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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1985

ISSUE:  Winter 1985

Revisionist waves have swept the shores of colonial New England historiography in recent years with greater frequency than in most other fields of American history. Philip F. Gura’s reexamination of Puritan intellectual thought joins other revisionist scholarship in challenging Perry Miller’s conclusions of 30 years ago about the nature of early New England society. In an exceptionally well-written book, Gura disputes Miller’s finding that American Puritanism was monolithic, that there was one “New England Mind,” The author finds that dissidents such as Anne Hutchinson, Samuel Gorton, and William Pynchon— characters whom Millerites have treated as aberrant—represented a significant radical undercurrent that pervaded Bay Colony religious and political culture. Of special interest is the book’s tracing of the relationship between English and New England radicalism. Gura raises, but admittedly leaves unanswered, the intriguing question of how Puritan radicalism may have affected revolutionary ideology in the 18th century.

The Viceroys of India, by Mark Bence-Jones. St. Martin’s $19.95

Bence-Jones offers sensible, workman-like sketches of the reigns of the 20-or-so viceroys who ruled, misruled, failed to rule, or were simply not allowed to rule India during the century of the British raj. But the larger purpose of such a project is a mystery. Specialists will have no use for such summary accounts, and the general reader will not find here either that continuity of theme or viewpoint which makes history meaningful or that richness of narrative detail which brings it to life.

The Wool-Hat Boys: Georgia’s Populist Party, by Barton C. Shaw. Louisiana $22.50

Despite some of the most impressive books ever written by American historians, the Populists continue to elude us. They appear in various guises: befuddled hayseeds, pioneers in racial justice, socialists, innocent victims of the crop lien, creators of a vital and much-missed democratic culture, nostalgic farmers inevitably left by the wayside during the formation of modern America. Barton Shaw’s exciting book does not settle the issue; indeed, it cuts against what had appeared to be an emerging consensus. The places of Populist strength in Georgia, he argues, cannot be explained by the dominant model of a slowly gathering radicalism nurtured by the Farmers’ Alliance. Neither did the Populists flourish in the most remote back-woods or in places where blacks did not threaten white political domination. Rather, Shaw argues, they emerged where a tradition of political dissent against the Democratic party had persisted since before the Civil War. The argument is tantalizing and, on its own terms, generally convincing—although Shaw has nothing to say about whether this pattern emerged in other states in the South. In any case, Shaw has shifted the terms of debate on one of the most studied topics in American history, and that is no mean accomplishment.

American Enterprise in Foreign Markets: Singer and International Harvester in Imperial Russia, by Fred V. Carstensen. North Carolina $29.95

This excellent monograph chronicles the evolution of the Russian subsidiaries of the Singer Sewing Machine and International Harvester companies, the two largest manufacturing firms doing business in Russian on the eve of World War I. Carstensen employs the “strategy and structure” approach to business history pioneered by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., and the book provides the most detailed case studies of American multinational enterprises yet produced by an American scholar. Two things make this an especially valuable work. Carstensen describes how production, marketing, and managerial institutions devised first in the American market got transferred, albeit with subtle yet often crucial adaptations to Russian conditions, into an equally large foreign market. He also casts bright new light on many significant, hotly debated issues concerning the relative importance of public policy, infrastructure, and foreign investment in the relative backwardness of imperial Russia on the eve of World War I. Historians of American business and of Russian economic history will not want to miss this important book.

The Chronicle of the Lódz Ghetto, 1941—1944, edited by Lucjan Dobroszycki. Yale $35

Even in hell they keep records. This is perhaps the central message of this remarkable document, which conveys the horror of life in the ghetto as few accounts do. The juxtaposition of the routine with the unspeakable accentuates the monstrosity of it all. Recently excerpted in the New York Times, the Chronicle has quickly taken its place as one of the major documents of Hitler’s Final Solution.

The Hypocrisy of Justice in the Belle Epoque, by Benjamin Martin. Louisiana $25

This readable book argues that miscarriages of justice associated with the notorious Dreyfus Affair were commonplace under the Third Republic of France. The author examines three celebrated trials to demonstrate the supposed “hypocrisy.” Were these three cases representative? Are they sufficient to establish his point? Do laxity and incompetence constitute corruption? Martin’s claims may well be more than the evidence will bear.

The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics, by Ivo Banac. Cornell $35

A couple of hundred years went by before the inhabitants of our part of North America began to think of themselves as Americans. The inhabitants of modern Yugoslavia, a state born only in 1918, still tend to think of themselves as Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, and so forth, but scholars keep trying to make Yugoslavs out of them. Professor Banac of Yale, however, is an exception and a welcome one. Recognizing the complexity of Yugoslav history, he wisely concentrates on an explication of the various facets of the problem; the result is an excellent study.

Church, Politics and Society in Spain, 1750—1874, by William J. Callahan. Harvard $25

This brilliant and important book is the first detailed study of the decline of the modern church in Spain. Callahan makes sense of a vast, complex, and changing struggle for survival waged by the church against the growing liberal state. He handles a huge amount of material, and documents his cautious (but devastating) statements with facts. His superb sense of organization and skillful blending of different threads of the political and religious spectrum provide the reader with a comprehensible view of a tangled period. Callahan ends his study in 1874, but this book makes more understandable the church’s position in Spanish society today. The image of a strong and monolithic Spanish church crumbles forever under the weight of evidence provided in this book.

