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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1983


ISSUE:  Winter 1983

This study of “changing attitudes to death among Christians and unbelievers in 18th-century France” is a masterpiece of historiography, a work as great in achievement as it is in ambition. The topic is enormous, requiring a synthesis of an extraordinarily extensive and diverse range of sources—demographic, medical, religious, philosophical, and legal, among others. McManners is master of the sources, and he presents a lapidary synthesis of them. The centrality of death in life in the 18th century makes a study of that period’s attitudes to death an especially good aid to understanding other aspects of the Enlightenment. Both the 18th-century specialist and the general reader will find much of interest and importance in Death and the Enlightenment.

Comintern Army: The International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War, by R. Dan Richardson. Kentucky $19.50

The young idealists who set off in 1936 to save democracy in Spain had more enthusiasm than suitability for war, and thousands of them perished like so much cannon fodder. The tragedy is that so few of them ever knew that the West did not care about democracy or that Stalin was in the fight not to save it but to stifle it. This is an uneven account of the politics of some of the brigades; it is hampered by the author’s lack of knowledge of Russian and access to some pertinent sources.

A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760—1790, by Edward Countryman. Johns Hopkins $24.50

If a class analysis of the American Revolution works anywhere, surely it is in New York, riven as that colony was with landlord-tenant, creditor-debtor, and merchantfarmer conflicts. Countryman’s account, however, despite prodigious research into the composition of revolutionary committees, assembly voting patterns, and local patterns of leadership, fails in its goal of demonstrating class consciousness as a determinative factor. What ultimately divided New Yorkers, as the author concedes in passing, was that “one side had chosen Revolution and the other had not” and “on each side there were landlords, tenants, and yeomen.” The failure of antifederalism in New York, a failure mentioned but not explained in the book, shows that, whatever its potential, the revolution never became radical—in New York or elsewhere.

Yours to Reason Why: Decision in Battle, by William Seymour. St. Martin’s $17.95

Armchair military strategists will enjoy the chance offered by this book to follow— and to second-guess—the actions taken by military commanders during ten battles and campaigns of British and American history. Military historian Seymour takes the reader up to the crucial stages of battle and then pauses to present the options available to such men as Henry V, Cromwell, Napoleon, Robert E. Lee, and Mark Clark, inviting the reader to make his own choice. He then reports, explains, and evaluates the decision actually taken. Though useful details have sometimes been left out, the book does provide more than 100 maps, which are very helpful. Readers may be surprised to learn how much military success depends on the imponderable and the intangible.

God and General Longstreet: The Lost Cause and the Southern Mind, by Thomas L. Connelly and Barbara L. Bellows. Louisiana $12.95

Was this work really worthy of publication? That is the question posed by a reading of this brief, bothering book. Running to only 158 pages (including a seven-page “Note on Sources” and a two-page index), it goes over ground long since plowed by C. Vann Woodward, Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Paul Gaston, and indeed by one of its own authors: Connelly is the author of The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society, and the chapter here on “Marse Robert” seems mighty like a rewrite. When the authors conclude that Elvis Presley “has been in the years since the southern renascence, the most obvious symbol of the Lost Cause,” they offer just cause for the great Dr. Freeman to rise from his grave and smite them.

The Jews of Warsaw, 1939—1943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt, by Yisrael Gutman. Indiana $24.95

This excellent translation of a work by a prominent Israeli historian is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on Polish Jewry during the Second World War. Professor Gutman has assembled an enormous amount of material and has carefully rethought the whole complex of problems associated with the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto; it is often forgotten that that campaign took far longer than the destruction of whole nations. This work will stand as the definitive study.

From Conquest to Collapse: European Empires from 1815 to 1960, by V. G. Kiernan. Pantheon $16.95

This is an interesting survey of British Imperial history; it is less satisfactory in dealing with Russia, France, and other imperialist nations. Europeans shouldered the burden of governing “inferior” peoples, then made the conquered conquer themselves. The British were especially good at this until the Sepoy Mutiny showed that the peoples of Afro-Asia were not always reliable servants of Her Majesty. Imperialism and colonialism shaped the world we live in today, and it is good to have a succinct review of those phenomena from a distinguished British historian.

The Superhistorians: Makers of Our Past, by John Barker. Scribner’s $19.95

History is either the most scientific of the arts or the most artistic of the sciences. In describing how we once lived, it influences the way we think and live today and thus tomorrow. The Canadian historian John Barker has looked at some outstanding historians from ancient Greece to the modern era in an ambitious, praiseworthy attempt to understand why we think as we do about the past and about ourselves. Of particular interest are his chapters on St. Augustine, Marx, and Nietzsche. A concluding chapter on “The American Frontier” is a little masterpiece.

Fire in America, by Stephen J. Pyne. Princeton $35

Professor Pyne is a brave man to have undertaken such a large task: in this volume he has written “a cultural history of wildland and rural fire” in the United States. His book is aimed at three groups: historians, “fire managers,” and the general public. Pyne’s book is fascinating, but for the general public, and even for historians, 600 densely packed pages are too much. The book will serve as a valuable reference work.

Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Tudor and Stuart England, by Audrey Eccles. Kent State $18

High mortality rates among women in childbirth and among infants at birth were a fact of life in Tudor and Stuart England. Gradually, however, observation and study made inroads on the traditional midwifery, which in many cases was at best incompetent. Not all new methods and techniques were unequivocal successes at first, some of them in fact also producing death through sepsis until the development of basic hygiene. Examining available records, medical tracts, and popular literature, Eccles shows how tradition and social pressure as in clothing styles (as for example, stays, the continued use of which tended to deform the woman in such a way as to make it impossible for her to give birth), and erroneous conceptions of anatomy and medicine, initially hindered the development of better obstetrical techniques. Eccles” excellent study is a readable, scholarly history of a neglected but very important aspect of science. At the same time, it is a good example of intellectual history.

Ministers of Reform: The Progressives’ Achievement in American Civilization, 1889—1920, by Robert Crunden. Basic Books $17.95

With searching analysis, Mr. Crunden argues that the ethos of progressive reform and creativity in politics and the arts, in higher education and religion, and in social welfare and journalism was born out of an ambivalent attachment to the moral vision of evangelical Protestantism and republicanism and a determination to shape the future of an urban, secular America. He demonstrates that the same spirit of innovation so typical of the era’s politics also characterized its artistic endeavors. Thus the book includes as main characters Charles Ives, Frank Lloyd Wright, and various painters of the Ashcan School. All in all, a well-executed study of an important subject.

Wars and Revolutions: Britain, 1760—1815, by Ian R. Christie. Harvard $22.50

In this volume of Harvard’s “New History of England” series, Christie characterizes the reign of George III as an era of crisis in which Britain was fighting for survival. The author centers his work around the theme of the strength and adaptability of British society and emphasizes the influence of international and imperial affairs when discussing domestic politics. The major drawback of this book is its organization: Christie’s mixing of topical and chronological chapters should have been avoided.

Love of Order: South Carolina’s First Secession Crisis, by John Barnwell. North Carolina $25

This is one of those books whose thesis is convincing, whose research is thorough, whose presentation is logical, and yet whose argument is so unoriginal and uninspiring that one almost wishes for a dramatic flaw to enliven matters. Barnwell argues that antebellum South Carolina was obsessed with slavery and as a result overreacted to antislavery challenges from the North. Some Carolina political leaders called for the state’s unilateral secession in 1850—51, while others argued that cooperation with other Southern states offered a safer path for slavery. Love of Order pulls together the details of this conflict but tells us little we have not known about South Carolina for a long time.

LIVES & LETTERSSouthern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era, edited by Howard N. Rabinowitz. Illinois $27.50 cloth, $9.95 paper

This volume has been sorely needed. It contains a collection of 14 essays by such prominent historians as John Hope Franklin and Thomas C. Holt. The essays include biographies of black congressmen, collective biographies of state legislators and constitutional convention delegates, and sketches of the lives of hitherto forgotten local leaders. The subjects of some of these biographies are striking—for instance, John R. Lynch of Mississippi, who at 25 was the well-respected speaker of the state House of Representatives and later went on to serve several terms in Congress, to study and practice law, and then to experience a full military career. Other particularly striking characters are Aaron A. Bradley and George T. Ruby, who were organizing black labor even in the 1860’s. Highly recommended.

Young Edward Gibbon: Gentleman of Letters, by Patricia B, Craddock. Johns Hopkins $25

Young Edward Gibbon is the biography of Gibbon up to his beginning the composition of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Craddock emphasizes two aspects of the young Gibbon’s life: the affective side of his character and the development of his scholarly techniques and interests. He contends that other biographies and studies tend to take as their subject the mature Gibbon and, consequently, that these works give an incomplete and oversimplified account of him. Craddock’s treatment of the development of Gibbon’s scholarly talents is impressively argued. Such praise is not, however, due to her study of the emotional aspects of Gibbon’s character, for she is overly speculative.

The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 18881918, by Isabel V. Hull. Cambridge $39.50

Historians are becoming more adept at social history. This study of the Kaiser’s intimate circle is one of the more valuable books on German history of recent years, and it demonstrates the heightened sophistication of late 20th-century historiography. Wilhelm’s public posture, full of bluster and bombast, contrasted markedly with his behavior when he was surrounded by his cronies, some of whom had strong homosexual tendencies. The real man underneath the spiked helmet is revealed in this book as in no other biography.

An Abyss Deep Enough: Letters of Heinrich von Kleist with a Selection of Essays and Anecdotes, edited and translated by Phillip B. Miller. Dutton $17

The major plays and Novellen of Heinrich von Kleist have long been available in English translation. Yet much of what makes Kleist such an interesting if enigmatic figure of the German Romantic period is to be found in his letters, essays, and anecdotes. His epistolary musings chronicle his fortunes (too few) and his ultimate failure (too soon). His essays and anecdotes reveal a mind willing and capable of dealing with a wide range of aesthetic topics, often in an amusingly polemical fashion. One can expect no more of a translator than that he re-create as much of the style and sense of his original as possible. Miller has done so. Further, his occasional brief notes provide the reader unfamiliar with Kleist’s life with important information. One has here, all in all, very readable translations of the lesser-known writings of a “genius’s genius,”

The Past Has Another Pattern: Memoirs, by George W. Ball. Norton $19.95

George Ball is an enigma and a somewhat tragic figure in American politics from his intimate ties with an unsuccessful presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, to his public service as in-house critic of the Vietnam War in the Johnson administration. He can write; he grasps the harsh realities of politics, diplomacy, and economics; and his relations with leading public figures blend loyalty with independence. He has confronted public issues with courage and clarity and pursued and gained respect in the corridors of power. Yet whether because of certain insecurities that may go back to his nonelitist Midwestern background or a later self-conscious demeanor of an investment banker, Ball’s public career has been on the fringes rather than at the center of power. As one reads his absorbing account, one concludes the nation has sometimes been the poorer for his having been overlooked.

