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Notes on Current Books, Winter 2003

ISSUE:  Winter 2003

The fourth volume in Gordon Rhea’s monumental narrative of the 1864 campaign in Virginia between Grant and Lee, this book upholds the high standards of its predecessors, balancing detailed recountings of maneuver and combat with larger analysis, reflection, and refreshingly frank judgment of both leaders. Here Rhea follows Grant as he withdraws from his position after the stalemate on the North Anna River to continue his flanking movements south and east, always moving closer to Richmond. Thanks to the crystalline clarity of his exposition and many helpful maps, Rhea never allows his many threads, which now follow infantry, now cavalry, now Union, now Confederate, now this corps, now another, to become knotted and tangled. This achievement would be sufficient to distinguish his work, but Rhea’s accomplishments do not end there. Particularly significant is his crucial reassessment of the long-standing myth that the battle of Cold Harbor represents Grant’s worst fiasco, an instance of stupidly criminal slaughter in which more than seven thousand Union soldiers were killed in minutes early on the morning of June 3, 1864. In fact, as Rhea demonstrates through exhaustive research in primary documents and the latest computations of casualty figures, the truth is less simplistic and the results more complicated than the myth suggests. This is superlative military history.

Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle, by Leonard L. Richards. Pennsylvania $24.95

Histories of Shays’s Rebellion point to debt and debt suits as the reason why farmers in western Massachusetts rose against the courts and the state government in the fall and winter of 1786—87. Richards develops a line of causation that was first introduced by Robert H. Brown in his Redeeming the Revolution (Johns Hopkins, 1993), that it was the inequitable state tax structure that provoked the rebellion. More confusingly, it was not necessarily the poor and downtrodden who took up arms against the government; there were many prosperous farmers and community leaders in the mix as well. And as Richard points out, kinship ties seemed more important that ideology in determining who would fight. That said, Richards has not written a definitive history of the rebellion, but he has muddied the waters so that future scholars will have to rethink the event in the light of his research. No mean feat, that.

Rethinking American History in a Global Age, edited by Thomas Bender. California $22

This collection of essays is a signal event in what might be thought of as the new U.S. historiography. The new historiography holds that in the past U.S. history writing was structured by a national teleology that often erased the ways American life has always been entangled in more global histories. These new global paradigms for history writing take many different forms as this diverse collection of essays suggests. In its most basic formation, the globalization of U.S. history simply calls for a more complicated knowledge of how American history has always been shaped by international concerns—willing and forced immigration, the creation of global markets, and war, for example. But all of the essays collected here combine an abundant knowledge of the United States’ international heritage with rich theoretical discussions of what this means for historiography. If U.S. historians give up the nation as their most fundamental frame for writing history, what new frames will open up? Rethinking American History suggests more local frames and more global; it offers examples of American history written from abroad and American histories which are also histories of North America, the Atlantic realm, and the Pacific rim. There is, of course, no final answer to this question, “What does a post-national American history look like?” But this collection offers the most intelligent and wide-ranging response to that question yet produced.

Lousianians in the Civil War, edited by Lawrence Hewitt and Arthur Bergeron Jr. Missouri $32.50

That the enormous literature on the Civil War contains so little about Louisiana can be explained only by the fact that it has concentrated so heavily on large-scale battles. Few of these occurred in Louisiana, although her contributions of blood and treasure to that war—far more to the Confederate than Union side—were enormous. Her participation in secession was to turn this wealthiest of all Southern states into the poorest. The study of our Civil War has entered a mature phase wherein interest is devoted to the social, economic, psychological, and emotional complexity of the conflict. This most culturally diverse of the Confederate states is a rich subject for such investigations. Seven excellent historians teach, in the successive chapters of this wonderful book, a great deal that we did not know about the diverse attitudes and actions that contributed to our most complex national experience. They explore the actions and fates of wealthy sugar planters and their world, reconsider the plight of the women and other citizens of occupied New Orleans and freshly assess the actions of the much vilified General Butler. The contributions of Cajuns, Jews, free blacks, and a large community of foreigners to the Confederacy are considered, as are the arduous experiences of Louisiana Unionists, and what little we know about the lives of the 40, 000 Louisiana blacks who joined the Union Army. An important early trade union, a merchant adventurer, a Confederate spy, and a less well known Confederate general round out this attempt of this volume to inform and excite interest in Louisiana’s Civil War, in both of which objectives it is most successful.