Industrialization and Southern Society, 1877—1984, by James C. Cobb. Kentucky $19

The recent annointment of “the Sunbelt” as the hope of America’s industrial future has stimulated curiosity about the economic history of the South. James C. Cobb synthesizes what we know about the region’s industrial development over the last century. As everyone knows, it is not a pretty story, and it gains little attractiveness in this telling. Cobb offers nothing that is novel or surprising in his somewhat shapeless narrative, but this sober summary is a useful corrective to boosters and neo-agrarians alike.

To Starve the Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administration and American Political Culture, 1775—1783, by E. Wayne Carp. North Carolina $29

This book is an invaluable guide to the bewildering maze of systems and methods by which American revolutionaries attempted to supply their soldiers. It is no logistical study, however. Carp focuses on the conflict between military necessity and American political culture and reveals much about the latter. American reluctance to sacrifice local autonomy and republican ideals nearly undermined the war effort, and the nationalist movement that began in 1780 failed in the short run to achieve the efficient centralized administration required for victory. That the Americans won was due, Carp concludes, to Robert Morris’s efforts, French aid, and sheer luck.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia, by Robert I. Burns. Cambridge $59.50

The volatile mix of cultures in eastern Spain during a 40-year period (1245—1285) is the subject of Robert Burns’ latest study, which looks at the pluri-ethnic kingdom of Valencia from different perspectives. Burns answers his many critics, defending his application of certain Christian/ Western terms (“feudal,” for example) to Muslim/eastern border societies. He discusses the problems of methodology and studies surrender documents, the ideas of conversion and assimilation, the role of the Jews, and the “language barrier” within the context of Valencia’s “dual society.” This important book emphasizes that “time and again in the documents, various Muslims and Christians join, share, work, and interact in a reasonably non-conflictive ambience. This was not tolerance. . . . But it was a modus vivendi. . . .”

The Jews of Islam, by Bernard Lewis. Princeton $17.50

Bernard Lewis is probably the foremost scholar of the history of Middle Eastern Jews. This work provides an excellent overview of the interaction between Jew and Moslem from Mohammed’s time to the 20th century. Lewis discusses the commonalities shared by Judaism and Islam and the Jew (and other religious minorities) in Islamic law, society, and history. He shows that the treatment and general welfare of Jewish communities varied greatly between regions and times. Vicious anti-Semitism, however, seems to have been a modern import from Christian sources. The excellent footnotes attest to a marvelous ability to draw from many rare sources in various languages. For a basic overview, however, Lewis’ description is quite complex; this book would have benefited from better organization and a summary.

LIVES & LETTERSSelected Letters of Edmund Burke, edited by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. Chicago $27.50

It is something of a scandal that, given our current notions of what it is to be “literary,” Edmund Burke has largely been written out of the canon of English letters. Only a few conservatives value his prose; most others agree with Tom Paine’s judgment (made of Burke on the Revolution in France) that the great speechmaker “pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.” But Paine was wrong, and the conservatives right at least in identifying the special merit of Burke’s style. As Mansfield argues in his useful introduction to this intelligently selected and edited collection, Burke’s politics grew from a philosophy that all systematic political philosophies must err, and thus prudence and pragmatism are the marks of statesmanship; this philosophical resistance to philosophy governs his prose as well, producing his special chatty, digressive manner and his gnomic wit. This fine collection should help to rescue Burke the writer from both his enemies and his friends.

Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life, by Alice Wexler. Pantheon $19.95

“Red Emma” was in some respects the Jane Fonda of the first two decades of this century. She wasn’t an actress, she was an anarchist, but the two callings have something in common: in both it helps to suspend judgment. Born in the old Russian Empire, she came to this country as a young woman and plunged into radical politics. She was a women’s liberationist at a time when such women were lucky to escape some rallies with their lives, and she believed in and practiced a kind of “free love” that outraged contemporaries (who could not get their fill of stories about her). This new biography is a lot of fun.

Auden in Love, by Dorothy J. Farnan. Simon & Schuster $19.95

Chester Kallman was always the most important man in W. H. Auden’s life, though their sexual affair lasted only two years, 1939—41. Dorothy Farnan is Chester’s stepmother, an English teacher who became third wife to his father, Eddie, a Flatbush Avenue dentist. Farnan tries to tell a tale of beauty misused and brilliance untapped, but somehow neither the Chester peering out of her photographs nor his jokes ever seem as captivating as we are too often told they were. Auden in Love is full of new material unknown to previous biographers; it is also the saddest book on Auden to date, a story of triviality and waste.

Emile Gallé, by Philippe Garner. St. Martin’s $29.95

Born in 1846 to a successful glassmaker in Nancy, Emile Gallé was established by 1900 as the greatest of Art Nouveau designers, both in glass and wood. Appropriately for such a highly literary artist—his furniture often contains inlaid quotations, on which the object as a whole comments— Gallé was to become an avid friend and reader of Baudelaire and the symbolists and, later, of the modernist circle of Count Robert de Montesquiu and Marcel Proust. In this, the first full study of Gallé in English, Philippe Garner of Sotheby’s— amidst a splendid array of illustrations— makes clear both the philosophic and literary inspiration of Gallé’s varied achievement, ending appropriately with the text of Gallé’s programmatic essay in 1900 on “Le Decor Symbolique.”

