates the evolution of thinking that made Parker so controversial, specifically Parker’s challenging of the way religious truth and American democracy were thought of during the 19th century. This wonderfully written and thoroughly researched biography is not only an important addition to religious history, but also to the broader social and cultural discourse, which was very much incomplete before our introduction to Theodore Parker.

A Historical Guide to Mark Twain, edited by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Oxford $16.95

This small book, like its predecessors in a series that includes volumes on Whitman, Poe, and Thoreau to name but a few, should prove both useful and interesting to those who believe that literary figures need to be seen in historical context for their works to be fully meaningful. Twain’s views on anything and everything are examined here in concise but sufficiently detailed chapters on topics ranging from race, gender, religion, commerce, and imperialism. While these are the usual suspects one expects to find in modern literary analyses, with Twain, it is not a far stretch as is the case with other figures. The man from Missouri did indeed have well-documented opinions—and colorful ones at that—on all these subjects and more. Though this collection of essays by distinguished scholars is not free of the usual academic jargon, the various offerings are nevertheless readable and to the student interested not only in Twain’s writings but in the broader subject of his eventful times, this should be a welcome addition.

Elvis Presley, by Bobbie Ann Mason. Viking $19.95

This addition to the Penguin Lives series masterfully encapsulates the remarkable life and spectacular career of its subject: the meteoric rise from poverty to stardom, the perhaps inevitable decline, and untimely death. The author deftly utilizes insights derived from her own Southern heritage to place Elvis within a complex regional matrix of mindset and mores, enabling a portrait that, despite its surprising breadth and multiplicity, is entirely comprehensible. Empathetic, sensitive, lucid, and engaging, this brief yet fully realized biography reflects an eminently fortunate pairing of subject and author. Although the chronology may be familiar, the context provided here refreshingly underscores both the contributions and the tragedy of a life perhaps rather too lightly regarded.

River of Shadows, by Rebecca Solnit. Viking $25.95

Noted author Solnit presents the life of the troubled, highly creative Eadweard Muybridge as a metaphor for the technological changes and human agonies that have marked the settlement of the American West and the development of that fast-moving, sometimes bizarre culture Americans know as “Californian.” Solnit interprets the tumultuous life of Muybridge, the proto-inventor of motion pictures, against the backdrop of the subjects Muybridge photographed and the people who influenced him: wild Yosemite, burgeoning San Francisco, the doomed Modoc Indians, and crafty Leland Stanford. In this absorbing book, Muybridge’s life unfolds as a never-ending quest for excellence. He abandons sequential successes with landscapes, war documentary, and panoramas of cities to focus on his cardinal work of transforming photography into a scientific instrument revealing the secret world of motion. Fittingly, the railroad magnate Leland Stanford, who transformed the American West with trains, became the patron of Muybridge’s motion studies out of a desire to know if all four feet of a trotting horse were ever simultaneously free of the ground.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, by Robert Coram. Little, Brown $27.95

It is a rare enough event when an individual is able to offer an original idea or approach to an age-old social institution. It is even more exceptional when that same agent not only persuades others to think as he or she does, but also transforms the way an incredibly hierarchical, conservative, powerful social organization conducts its mission. This is what John Boyd did to the American armed forces, and to the way modern warfare is conducted. Coram’s well-crafted biography of Boyd is an important work for a number of reasons. First, Boyd truly deserves credit for transforming the way in which the Pentagon approached war fighting during the 1980’s (credit that the Marine Corps is will to extend, but which the Air Force is far more reluctant to recognize). Boyd and his “acolytes” (a group of well placed individuals in the armed forces, Congress, and the executive branch) fought against conservative and Clausewitzian (the two, of course, are not the same thing) modes of conceiving of war, and against the bureaucracies and defense contractors that benefited from them. The result has been an impressive transformation in the way the U.S. military plans and executes military operations and strategy. Second, this work is inspiring to the extent that it demonstrates what an individual can accomplish even though amazingly powerful forces are arrayed against him or her. True, the costs may be high and the recognition posthumous. Nevertheless, the story is compelling and worthy of consideration. Boyd is a wonderful biography of a fascinating and important man in American military history.