The Diary of Beatrice Webb. Vol. 1,18731892: Glitter Around and Darkness Within, edited by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie. Harvard $25

The first volume of an ambitious set, which will eventually put into print excerpts from the subject’s lifelong diary of 57 notebooks, this work covers the life of Beatrice Webb from age 15 until her marriage at 36 to the Fabian ideologist Sidney Webb. In addition to demonstrating the evolution of her socialist views, the editors succeed in capturing the spirit of a changing society which, to Beatrice Webb, was full of injustice and badly in need of reform. This book is a must for anyone interested in the birth of the British Labour movement or the social problems of late Victorian England.

Mr. Gregory’s Letter-Box, edited by Lady Gregory. Oxford $36

Sir William Gregory and his wife spent hours in the library at Coole and on occasion talked of reading through the contents of the large, iron-clamped, leather-covered box marked “Correspondence of the Right Honourable William Gregory, 1813—1835,” but it was not until some time after her husband’s death in 1892 that Lady Gregory “set to work and came at last to the bottom of the box.” She decided to edit the correspondence, and the result of her work was first published in 1898, more than 80 years before this second edition, which is volume 20 of the Coole edition. “Old Mr. Gregory” was under secretary for Ireland from 1813 to 1831 and as such had to show each new viceroy and chief secretary “the working of the ropes.” The correspondence in the letter-box reflects this clearly, just as the manner and scope of the editing reflect Lady Gregory’s quality of mind and feeling.

The Chosen Instrument—Pan Am, Juan Trippe: The Rise and Fall of an American Entrepreneur, by Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul. Simon & Schuster $19.95

Lurking beneath this awkward title (even dust jacket and title page don’t agree) and innumerable digressions is a pretty good biography of an aviation pioneer turned autocrat. This story also tells much about the early days of international flight and Pan Am’s quasi-official status as an arm of U. S. foreign policy. Trippe clearly had vision, was given to schemes and dreams, and ruled his empire with a tight hand. In the 1940’s, Matthew Josephson of the Robber Barons portrayed him as heir to their mantle on a world-wide scale. Trippe, according to Bender and Altschul, was furious, but it would appear—to stir up metaphors—that the shoe fit extremely well indeed.

Theodore Dreiser: The American Diaries, 1902—1926, edited by Thomas P. Riggio. Pennsylvania $28.50

This volume contains all seven of Dreiser’s American diaries, in publication for the first time. The entries begin in the year 1902 in Philadelphia and poignantly convey his depression after the suppression of Sister Carrie. Also included is Dreiser’s journal of a 1916 sea voyage to Savannah, which includes his reflections on Southern society and the Southern Negro. A Greenwich Village diary is full of names and allusions to works in progress and is pervaded by accounts of his sexual activities. The diary of 1919—25 details Dreiser’s Hollywood experience and his romance with Helen Richardson, revealing also his state of mind during the writing of An American Tragedy. The text of the diaries is supplemented by photographs and by a lengthy, informative introduction by Thomas Riggio.

Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen Simpson. Random House $15.50

“Anxiety,” “paranoia,” “breakdown,” “mania”: the language of madness pervades this depressing memoir of modern American poetry’s halcyon years—the years of Lowell, Schwartz, Roethke, Jarrell, Blackmur, and Berryman, the author’s onetime husband. As Schwartz once warned Simpson, “poets’ wives lead rotten lives,” and, as if to prove him right, she details the adultery, the drugs, and the liquor—all justified, they argued, by the pursuit of lofty poesy. Granted, Simpson’s not a literary critic, so we sometimes lose sight of her subjects” genuine accomplishments. Yet her training as a psychologist well suits her historical patients—a self-absorbed bunch of ninnies who needed to be coddled through every verse. If Poets in Their Youth adds little to our understanding of modern poetry, it compensates by debunking the myth of the charmingly mad poet.

We discover him not to be romantically excessive but prosaically obnoxious.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Completest Mode, by John Needham. Edinburgh $20

Brilliantly argued and amply documented, this aggressive little volume reasserts not only the merit of the New Criticism (20 years post mortem) but also identifies that much-maligned trend with the very mainstream of English literary theory from Johnson down. Least convincing in his attack on structuralism and deconstruction, Needham nevertheless mounts a cogent enough defense of his somewhat reactionary thesis to prevent the Richards-Leavis-Eliot school from serving—at least for the time being—as anyone’s target of opportunity.

Literary Landscape: Turner and Constable, by Ronald Paulson. Yale $18.95

Though ambitious, erudite, and richly suggestive, this book is deeply troubled. Despite its insights into the conventions of landscape poetry and landscape painting, despite its dazzling speculations on the psychological basis for Constable’s apparent aliterarity and Turner’s seemingly selfconscious textuality, Paulson’s study skips over the indispensable first step in the analysis of ekphrasis, namely the establishment of a sound, convincing basis for the comparison of sister arts. Like Sypher’s Four Stages of Renaissance Style and From Rococo to Cubism, this is a fragile and only marginally useful book.

Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in the New Republic, 1725—1810, by Emory Elliott. Oxford $19.95

In this solid, needed, and sometimes pedestrian study of literature in the new American republic, Elliott shows how writers as diverse in temperament as the Calvinist Timothy Dwight and the freethinking (and eventually radical) Joel Barlow shared a common goal: saving society from abiding consensus, ideology, blind conformity, and materialism. They discovered, as American writers and artists have ever since, that egalitarian antiauthoritarianism is not necessarily hospitable to—or even conscious of—high art. Elliott’s principal achievement is to show convincingly that one of these earlier writers, Charles Brockden Brown, deserves to be acclaimed as the first genuine American man of letters. Brown, like Matthew Arnold in England, tried to bridge the rational and confident world of Lockean epistemology with the coming modern sensibility of alienation, displacement, and vulnerability to unconscious drives.

The Joycean Way: A Topographical Guide to “Dubliners” and “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by Bruce Bidwell and Linda Heffer. Johns Hopkins $25

Joyce was a fictionist of place: to read his work without visualizing Dublin as architecture and movement is to experience it by halves. Bidwell and Heffer have thus rendered an immense service to readers exiled by time or memory from early modern Dublin. Pictorially the volume is not on a par with the great Pléiade album on Balzac. Happily, however, The Joycean Way is richer because illumined by a learned and fluent commentary. And since it was not created as an instant rare book, it will reach and enlighten a far vaster audience than its French counterpart.

Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy, by Dennis R. Danielson. Cambridge $34.50

Milton set out in his great epic to make clear the justice of God’s ways to man; this essay sets out to make clear Milton’s ways of presenting God to his readers. We have had enough of Empsonian condemnations of Milton’s God who “was working for the Fall all along,” enough of other commentary from those who dabble but don’t delve in theology. Danielson’s is a healthy answer: concrete, comprehensive, and sometimes complex. He admits that his book “will probably speak [to] perhaps onethousandth of 1 percent as many as have watched television’s most popular soap opera,” and even those will find it hard-going at times. But it is, at least for the present, the only major work, as he claims, that “sets out to elucidate both conceptually and historically the immediate issues of theodicy—of the justifications of God’s ways—with reference to the great literary achievement that is Paradise Lost.” One can take exception to some of his points, particularly about his reluctant rejection of Lovejoy’s idea of the Fortunate Fall, but in the vast majority of the others he speaks with knowledge and authority to a fit audience, even if few.

The Invention of the Real, by Richard G. Stern Georgia $15

If by some outside chance this largely pointless miscellany survives the season, let us blame the author’s undeniable gifts as a stylist. The very exactitude and daring that confer distinction on his eccentric short stories merely spice up these banal, often fragmentary poems, essays, newspaper pieces, and diary extracts. Only those who know Stern personally or take a professional interest in his contexts and backgrounds will not be finally bored by the spectacle of his solo dance before a mirror, a few meters north of the Midway Plaisance.

Inventions: Writing, Textuality, and Understanding in Literary History, by Gerald L. Bruns. Yale $18.95

As “literary theory,” this book is preposterous—Bruns proposes that we admit there is no truth, but only rhetorical invention, and so that in place of correctness we study copia—but nevertheless Inventions is cleverly, sometimes movingly written, and even at its silliest remains engaging. If one seeks Bruns’ springs of inspiration, W. J. Ong bubbles first to the surface, and Bruns’ cleverest pages concern the transition from oral to written culture—but this is already to begin taking too seriously a book which should remain all it can really aspire to be, i. e., very sophisticated entertainment.

Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder, by Elizabeth K. Helsinger Harvard $25

Taking as her central theme Ruskin’s lifelong ambition to reform the perception of his contemporaries, Elizabeth Helsinger provides a splendidly illuminating meditation on many phases of Ruskin’s style, its relation to his theory of art, of visual perception; on the development of landscape art from the late 18th century through Turner; on landscape poetry of the same era (some of this book’s best pages concern Wordsworth and the Victorian reaction against his theory of the sublime). The book could have been shorter and its quotations more aptly chosen, but no one has written so well on Ruskin’s (and the Victorians’) notions of reader and spectator of works of art.

The Attack on Literature and Other Essays, by René Wellek. North Carolina $18

This collection of essays written during the last decade is a sequel to Concepts of Criticism (1963), Confrontations (1965), and Discriminations (1970). It will serve as a valuable guide to trends of literary scholarship during the last two decades, both in this country and abroad. Although he speaks with respect of many contemporary critics (especially of their practical criticism), the author cares not a whit for their theorizing. He objects to the notion of the “disappearance of literature,” to the “new nihilism” or “new apocalyptic irrationalism” of the fashionable critics of our day, and he objects equally to what one might call neo-intentionalism, which begs the question of quality. Wellek insists that aesthetic experience differs from other experiences; that art refers to the world outside; that art cannot be described only by linguistics. He defends the New Criticism and points out that much of the so-called new literary history is not so new. One suspects that in a future History of Modern Criticism much of what displeases Wellek at present will be seen as of marginal significance.