The English Rothschilds, by Richard Davis. North Carolina $17.95

Many books are written about the Rothschilds, most—other than those written by family members—long on speculation and legend, short on documentable fact about the affairs of the principals. The virtue of this new examination of the most accomplished branch of an astonishingly accomplished family is that Richard Davis has rooted himself in the documentary record, especially in letters written by Rothschilds to one another, in family scrapbooks and diaries, and in the archives of N. M. Rothschild & Sons. The vice is that Davis has not gone far beyond these sources, so that the background of the great affairs in which the Rothschilds involved themselves is often sketched only superficially. And as a storyteller, alas, Davis is pedestrian, making one yearn, if not for the lurid tales that fill so many books about this family, at least for a touch more of the anecdotal.

At Seventy: A Journal, by May Sarton. Norton $15.95

Anyone who now and again seeks some solitude or at least some escape from life’s multiple demands will enjoy May Sarton’s latest journal. Her reflections evoke images of a woman very much at peace with herself and in touch with the sometimes violent, sometimes gentle rhythms of nature. A great book to take on a vacation by the sea or retreat into for a brief respite from a day’s madness.

Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape, 1849—1928, by Ann Thwaite. Chicago $25

Ann Thwaite has taken Edmund Gosse off the library shelf, where he has been gathering dust for a long time, and has made of him a credible if not entirely likable figure. He remains second class but at the top of that class. He was incredibly industrious (the bibliography at the end of the book bears witness to that). He numbered Stevenson, Swinburne, Hardy, and others among his intimate friends. By report he was enormously entertaining at the dinner table and other gatherings. But in spite of all that Ann Thwaite has done for him, he remains dull and boring. Of all his work probably the only piece that will survive is his Father and Son, a painfully honest account of his warped upbringing. Perhaps Virginia Woolf was not too far wrong when she described him as “a crafty, worldly, prim, astute little beast.”

One and Inseparable; Daniel Webster and the Union, by Maurice G. Baxter. Harvard $25

This biography highlights Webster’s congressional career, as well as his service as secretary of state in the Harrison-Tyler and Fillmore administrations. Also illuminating is the author’s description of Webster’s role as a member of the bar of the United States Supreme Court, where the “Godlike Daniel” argued many of the day’s important constitutional law cases. But Baxter’s examination of political issues is superficial, glossing over the rich history of the rise and demise of the Second Party System. Webster’s constituency in his home state, Massachusetts, and on the national level is never clearly identified. Nor are the reasons for the breakup of the Whig Party discussed satisfactorily. By concentrating on the slavery-expansion issue to the neglect of other factors such as nativism, the author has not taken full advantage of current revisionist literature in antebellum political history. As a result of these and similar omissions, Webster, the politician, never fully emerges from the pages of this book.

Hilaire Belloc: A Biography, by A. N. Wilson. Atheneum $17.95

Hilaire Belloc, British poet, satirist, essayist, novelist, and politician, was arguably the single most important influence on Anglo-American Catholicism between the wars. A. N. Wilson, in this definitive biography, draws upon his exclusive access to Belloc’s family archives to paint a rich portrait of a most complicated man. Belloc emerges here a gargantuan figure, by turns eccentric, witty, quarrelsome, and virulent. And Wilson’s account is awash with anecdotes about figures of variable reputation, including the likes of Waugh, Shaw, Chesterton, and H. G. Wells. All in all, the book offers both a delightful read and a masterful biography.

The Authentic Mark Twain: A Literary Biography of Samuel Clemens, by Everett Emerson. Pennsylvania $29.95

At last we have a comprehensive literary biography of Mark Twain. Emerson has uncovered a multitude of facts about Twain’s life as a writer, and cites a great deal of unpublished material by this amazingly prolific author. Throughout his account, Emerson maintains a running contrast between Samuel Clemens the professional writer and “Mark Twain,” the personality he created as he discovered the power of humor and the vernacular language. Unfortunately, The Authentic Mark Twain is rather turgid and slow-moving, considering the enduring interest of its subject matter, but this is still a useful book, even an essential one.

H. G. Wells: Aspects of a Life, by Anthony West. Random House $22.95

There is no reason why Anthony West should not write well, and he does. The son of H. G. Wells and Rebecca West, he was in a position to portray his parents graphically that was available to no one else, and he has taken every advantage of it. In the end result, his father comes off very well; his mother is consistently needled and described as untrustworthy in any matter having to do with his father. But then that is understandable, since he undertook this book with the object in mind that writing it “might be a pleasant way of paying my debts to him.” He has paid that debt in full, but one wonders if he does not also owe a debt to his mother that he has denied. This biography is subtitled “Aspects of a Life.” It goes backward and forward in time. In the end, the portrait of H. G. Wells is presented fully, peccadilloes and all, painted by an admiring son.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car), by Dick Moore. Harper & Row $16.95

A book for aficionados of Hollywood. Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Jackie Coogan, the author himself, and many more are here as child prodigies during the great days of the American film. Beyond the glittering screen is a world of parents exploiting children, of children escaping into the fantasies of their new careers. The author tells us of Shirley Temple’s first screen kiss— implanted upon her left cheek by himself—and offers an endless array of anecdotes based on interviews. Perhaps lacking in perspective, the book bathes its subjects in a romantic glow of privilege and suffering evocative of the very films in which these nascent stars were born.