Becoming Asian American, by Nazli Kibria. Johns Hopkins $40.95

In Becoming Asian America, Nazli Kibria, a Boston University sociologist of Banglasdeshi background, analyzes 64 in-depth interviews with second-generation Chinese and Korean Americans. Kibria explores the impact of ethnic contexts on the dynamics of race, adaptation, and identity and examines how her informants make sense of who they are in an emerging multiracial, multiethnic society. The book is organized around the themes of integration, childhood and youth, daily life, college, work, marriage and childbearing, and Asian-American identity. Kibria acknowledges that adoption of an Asian-American identity may be a form of assimilation, but proposes that assimilation is an uncertain and contested process. She also suggests that her informants demonstrate a dual identification pattern, one pan-Asian, the other ethnonational. Despite their status as members of the “model minority” and their identification with European American (white) experiences, full acceptance by groups and institutions of the dominant society may be elusive for Kibria’s informants.

Gainsborough at Gainsborough’s House, by Hugh Belsey. Washington $60

A social critic once described Gainsborough as “a man deeply read in petticoats.” Taking a polite interpretation of that remark, we can indeed relate it to this exquisitely printed museum catalogue in which curator Belsey unfolds the moods and styles of the great artist’s work, and life, like many layers of colorful and intricately woven petticoats—portraits of lovely ladies and posturing gentlemen, drawings of peasant life, and those restful and somewhat vague landscapes that presaged impressionism. This is a multifaceted book offering a history of the artist, a look at some work of contemporaries, and insight into the arduous business of assembling this rich collection in the birthplace of Gainsborough in Sudbury on the River Stour. Reportedly, no other small museum in Britain has been able to make such ambitious acquisitions as those achieved by Gainsborough House. This book treats the reader to fine examples of work from all stages of Gainsborough’s career, as well as to paintings and engravings by his mentors— Hayman and Gravelot—and his followers, notably his nephew Gainsborough Dupont and Thomas Rowlandson.

FICTIONSwan: A Novel, by Frances Mayes. Broadway Books $25

The best-selling author of the travel memoir Under the Tuscan Sun has aimed her prodigious pen toward the novel, set in her native Georgia, inside the small town of Swan. Her able prose launches a compelling enough plot. J.J. Mason and his sister Ginger must face the mysterious and grotesque unearthing of the body of their mother Catherine, who committed suicide two decades earlier. Unfortunately, some of the Southern characters are just too stock—the bumbling sheriff, the loyal black maid, and the maiden aunt people a landscape rendered all-too-familiar. Ginger’s career as an archeologist in Tuscany seems implausible and J.J.’s eccentric lifestyle unlikable. Some of the many minor characters do rise off the page and Mayes’ poetic abilities remain precise.

Fatma, A Novel of Arabia, by Raja Alem. Syracuse $24.95

The author’s first novel written in English, Fatma is a complex and compelling tale of a young girl’s journey into the unknown. Set in mid-19th-century Saudi Arabia, the novel opens with a naïve Fatma preparing to marry Sajir, who deals in the magical venoms produced by his snake farm. Fatma is bitten by one of his most poisonous snakes and falls into a coma; ironically, this death sentence becomes the vehicle for her rebirth, for when she wakes she has become something else altogether—part woman and part snake. Told in the form of dreams and living parables, Fatma is full of vivid descriptions that billow from Alem’s bottomless well of Saudi culture. Nuggets of wisdom are sequestered within these languid lines of prose like diamonds in the rough: “Whoever looks, really looks, into the essence of the inner world will see his own reflection. We are the creators of our own heavens and hells.” Alem creates a dream world at once universally applicable and distinctly feminine, leaving the reader both curious and sated.