The Art of Aeschylus, by Thomas Rosenmeyer. California $34.95

Without using a letter of Greek type, and with only a few transliterated Greek terms, Rosenmeyer manages a spacious, comprehensive but also highly detailed survey that classicists will respect and nonclassicists can trust. The interest is more in general dramatic technique than in the interpretation of particular plays, and the discussion sometimes threatens to devolve into a list of objections and qualifications to traditional large claims about Aeschylus’s meaning. But grand ideas benefit from such encounters, and a feeling for Aeschylus’s breadth and power survives.

Jaroslav Hašek: A Study of “Svejk” and the Short Stories, by Cecil Parrott. Cambridge $34.50

The Good Soldier Schweik remains perhaps the greatest of modern antiwar novels, a far more profound work than, for example, All Quiet on the Western Front or the hilarious but lightweight Catch-22. Schweik’s creator, the Czech writer Ha˘sek, was an anarchist, an alcoholic, and an utter misfit. He was captured by the Russians in 1916 and saw the Bolshevik Revolution, which he admired and in whose service he worked for a few months in 1917—18. After his return to Prague, he continued the Schweik saga and finally published it shortly before his death. This is a splendid piece of literary criticism.

FICTIONThe Killing Ground, by Mary Lee Settle. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $14.95

Mary Lee Settle is one of our better contemporary American novelists, as she proves once more in this the conclusion of her Beulah Quintet. Never mind the numerous occasions the reader has wished that Settle would get on and be done with the quintet. The theme and Settle’s style have carried him on through these setbacks, through Settle’s irritating detours. The Killing Ground opens with just such a detour, Hannah McKarkle’s return to the home of her youth, Canona, West Virginia. If the reader can traverse the rugged terrain of Settle’s account of Canona social life, then a treasure awaits him as the story turns to McKarkle’s deceased brother.

Masseni, by Tidiane Dem, translated by Francis Frenaye. Louisiana $12.95

This West African novel, which won the Pegasus Prize for Literature, would make an excellent introduction for the interested Western reader to an enormous body of contemporary African fiction (much of it published in the illustrious Heinemann’s African Writers’ Series). The novel is at times a poignant tribal love story, at times an engrossing adventure story, and always easily accessible to a Western audience. The book takes place on the northern Ivory Coast and explores themes such as a young wife’s barrenness and co-wives’ jealousies. Perhaps its biggest strength is its ability simultaneously to draw the reader into the culture described and yet evoke sympathy with pan-human emotions and dilemmas which, while created within cultures, nevertheless in some ways transcend them.

An Unsuitable Attachment, by Barbara Pym. Button $12.50

Pym’s understated style is well suited to describing the relationships between unmarried men and women no longer young. Her characters are librarians, professors, or clergymen, with quiet lives filled with humdrum tasks and petty social obligations to one another. But behind their circumspect theories about matrimony one finds the professor researching the sexual habits of primitive tribesmen and the librarian falling in love with the wrong man.

Worldly Goods, by Michael Korda. Random House $14.95

Why do two of the richest men in the world hate each other? Why will Paul Foster and Nicholas Greenwood go to any lengths to destroy each other? The answers lie in the past, during World War II, with a family named de Grünwald and the Nazi Wotan Project. Investigative reporter Irving Kane begins digging into the past, triggering the final act of the vendetta. Set in the late 1950’s, this novel is not so much a novel of suspense as a Hedda Hopper gossip column version of ruthless high finance, family hatred, etc. Actually, it isn’t that bad—but it isn’t that good, either, because Korda is not consistent within the styles of his time periods. Such consistency is crucial to the success of the novel.

Master of the Moor, by Ruth Rendell. Pantheon Books $11.95

A mistress of mystery in the same league with Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh, Ruth Rendell is getting to be as prolific as Agatha Christie—and she writes with a good deal more depth and perception than the late, great Dame Agatha. This is her 21st novel; and like its predecessors, it will keep you rapidly turning its pages. The plot involves a menacing, mysterious moor and a young man who considers himself its master until he discovers the body of a strangled girl and reports the murder to the police, whose reaction is anything but helpful. After that, all hell breaks loose for the strange “master of the moor,” with terrifying consequences for him and a jolly good read for all who savor British mystery at its best.

The Only Place to Be, by Joan Juliet Buck. Random House $14.95

This novel is not good enough to be called bad; it is simply not a novel at all. A poor little rich girl grows up in France and learns to speak schoolgirl French, which is thrown at the reader on nine pages out of ten; at times it would appear that the book is a French grammar—but the French is so bad that it cannot be that. The author is a contributing editor of Vogue; strangely enough, so is the simple soul who is the “heroine” of the novel. Both seem to believe that truth lies in name-dropping, wisdom in speaking in tongues.

Match Trick, by Don Zacharia. Linden $12.95

After Noel’s wife is killed by a falling air conditioner while locked in an embrace with her lover on a New York street, the grieving widower takes up with a mysterious woman who delights in humiliating him. The difficulty is, from Noel’s point of view, that he likes being dragged through the muck. This sends him to a therapist, who is also treating his two children for their grief. Creative and destructive impulses get crossed up and confused; Noel finally escapes. This is a serious, if excessively graphic, novel.

The Good Old Stuff, by John D. McDonald. Harper & Row $14.95

Travis McGee addicts will wallow in this delightful collection of a baker’s dozen of golden goodies; the best mystery pulp magazine articles that were published by America’s modern consummate storyteller a generation ago, the first of which was sold for a paltry 25 dollars.