Galina: A Russian Story, by Galina Vishnevskaya. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $19.95

American music lovers tend to think of Galina Vishnevskaya as the wife of Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist and director of the National Symphony, but her success and fame preceded his in their native Russia, where he was generally thought of as her husband. In any event, they both came//querry? to this country and were stripped of their Soviet citizenship; our gain is the USSR’s loss. Galina gives us a dramatic autobiography that will captivate readers who love music or Russia or (as is often the case) both.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Romantic Predicament, by Geoffrey Thurley. St. Martin’s $22.50

Under able editorial leadership, St. Martin’s is bringing out some of the best sociologically oriented literary history being written today. Its neo-Marxist series English Literature in History boasts brilliantly provocative polemics by Roger Sales and John Barrell. In The Romantic Predicament, the late Geoffrey Thurley brings his characteristic elegance, wit, and theoretical sophistication to the task of showing us how we can learn from the neo-Marxists without succumbing to dialectical materialism. His account of Romanticism—the period in which we still reside, whether in its Victorian manifestation as realism or its 20th-century avatar as modernism—rests on traditional explanations in terms of the death of God and consequent senses of alienation and meaninglessness, but his fluency in modern critical theory permits him to defend such explanations in new and cogent ways (and with witty sallies against such learned doubters as Foucault, Lacan, and Bloom). A wise chapter on “the rise of object-dominance” in poetry (perhaps the best in this important book) skillfully traces up to the present the effects of the 18th-century invention of “descriptive poetry,” and later treatments of Baudelaire and the Symbolists are particularly notable.

William Carlos Williams and Romantic Idealism, by Carl Rapp. New England $17.50

There are getting to be too damned many books about William Carlos Williams, but this one, because it corrects and redirects a number of critical assumptions that have gone too long unchallenged, is worth the attention of any interested party. Rapp analyzes Williams’ theories, stance, and practice as they are extensions of the American traditions of idealistic and transcendental philosophy. In particular, he makes the necessary connection between Williams and Emerson. The association is genuinely illuminating.

Beyond Fiction: The Recovery of the Feminine in the Novels of Cervantes, by Ruth El Saffar. California $19

This careful analysis of Cervantes’ long fictions (La Galatea, Don Quijote Parts I and II, Persiles) is informed by a Jungian emphasis on symbolic patterns. El Saffar studies a developmental trajectory in Cervantes’ writing career and discovers “stages by which Cervantes moves from participation in, to resistence against, to freedom from the entanglements of desire that are the essence of fiction.” Part of this pattern includes the addition of a fourth element to the traditional triangular love relationship, often brought out in the novels’ secondary tales. The result of the development is a greater maturity and a greater unity in Cervantes’ later works, a process which culminates in the Persiles.

Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature, and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760—1840, by Barbara Marie Stafford. MIT $39.50

Artfully printed on heavy paper, with extravagant margins and hundreds of reproductions of rare and out-of-the-way illustrations, Voyage into Substance unsurprisingly required the support of three foundations to be published at its extraordinarily low price. Its subject is important and (in our present critical climate) timely: the literature and art of fact in late Augustan and Romantic England. (In many ways it complements Svetlana Alpers’ recent study of The Art of Description in 17thcentury painting.) Withal, however, Stafford disappoints. Her prolix style obscures the story she tries to tell, while her overfrequent (and often inapposite) quotation of primary sources only makes more glaring her excessive and often undiscriminating dependence on earlier critics as suppliers of her leading ideas. Perhaps most disturbing, text and illustrations often have little to do with one another. But Stafford has mapped out an important territory, one that deserves to, and no doubt soon will, receive better treatment.

Selected Essays of John Crowe Ransom, edited, with an introduction, by Thomas Daniel Young and John Hindle. Louisiana $30

The introduction, which takes itself over-seriously, characterizes Ransom’s poetry-writing as diversion and emphasizes his attempt in prose “to describe exactly the nature and function of poetic discourse and how it differs from a scientific treatise.” The unintended result is that Ransom as theoretician seems quaint indeed among the deconstructionists et al. of today. Another result is the unfortunate omission of Ransom’s late piece on T. S. Eliot’s “Gerontion,” a classic of New Criticism. Still, this is a welcome volume. As Allen Tate justly maintained, Ransom’s essays “will be read, by that mythical character posterity, . . . for their style, regardless of what they say. For John Ransom wrote the most perspicuous, the most engaging, and the most elegant prose of all the poet-critics of our time.”

Beowulf: A Verse Translation with Treasures of the Ancient North, by Marijane Osborn. California $29,95

This is a handsomely produced book. Its 88 halftone illustrations drawn from the art and artifacts of the Norsemen and Anglo-Saxons complement a highly competent and sometimes moving translation of Beowulf. Professor Fred Robinson contributes a brief introduction to the poem, and Professor Osborn supplies notes and a section on the meter and diction of the original. Students of Anglo-Saxon will find little new here, but its probable primary audience of undergraduates and high-school students who are encountering the poem for the first time can be grateful for it as an intelligent and knowledgeable introduction to the poem.

Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy, by James Miller, Yale $25

“The future will tell us,” declared Napoleon on visiting Rousseau’s grave at Ermenonville, “whether it would have been better if neither I nor Rousseau had ever lived.” In this quirkly, willful, richly suggestive book, James Miller (a general editor at Newsweek) argues that it was Rousseau more than anyone else who made possible our modern attitude to democracy, that form of government which heals the breach between man and citizen. His argument rests on a curious way of mixing philosophy with biography, and especially on analysis of Rousseau’s imaginative experience in terms of his doctrine of the philosophic imagination. The hero of egalitarianism who emerges is not the real Rousseau, but he is nonetheless a fiction who helps us to understand ourselves.

Secretary of Praise: The Poetic Vocation of George Herbert, by Diana Benet. Missouri $22.50

By presenting Herbert’s poetic output in terms of his developing ambitions and personal interests, Benet manages to offer a cogent, convincing overview of how the author regarded his own work. She makes a fine case for her notion that, within the poetry, Herbert not only works through his own “spiritual autobiography” but also implicates the reader himself in its unfolding. Overall, a valuable reassessment of Herbert’s life and oeuvre.

The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart. Volume II: Religious Poetry, 1763—1771, edited by Marcus Walsh and Karina Williamson. Oxford $67

After his seven years’ confinement in a madhouse, 1757—63—the years of his cryptically autobiographical Jubilate Agno— Christopher Smart turned to public poetry of religious devotion, producing before his death in 1771 some of the most moving of Augustan lyrics. This volume includes, in beautifully set texts and with extensive notes and commentaries,A Song to David, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, the Parables of our Lord, Smart’s oratorios Hannah and Abimelech (both reprinted for the first time since the 18th century), and the delightful Hymns for the Amusement of Children (reproduced with their original illustrations). It is a magnificent job both of editing and of book production.

Action is Eloquence: Shakespeare’s Language of Gesture, by David Bevington. Harvard $16.50

This ambitious analysis of physical movement seeks to discover precisely what Shakespeare’s audiences saw on stage and what those actions signified. Chapters on costume, expressions, theatrical space, and ceremony support Bevington’s idea that while this language of gestures illuminates character, it also can bewilder with its complexity. Theatrical space and ceremonies relate a sense of order and of conflict; they can reveal or deceive. Although these assertions will not surprise Shakespeare scholars, Bevington provides a helpful structure for an encompassing topic.

Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative, by Peter Brooks. Knopf $17.95

This is the best study of the novel written in many years. Brooks’ combination of Lacan’s peculiar brand of Freudianism and narrative theory succeeds because his use of Lacan is judicious and free of cant, and because the heart of this book provides fascinating readings of some major French, English, and American novels. He reads Le Rouge et le Noir, Great Expectations, and Heart of Darkness brilliantly, and his study of Absalom, Absalom! cuts through years of misapprehension about Faulkner’s narrative strategies. Even the reader not enthralled by the studies of narrative patterns in psychoanalysis and strange Balzac stories will find pleasure in Brooks’ detective work, and in the subtle way he provides us with a usable history of the novel.

The Profession of Player in Shakespeare’s Time, by Gerald E. Bentley. Princeton $25

Professor Bentley’s study is a valuable overview of the profession of the player in London during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Based upon long and careful historical research, his book illuminates the player and his company. He focuses on the three components of all adult companies—sharers, hired men, and apprentices—and three aspects of the players’ activities—managing, touring, and casting. His analyses of the usual practices of English players in this period demonstrate that their profession was both strenuous and uncertain. The book also contains a useful appendix of casts for various Jacobean plays.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSThe New American Poverty, by Michael Harrington. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $17.95

When Michael Harrington’s first major book, The Other America, appeared in 1962, it provided strong ammunition for a social awakening that would culminate in Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Now, more than 20 years later, Harrington marches into the fray again with a renewed look at “the dirty little secret of our country”—that poverty is still with us. With appropriate vigor, he probes the “structures of misery” built into our economic system and surveys a landscape of suffering that contains some 30 million Americans. The prevalent political climate will hardly yield the attention to Harrington’s perspective that followed The Other America. This new book may serve, however, to chronicle the true degree of poverty in an era when many would rather not admit it exists at all.

Measuring Military Power: The Soviet Air Threat to Europe, by Joshua M. Epstein. Princeton $22.50

It is not quite clear what kind of a “gap” it will be called, but it has become evident that NATO has greatly overestimated Soviet conventional strength in Europe. A Canadian Defence Ministry study indicated as much in the early summer of 1984, and now Dr. Epstein of the Brookings Institution reaches the same conclusion with regard to Soviet air power in this important, highly technical study. But as always the reader should ask: why is anyone bothering about conventional war anyway? In a Soviet-American head-to-head clash, there will be nothing conventional.

Fat of the Land, by Fred Powledge. Simon & Schuster $15.95

Why do bananas and oranges, like designer clothing, often sport the logo of the company that picks them? Why are products containing as many as half a dozen additives, preservatives, and fillers allowed to be touted as 100 percent natural? And why do tomatoes, grown in California to be shipped via Chicago for sale in New York, taste like styrofoam? These and several dozen other questions about the American food industry provide a focus for Fred Powledge’s inquisition into government regulation, producers’ profits, and the ubiquitous “middlemen” who transport, process and deliver our food. Powledge takes the reader on a well-detailed and thoroughly readable trip from farm to grocery. By journey’s end the insights are startling enough to make one yearn for an organic garden.