I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, by Brian Hall. Viking $29.95

Brian Hall demonstrates convincingly that after all the many books about Lewis and Clark there is a great deal more to be said. Readers of Hall’s novel will be exposed to an entirely new way of considering the Expedition of Discovery. While other authors have focused on the events of the expedition, Hall takes the reader into the minds of the principals in the expedition— Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau and Sacagawea. Imagining what they feel—whether spoken or concealed—is more important to Hall than giving a chronological account of the journey. Hall says that in writing this book he has gone “where historians refrain from treading.” Compared to the standard fare L & C buffs consume, we find a sometimes lustful and resentful Clark, an envious Lewis, a wiser Charbonneau, an unbridgeable gulf between Native-American and Anglo-American minds, and—in the tragic fate of Lewis—a vast gap between soldiers and politicians. Although history buffs will be appeased, perhaps, by the many quotations Hall includes from the historical records, his interpretations of character will not go unchallenged. In theme and tone this is a pioneering work.

Esther’s Gift: A Mitford Christmas Story, by Jan Karon. Viking $10.95

Christmases are very kind to Jan Karon. On the heels of last year’s Mitford Snowmen, Karon gives us another heart-warming tale that reveals the true meaning of the holiday season. The tale begins as Esther Bolick contemplates the annual ritual of baking her famous orange marmalade cakes for her friends. But when her husband begins calculating the value of each finished baked product, the Bolicks admit that maybe they are being too generous. To say any more of the conflict and resolution in Esther’s Gift the reviewer would risk exceeding the length of Jan Karon’s book! Like the other Mitford “novels,” Esther’s Gift is a very short book. Thankfully, Karon adds a little tasty tidbit at the end with the inclusion of the recipe for the famous Orange Marmalade Layer Cake. Baking the cake takes far more time than readers will spend reading this Christmas tale.

Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith, by Patricia Highsmith. Norton $27.95

In this collection of previously unpublished stories by Patricia Highsmith, there are no bodies to dispose of or alibis to produce, as in her suspenseful Ripley series, but rather a cache of psychological character studies that probe the human psyche and relentlessly expose the sordidness of life. Her protagonists inhabit their own social underground, passing through life on the margins—an incompetent thief steals a man’s duffle bag, only to find it full of candy; a man and woman meet in a bar, but fail to find in each other a cure for their loneliness; a loner escapes from the city by moving to a quiet country town, only to be hounded out by accusations of pedophilia. However, although these stories brilliantly dissect the darkest side of human nature, they are not as meticulously and masterfully crafted as those in her published collections, and thus less compelling from the point of view of plot. Nevertheless, the psychological complexity of these stories will satisfy Highsmith fans, as well as those discovering her for the first time.

Buddha Wept, by Rocco Lo Bosco. GreyCore $21.95

There is a thesis running through this novel that suffering, even of the horrendous kind inflicted by the Khmer Rouge on Cambodians in 1975—79, can be endured, overcome, and even transcended—by following the ways of the Buddha. “It is up to you to make your suffering mean something,” the mystical Ona tells her husband, as their family is being worked and starved to death in a Pol Pot death camp. This underlying thesis of the author, yoga master Bosco, fails upon a critical look at the facts in the narrative. Ona survives because she is chosen to nanny the camp commander’s children; her husband’s body endures but his spirit is damaged irreparably; and although the family is liberated, the children have been dwarfed physically and emotionally. Rather than finding the transcendent in this narrative of the killing fields, the Western mind is more likely to focus on the victims’ lost opportunities to escape suffering and to punish the perpetrators. Sensing the impending genocide, Ona wants the family to flee to Thailand. Her husband refuses, saying, “We have done nothing wrong . . . there is nothing to fear.” Perhaps this novel has two audiences: those survivors of the Cambodian genocide who will use its mystical message as a balm for their wounds, and the rest of us who should vow that never again will the world tolerate a nation devouring its own people.

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