The Samurai, by Shusaku Endo. Harper & Row $12.95

It may seem a great paradox that one of the world’s leading Catholic novelists is Japanese. If so, then Shusaku Endo has turned that paradox into his life’s work. In his earlier profoundly spiritual novel, Silence, Endo used some sketchy historical details of two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries trapped in Japan, at a point in the early 17th century when persecution of Christians had begun there, to explore the agony and beauty of faith in a world of radical unbelief. In this new work Endo makes a similar attempt from the Japanese perspective: a lowly samurai-retainer (once again, an actual, if obscure, historical figure) is sent to Mexico in 1615 to set up a trade relationship in return for possible cessation of the persecution of Japanese Christians. His companion is a Franciscan missionary hoping to be named Bishop of Japan. Unbeknownst to the two, their mission has only been a ruse by the Japanese lords. Yet during their fantastic four-year journey— which ultimately takes them to Madrid and Rome—the simple samurai, at first skeptical, slowly comes to accept a kind of orientalized faith in Jesus. In this respect the novel may be said to be autobiographical of Endo himself.

Kilcaraig, by Annabel Carothers. St. Martin’s $17.95

This first novel by Carothers is the saga of three generations of the Lament family as they make their life on the island of Mull just off the west coast of Scotland. Carothers tells the story of the Lamont family’s struggle to maintain the old way of life on Mull against encroaching modernization. But what might have been an engrossing and picturesque tale is, instead, a more or less mundane modern romance. Anyone who has visited the island of Mull will be disappointed by this work. And this is doubly the case for anyone interested in a good novel.

Taking Care, by Joy Williams. Random House $12.50

Although slyly seasoned with hope and laughter, the essential territory of a Joy Williams story is a profoundly empty place where people move among each other yet remain alone—an Edward Hopper kind of place but set in the absurd landscape of contemporary America. In the title story an elderly preacher struggles to understand his daughter and his wife, as the former leaves him her child and runs off to Mexico and the latter struggles for her life in a cancer ward. In another story, perhaps the most haunting (and one that won the 1980 National Magazine Award), a woman daydreaming at the wheel one dark, snowy night runs down a young man by accident. Later, the victim’s mother, a stranger, comes to the woman to share the latter’s young daughter, the only child left between them. The 16 stories in Taking Care should be read in as many sittings. Read together, they overlap, smothering each other. Read separately they can be mulled over, savored, grown with.

Destination Biafra, by Buchi Emecheta. Allison & Busby $14.95

Nigerian novelist Emecheta accomplishes a difficult task: she presents the Nigerian civil war as both an ultimately futile exercise in political, economic, ethnic, and neocolonialist goals and as a human tragedy. The plot follows the story of Debbie Ogedemgbe, daughter of a corrupt bureaucrat, Oxford-educated, trying out feminism alternately by having an affair with a British official and by joining the Nigerian army to seek a united Nigeria and becoming embroiled in a personally harrowing journey through the bush to seek this ever-evasive goal. On a broader scale, there are few heroes in the novel: not the corrupt Nigerian bureaucrats; not the idealistic soldiers who overthrew them in the 1966 coup; not the Biafran leaders who killed their own young Igbo draft resisters; and certainly not the British who provided arms to Nigeria against Biafra to protect their oil interests, then hypocritically flew in Red Cross planes for those wounded by their arms. And there are even fewer winners: not the 50,000 massacred, not the widows and orphans left to mourn them. This is a powerful novel that cannot fail to leave any reader untouched.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSPolitical Philosophy and the Open Society, by Dante Germino. Louisiana $18.50

Germino argues that a valid theory of the open society should be the centerpiece of any critical science of politics and of interpretations of the nature of politics. He examines with subtlety and balance the strengths and limitations and the future of the open society. His work stands alone as being neither an apologia nor an indictment of free societies but a route to political understanding grounded in the history of thought and the idea of a universal community of mankind. With this work, Germino establishes himself as a major American political thinker.

Post-Conservative America, by Kevin P. Phillips. Random House $14.50

The great paradox of American conservatism is that the tradition it seeks to preserve—or restore—is a tradition of revolution. This paradox is especially evident among those who supported Ronald Reagan’s drive to the presidency. Antiestablishment, populist, religiously and culturally fundamentalist, while lower middle class and primarily from the South and West—the “outsider” America of Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan—Reagan conservatives are radical in their determination to overthrow the liberal status quo. For Kevin Phillips, who foresaw The Emerging Republican Majority a dozen years ago, the vital question is if this radical “conservatism” can work or can make itself the dominant force in American politics over the long term. Much of this insightful though impressionistic analysis suggests that it cannot but will instead give way to a politics postliberal and postconservative.

The Politics of Economic Modernization in the Soviet Union, by Erik P. Hofmann and Robbin F. Laird. Cornell $19.50

In the 1920’s, Stalin and Trotsky debated whether the Soviet Union could create socialism without help from abroad. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Soviet leaders have been debating whether they can keep their system—whatever they call it—afloat without help from the West. The answer seems to be, as Messrs. Hofmann and Laird demonstrate, that Western aid has always been essential. Left to itself, the Soviet economy would surely collapse within a very short time.