Panama Odyssey, by William J. Jorden. Texas $24.50

The end result was never in doubt after the 1964 riots in Panama. American policy-makers understood that international stability required a new canal treaty; Panamanians knew that domestic tranquility was impossible without it. Yet this insider’s view is an exciting human drama of negotiations that were seemingly always on the brink of disaster. Historically, the result is a measure of inter-American stability, a triumph of Latin American nationhood, and a leap in wisdom. That wisdom, that America can negotiate in this world, is wonderfully encapsulated in this primer on international relations. This is the story of an American odyssey.

Soviet Policy in Eastern Europe, edited by Sarah M. Terry. Yale $27.50

Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, this is the Establishment’s view of Soviet policy in Eastern Europe. The contributors are those self-consciously “toughminded” specialists and emigres//querry? who have all the facts and little of the knowledge required to get at the truth; none has much appreciation for the historical background. Nevertheless, the facts they present in abundance can be useful and instructive if one does not take their conclusions seriously.

The Constitution: That Delicate Balance, by Fred Friendly and Martha Elliott. Random House $17.95

Planned as a companion volume to an autumn Public Broadcasting System television series on the United States Constitution, this book re-creates the events surrounding a number of landmark Supreme Court decisions. Authors Friendly and Elliott have given special attention to cases involving civil rights, freedom of speech, and the rights of the accused. Each chapter begins with a portrait of the common citizens whose individual problems blossomed into issues of constitutional magnitude, followed by a discussion of the far-reaching implications of each case. Cast in a lively, narrative style, this combination of vignettes and legal doctrine should hold the lay reader’s interest, while introducing him to the broad parameters of constitutional law.

Inside Soviet Military Intelligence, by Viktor Suvorov. Macmillan $15.95

What would Americans think of one of their officers who defected and, upon showing up in Moscow, called himself Ulysses S. Grant? The real Suvorov was one of Russia’s greatest military heroes; the man who wrote this book was a junior officer in the Soviet Army. Like all defectors, he tells his hosts what he knows they want to hear. Suitably sanitized, his story is laid out in this book, from which we learn little. The GRU is indeed the rival of the KGB, but we did not need the new Suvorov to tell us that. There is nothing in this book that will surprise specialists and little that will interest the layman.

Thinking about the Unthinkable in the 1980s, by Herman Kahn. Simon & Schuster $16.95

This is a manuscript Kahn left uncompleted at the time of his death. It was designed as a revisitation of strategic issues covered in an early Kahn work, Thinking about the Unthinkable, which created a revolutionary stir when it appeared 20 years ago. The old flashes of brilliance and white-knuckle realism arise sporadically in the new book, but one has the feeling that unlike Mozart’s Requiem, there was not enough outline of the author’s ultimate conception to enable the piece to be effectively completed by other hands. Indeed, the logistics of putting this kind of material between hard covers may now be such that it is almost impossible not to have the ideas appear obsolete by the time the volume gets to the bookstores. The nuclear winter theory had not made its appearance before Kahn’s death, and it is a variable he was not able to consider. The result is an almost instant period piece.

A Different Kind of Presidency: A Proposal for Breaking the Political Deadlock, by Theodore C. Sorensen. Harper & Row $11.95

Sorensen proposes the selection of a president and a vice-president from opposite parties agreeing in advance to serve one term only to restore a bipartisan consensus. His proposal is offered to meet the crises of the uncontrolled arms race, reduce federal deficits, return American industry to a competitive position, manage Third World debt payments, and reach agreements with Mexico to strengthen its economic and political stability and secure our mutual borders. He believes that in five years these problems will be insoluable. If Sorensen’s proposals for a political truce between the parties and a bipartisan executive branch appear Utopian, quiet voices like his in the midst of our noisy political scene may nevertheless be our only source of hope.

Liberalism at Wits’ End: The Libertarian Revolt against the Modern State, by Stephen L. Newman. Cornell $19.95

Professor Newman has mounted a not very objective but nonetheless effective assault against the intellectual underpinnings of modern libertarian thought. Libertarians, it so happens, are not unlike their “collectivist” counterparts on the far left end of the political spectrum: they, too, are hopelessly factionalized. Radical libertarians are anarchists who believe that the working of an open marketplace will totally eliminate the need for the state, Basic governmental services, such as police protection and a judicial system, can, in the anarchist’s view, be more efficiently delivered by private providers. Minarchists, on the other hand, agree with John Locke that some government, albeit a minimal one (thus the name minarchist), must stave off domestic and foreign threats to a stable society. Despite these differences, anarchists and minarchists share a common libertarian world view, one shaped by an obsession with the acquisition and retention of property. A sign of the times, perhaps, in a 20th-century America that has taken up economic efficiency as a panacea, but a dismal prospect for those who cherish other human and moral values.

Reforming Medicine: Lessons of the Last Quarter Century, edited by Victor and Ruth Sidel. Pantheon $9.95

Essays by 19 authors who have worked to reform various aspects of America’s medical system over the last 25 years discuss the following topics: the history of Medicare and Medicaid and other efforts to transform public health care; medical care for minorities, women, and the poor; the shifting roles of doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals, as well as their changing relationship with their patients; and organized labor’s efforts to promote occupational health. On the whole, the essays present a balanced view of their respective topics and the introductory and concluding chapters by the Sidel’s are particularly valuable.

In a Dark Time, edited by Robert J. Lifton and Nicholas Humphrey. Harvard $15.00 cloth, $5.95 paper

This book, based upon Theodore Roethke’s belief that “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” is an anthology for the nuclear age. Each successive selection compels the reader to think about the insanity of war. The book contains excerpts and short passages from poets, statesmen, soldiers, writers, and leaders covering more than two millennia. These include Thoreau, Freud, Shakespeare, Churchill, and de Gaulle. As one could imagine, In a Dark Time is a bit dreary and depressing. That should not be surprising considering its subject: the darkest side of human-kind—war. The book makes it clear that the subject has been a topic for centuries, although much dearer to survival today.

FICTIONA World Made of Fire, by Mark Childress. Knopf $14.95

This stunning first novel by a young Southerner is bound to be compared to many other Southern novels. While this is a clearly and truly realized story of a conflict between reason and prejudice in early-20th-century small-town Alabama, this novel is a very different sort of tale from those to which it will be compared. For this warm-toned study of the coming of age of Stella Bates is also a disturbing chronicle of the coming to power of her younger brother, the polio victim and witch-boy Jacko. Childress’s range of characterization is wide, and his ability to use dialect produces one of the most interesting characters in recent fiction—the old black revolutionary voodoo woman who spirits Jacko away from the mob of townspeople out to kill him for infecting their children. The great strength of the novel, however, is Childress’s narrative bravery; he creates scenes and characters we learn to know and care for, then obliterates them. This talent not only makes us desperate to read on about these characters; it also makes us want to read more Childress.

Machine Dreams, by Jayne Anne Phillips. Dutton $16.95

This moving novel portrays the hopes and goals of a West Virginia family coping with the upheavals of the Depression, wars, and divorce. The Hampsons—Jean and Mitch, their daughter, Danner, and son, Billy—tell their own story through a series of individual reminiscences, which reveal, despite the loving bonds, their loneliness and diverging dreams. Phillips writes with a naturalness and sureness that captivates, and the graceful strength of her first novel promises her an eager audience for her future works.

The Witches of Eastwick, by John Updike. Knopf $15.95

John Updike knows little of witches and even less about women. His witches of Eastwick are little more than petty pranksters, who perform such inane stunts as tying together a partygoer’s shoelaces. When a mysterious bachelor arrives in town, their powers suddenly abate. They become diseased with jealousy, as his presence splits the strength of the coven. Only after this newcomer decides to marry a young woman outside the coven, do the witches regroup to plot the bride’s undoing. Come on, John! Witches and women are not devoid of intellect and creativity. Nor are they so boorishly mean. Readers expecting thoughtful female character development are bound to be disappointed.

The American Blues, by Ward Just. Viking $15.95

The protagonist of Just’s sixth novel is an aging correspondent haunted by the travesty and tragedy of the war he once covered in Vietnam. Unable to finish the book he’s writing about the war, with his marriage in disarray, he leaves his Vermont home to seek refuge on the Canadian border at the house of his hedonist friend Quinn. There he has a brief encounter with a just-out-of-college girl as unburdened by the past as he is overcome by it. And the conflict between youth and age, between one who has experienced too little and another who has endured too much constitutes the nub of the novel. The dialogue is lively, the characters appealing, and the author’s observations of the contemporary scene dead on target. As, for example, here on the women’s movement: “It was like Gettysburg—there was nothing more to be said about it; the ground had been exhaustively surveyed, the tactics analyzed, the casualties counted, the books written; and the good side won. I was bored with it. . . . I thought among tedious subjects it was rivaled only by golf.”

The Way of Wyrd, by Brian Bates. Harper & Row $12.95

In the year 674 a young Christian monk journeys to Anglo-Saxon England to learn the secrets of a sorcerer named Wulf. The monk’s apprenticeship leads him into the “spirit world,” where he must learn of the interlocking web of “wyrd” which binds all life together. Half novel, half anthropology, this is an enjoyable and vivid little book, whether read for its scholarly representation of Anglo-Saxon sorcery or as a fantasy adventure. The author, a professor of psychology, reveals a zesty interest in altered states of consciousness, and the book invites inevitable comparisons with Carlos Castenada’s tales of Mexican shamanism.

Tirant lo Blanc, by Joanat Martorell and Marti Joan de Galba. Schocken $21.95

The hero of the first modern novel, Don Quijote, is a sort of Tirant lo Blanc gone awry. Tirant, a Renaissance classic (it was first published in Valencia in 1490), contains all the conventions of the chivalresque romance and, as Cervantes astutely observed, “is the best book of its kind in the world.” Its authors tell a tale of daring nobility, adventure, Christian ideals, frank sexuality, and gruesome heroics in a style rich in realistic detail and skilled observation. Cervantes thought it worthy of being kept in print throughout the authors’ lives. It has done better than that—it is back in print, and in the first English translation (done superbly from the Catalán by David Rosenthal). As Cervantes recommended: “Take it home and read it.”