Corwin on the Constitution, edited with an introduction by Richard Loss. Cornell $32.50

Edward S. Corwin was this century’s foremost constitutional authority, whose influence reached far beyond the walls of the academy. This collection of his major essays on the foundations of American constitutional and political thought, the powers of Congress, and the president’s power of removal is timely in an era of renewed interest in the Constitution and invaluable to students in making hitherto scattered essays more readily accessible. Among the essays included here are the celebrated, “The “Higher Law” Background of the Constitution,” and the provocative “The Impact of the Idea of Evolution on the American Political and Constitutional Tradition.” An introductory essay by the editor provides biographical detail and an overview of Corwin’s teaching and importance. Two additional volumes will include Corwin’s essays on other aspects of the American constitutional system.

The Underclass, by Ken Auletta. Random House $17.50

If any of us are gulled into thinking we have wiped out poverty in our time (Reagan’s adviser, Martin Andersen, has so asserted), Auletta’s weighty study will bring home the shocking news. A perpetual class of social dropouts has become part of the American fabric. Nurtured by welfare dependency, members of this “underclass” lead lives of boisterous desperation. Called “victims” by liberals, they are frequently the “victimizers” on the urban landscape. But Auletta cuts through traditional liberal/conservative debates on poverty. He avoids writing a “sociological yak piece” by concentrating on real people in a moderately successful job-training program. The lesson? That no theory adequately comprehends the complexities of poverty’s vicious realities.

Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam, by Larry Herman. Norton $14.95

As the title suggests, this study focuses on the process of decision-making by which the Johnson administration came to increase drastically American involvement in the Vietnamese conflict, in July of 1965. Making use of “hitherto unavailable secret documents,” Mr. Berman indicates that the discussion between the president and his advisors was governed, for the most part, by two basic propositions—i. e., 1) the policy of containment vis-à-vis communism and the domino theory, and 2) that the president, at least at times, manipulated the advisory process so that it served to form a consensus for his views rather than to evaluate policy. In the end, Berman claims that Johnson’s Vietnam policy was developed in the service of his perception of the needs of his domestic legislative program. Thus the president chose to avoid the short-term political risks of formal war or withdrawal in favor of the “limited warfare” policy that eventually destroyed his administration. Berman’s study is certainly interesting and the extensive use of documents illuminating. Whether the results are really so original as advertised is another matter, of course.

Beyond the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibilities of the Modern University, by Derek Bok. Harvard $15.95

This is the most important book on the university’s role in American life since Clark Kerr’s Uses of the University (1963). And it is substantially different in substance and tone. Kerr, president of the University of California proclaimed the triumphs of the “multiversity” and quipped that his most difficult problems were providing football tickets for the alumni, parking for the faculty, and sex for the students. Bok, president of Harvard University, focuses on the new and difficult ethical issues that emerged during the last generation: institutional autonomy and the increasing demands of government, the social responsibilities of scientific researchers, affirmative action in the recruitment of students and faculty, and the difficulties inherent in taking political positions on war, poverty, apartheid, and the like, Bok’s lengthy analysis of these matters and more is at once pragmatic and principled. Many people will dissent from his conclusions; but every university administrator, faculty member, and student activist ought to grapple with his arguments. Bok’s main point is unassailable. The university’s social responsibilities are greater today than at any point in history, and its “moral credibility” simply must be enhanced.

Bitter Legacy: Polish-American Relations in the Wake of World War II, by Richard C. Lukas. Kentucky $16

No other nation of Eastern Europe has the hold upon American public opinion and politics that Poland has, and this is due only in part to the large Polish community in America. Poland has long been an outpost of Western civilization in the East, a barrier against the Oriental despotisms of czars and commissars. This splendid, dispassionate account of America’s mistakes, missed opportunities, and general clumsiness in dealing with the Polish problem after the Second World War illuminates some murky corners of American foreign policy.

Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan, by Daniel Czitrom. North Carolina $19.95

This book suffers from a serious flaw: it has no discernible thesis. The apparent goal is to analyze America’s intellectual reaction to the changes wrought upon culture and society by the rise of technological media. But what is “the American mind?” Czitrom imposes no coherent framework on his broad subject area; instead he adopts a two-part approach which tends to give his study the flavor of a pastiche. In the first part, three new media (telegraphy, motion pictures, and radio) are examined in terms of the nation’s cultural expectations for them and the ensuing realities. In the second part, Czitrom studies various social thinkers’ attempts to incorporate the effects of the new media into their communication theories. Czitrom’s scattershot approach leaves him relatively opinionless; the closest he comes to a position of his own is when he accuses John Dewey of failing to foresee the commercial domination of radio broadcasting.

The New Class War: Reagan’s Attack on the Welfare State and its Consequences, by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward. Pantheon $11.95 cloth, $4.95 paper

The authors present a well-documented condemnation of the Reagan administration’s economic policies, arguing that they constitute an all-out assault on the incomemaintenance and social welfare programs assumed by the federal government since the 1930’s. This unrestrained attack on the poor, coupled with the diversion of federal money to big business, amounts to class war. Having written three previous books on the welfare system, Cloward and Piven here review the history of poor people’s struggles against the arbitrary power of employers and for protection against the vicissitudes of the capitalist economy. The last chapter argues that Reagan’s policies, such as the “New Federalism” and the abandonment of the working poor, the unemployed, and the unemployable, contain within them the seeds of their destruction. They call for a mass mobilization of these people to create a society that is socially and economically, as well as politically, democratic.

POETRYNorthbook, by Frederick Morgan. Illinois $10 cloth, $4.95 paper

The language in Morgan’s third book of poems is at once elegant and direct, allowing him to seem to be writing down, effortlessly and gracefully, just what his imagination sees. And the range of what it sees is wide: Norse gods, alive and active; skulls in an alley, whispering; recollections of a climb to the top of “Castle Rock”; a meeting with a dead friend out walking again; and more. What is chiefly refreshing in Morgan’s work is his frank presentation of metaphysical speculations that interest few poets writing today. Finally, his probings into transcendence surround even his poems on the most quotidian of subjects with a light of wonderment. In Morgan’s own words, perspectives open “to the moods of time/so that life’s daily plainness/ shifts and dissevers to the darkening view.”

Common Ground, by Dabney Stuart. Louisiana $5.95

Dabney Stuart’s style has ranged in many directions through the years. In this collection his strength is the broad, convincing repertoire of vocabularies with which he postures, combining diverse forms of speech—everything from Elizabethan diction and rhymed verse to class dialects, advertising, Westerns, and sports jargon. It is difficult to follow the twists and turns in some of these meditations, and the wit and wordplay are often a bit heavyhanded. Still, Stuart is acute in his perceptions of the painful distances among family members and the self-conscious intellectual’s struggles to see and be seen clearly.

New Selected Poems, by Ted Hughes. Harper & Row $15.50 cloth, $6.95 paper

What can we do but celebrate the publication in one volume of the best of a quarter century’s worth of poems by the author of Crow? It is a shame that in recent years we have had to go to anthologies for such justifiably famous earlier poems as “The Thought-Fox,” “The Jaguar,” “The Horses,” “Hawk Roosting,” “View of a Pig,” “Pike,” and “Second Glance at a Jaguar.” It is equally shameful that Crow and to some extent the similarly fabulous Guadete have overshadowed later work like Moortown, which began as a “verse farming diary,” whose realism harks back to poems earlier than Crow, and whose unremitting brutality makes it nature poetry’s equivalent of a Sam Peckinpah Western. It is true that an artist risks self-indulgent overstatement to achieve realism of this kind, but that only makes the brutal honesty of poems such as these all the more stunning.

Puella, by James Dickey. Doubleday $10.95

Dickey’s young wife Deborah, to whom this sequence is dedicated—”her girlhood, male-imagined”—is the “I” of most, if not all, of these 19 poems. Yet Dickey’s concern is not with character but with the capacity of words to communicate the “Thisness” of an experience. Conventional usage and syntax have been abandoned. But if the descriptive titles and subtitular explanations are indispensable to one’s understanding of the poems, Dickey’s language, influenced by Hopkins, possesses still an often eerie—almost archetypal— appropriateness. Puella only seems a radical departure from Dickey’s previous work, for its themes involve the “continuities of blood and family,” domestic life, and human participation in the alien processes of nature. Also Dickey’s familiar two- and three-beat anapestic units often insinuate themselves into these poems, which (except for the last one) are in no way metrical—into lines that are centered on the page and broken according to dramatic design. In short, Puella synthesizes and extends Dickey’s thematic and technical concerns. These poems virtually defy conventional criticism; they deny themselves conventional praise.

Collected Poems, by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz. Random House $10.95

People of all faiths are learning to respect a marvelous man whose astonishing capacity to display wisdom and compassion touches the most ordinary person. Pope John Paul II’s collected poems, published under different names since the early 1940’s, confirm that spirituality, passion, creativity, sensitivity, and compassion can and do fill the heart of any person. Wojtyla’s poems are a delight to read alone in solitude and reread to family and friends; to discover the depth of a soul; to learn that revelation is pure and not equal to television evangelism; to think about God and learn to love ordinary men and women. In the entire history of Catholicism, rarely has a pope shared so much of his innermost thought with his church. A highly recommended work to read, treasure, and learn from.

The Balthus Poems, by Stephen Dobyns. Atheneum $6.95

Dobyns has found a very apt vehicle in Balthus’ paintings, which inspire him to spin marvelous tales of the subjects; people in a street scene, a girl with a mirror, an invalid looking out a window, farmers in a field. He brings out the brooding, erotic quality in the work of this 20th-century French artist, who is perhaps best known for his fascination with adolescent girls in nude or seminude poses and for surreal or primitive landscapes. One might not always agree with the poet’s interpretations, but his imaginings are so intriguing and full of psychological implications that we follow wherever the pictures lead him. A fine collection of narrative poems and an introduction to Balthus, though even just one illustration would have been welcome.

Austerities, by Charles Simic. George Braziller $4.95

Simic’s popularity can perhaps be attributed to his focus on the grinding hardships of life combined with a buoyant, often whimsical tone. With a few sharp, precise strokes, the poet shows us a world of ugliness and deprivation, yet he maintains a sardonic, witty perspective. He draws on history, myth, memories of the Old World—all present in grotesque mock-fable form. While there are not as many outstanding poems in this collection as in previous ones, it is a treat to read more of Simic’s wry, pithy style as he calmly debunks tradition and formality.

Accidental Weather, by Sherod Santos. Doubleday $5.95

Santos writes delicately wrought poems, with a romantic, often exotic atmosphere. At his best, he fits nature and emotion together so that each heightens the lyrical power of the other. He has a fine eye and ear for the subtlest changes in his surroundings, find

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