The Twelfth Night of Ramadan, by Kendal J. Peel. Vanguard $12.95

A British horticulturalist working on the Saudi Financial Agency’s compound decides to mount the greatest robbery known to man in order to derail an imminent Jihad on Israel. Invariably, there are the good guys and the bad guys as well as all the necessary womenfolk. Surprisingly, the ending is rather anticlimactic. This reviewer read the entire book to write this review. Others won’t have to waste their time.

Chessplayer, by William Pearson. Viking $15.95

Like John Le Carré, William Pearson explores in Chessplayer the labyrinthine world of espionage, where allegiances blur and deceptions are played out for deception’s sake. Pearson’s hero, David Belknap, is called from retirement to find the source of an information leak and finds himself playing the pawn in a game of deadly betrayal. Pearson’s prose is often stilted: “She came padding into the living room, a plump, black-haired woman of thirty with eyes about as green as you could get,” But despite the clumsy language, Chessplayer has enough surprises and twists to amaze and entertain.

Swan Song, by T. J. Binyon. Doubleday $14.95

In a novel that owes quite a bit to Gorky Park, Mr. Binyon suggests the possibility of a strong Soviet dissident movement based on the Russian Orthodox Church. Some shady KGB characters both pursue and foster the fledgling “party,” and of course there is the lovely Lyuba, with whom the narrator, a professor at Moscow University, is in love. It is all good clean fun, and one can already see the movie taking shape.

Free Agents, by Max Apple. Harper & Row $14.50

Called variously “stories” and “prose pieces” by the publisher, these 20 fictional and autobiographical essays exhibit a uniformity of tone, an unmistakable voice at once self-deprecating and petulant. With his invariably dry and often absurd humor, Apple addresses such topical journalistic favorites as single parenting, baseball games, and marathon running, as well as more prickly pursuits such as keeping kosher. A few of these brief bagatelles, like the title piece, will seem painfully long elaborations of a one-joke idea; but most of them make for a good read.

False Face, by Marilyn Sharp. St. Martin’s $15.95.

This is the first in a new series of espionage thrillers which introduces a CIA superspy named Emma Thatcher, and it will be especially enjoyed by fans of Nancy Drew and The Perils of Pauline.

Why Men Are Afraid of Women, by Francois Camoin. Georgia $13.95

In spite of the fact that this book won the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction, there isn’t much reason to read these stories. The characters are uniformly unlikable, the situations are grotesque, and the vision of life is one of hopelessness. There is no real humor, no understanding, with the possible exception of “It Could Happen,” the least depressing of this collection. Camoin’s women are all bad housekeepers, tough and uncaring, and his men are defeated and nervous, with no sense of responsibility. His couples seem to like sex but hate each other; they call each other bad names and are all at some stage of breaking up. Oddly, the stories do not provide any insight into the title’s question. The only explanation offered for the hostility between men and women in this book is that both are betrayed by false myths of love—”Muzak love,” he calls it.

Foul Shot, by Doug Hornig. Scribner’s $13.95

This is the first unit in a successful new mystery series introducing a supersophisticated sleuth named Swift who solves in sardonic and shrewd fashion the attempted sinister slaying of the black Ail-American basketball star (read a. k. a. Ralph Sampson) of the University of Virginia. Round-ball addicts and Wahoos will have a treat reading this one, which even includes a racial rape, a Sikhs Sect Ashram, and a decadent Southern family.

Second Marriage, by Frederick Barthelme. Simon & Schuster $15.95

Henry is some sort of academic in some godforsaken town on the Gulf Coast; and when his second wife boots him out because she has conceived a passion for his first wife, it is difficult to feel sorry for him. This is a novel about a threesome that wasn’t. The second wife, Theo, eventually tires of her predecessor, and it seems Henry will be allowed to come home. The problem is we see no reason why he should go even if she would call, and Theo herself is such a dismal type that a normal man would surely be better off alone. This novel has some fairly crisp dialogue, but there is not much else to recommend it.

Alexis, by Marguerite Yourcenar. Farrar Straus & Giroux $12.95

Marguerite Yourcenar was only 24 when she wrote this, her first novel; some critics at the time swore that her name was a pseudonym behind which lurked a well-established male author, perhaps even André Gide himself. Alexis is a long letter from a young musician to the wife he has abandoned because, as he painfully relates, he can no longer deny his homosexuality. Breathtaking in its merciless honesty, the novel was rightfully regarded as a major achievement at the time. It has lost none of its power in this, its first English translation.

POETRYThe White Wave, by Kate Daniels. Pittsburgh $6.95

The poetic identity Kate Daniels creates in this first collection is that of a young woman deeply troubled by the contrast between the ease and safety of her own life and the sufferings of the poor, the sick, the persecuted. Focusing on the tragedy and injustice of the world, she marvels at the strength of humanity to bear so much misery. On a more personal level, the poems dwell on the “ugliness that lives in love” and struggle to understand alienation among family members and in marriage. She writes memorably of her sympathy for the Hungarian poet Miklos Radn6ti, executed in 1944, and for the painter Hundertwasser. This book is a fine beginning for a quietly determined voice committed to relating the self to its social and historical environment.


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