Japan’s Golden Age: Momayama, Money, by L. Hickman. Yale, $39.95

The Momoyama period, which lasted from 1573—1615 left a rich cultural legacy. The history, culture, and aesthetics of the period are revealed through sumptuously printed illustrations of paintings, sculpture, masks, lacquer-ware, textiles, etc. Entries for each of the works feature the writing of various American specialists in Japanese art and history. After a long period of war and extensive international contact the Momoyama period saw a flourishing of artistic excellence and invention. Feudal lords and a new class of wealthy townspeople supported a burgeoning class of artisans. Much of the work reflects the ostentatious projection of power by various warlord benefactors seeking to consolidate power and prestige.

The Transformation of American Abolitionism: Fighting Slavery in the Early Republic, by Richard S. Newman. North Carolina $45

When students of U. S. history think of abolitionism, they inevitably begin—and end—with the likes of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. This tells only part of the story, however, and it is the rest of this tale that Newman sets out to explore. The author, who teaches history at Rochester Institute of Technology, demonstrates that the movement against slavery had deeper roots. He examines the societies devoted to abolition in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts in particular during the early years of the Republic and finds that they had long and extensive backgrounds in agitating for the end of slavery. Within these he pays special attention to the roles of women and African-Americans and holds that their contributions have been insufficiently appreciated. In this, he is doubtless correct though by no means have such figures been ignored to the extent he argues. The Grimke sisters and David Walker, for example, are well known and should be strangers to no one interested in the debate over slavery. But though the story is fascinating, the writing is much drier and does not do justice to its subject. The audience for this book will be smaller than the long fight against slavery deserves.

Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830—1867, by Catherine Hall. Chicago $79

The evangelical missionaries that are at the center of Hall’s impressive volume believed that their work in Jamaica would not only civilize the natives, but also purify their own souls. When they returned home from their imperial sojourns, they brought with them an image of savagery and backwardness that graced their English listeners with a moral and racial superiority; a superiority that found its fulfillment in the campaign for the abolition of slavery, but which maintained limits on freedom and independence for a clearly inferior race. Colonial contact and imperial imagination shaped what it meant to be British, white, and Christian in the mid-19th century, no less than it determined the fate of Jamaicans themselves.

The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch, by Jeffrey Wm. Hunt. Texas $22.95

On May 12—13, 1865, more than a month after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, small Union and Confederate forces clashed at Palmetto Ranch near the Rio Grande below Brownsville, Texas. A skirmish rather than a battle, Palmetto Ranch gave Southern arms a final victory and left 16 men killed or wounded and three Confederates and 102 Union soldiers captured. It might come as no surprise that this is the first book-length treatment of so modest an event. Yet the author offers much of interest and tells a good story. In addition to a minutely detailed description of the tactical ebb and flow (more detailed than most readers likely will want), the author raises a number of interesting points about Confederate nationalism, the performance of black soldiers in Union service (the 62nd United States Colored Troops participated in the fight), the interaction among various groups along the Mexican-Texas border, and the ways in which Palmetto Ranch figured in subsequent histories of the Civil War. Hunt’s book will not occasion any revisions regarding the larger outline of the conflict, but it illuminates one small scene in that seismic drama.

Before and After Jamestown: Virginia’s Powhatans and their Predecessors, by Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III. Florida $39.95

Covering more than 1100 years, this first full-scale account of the most famous of Virginia’s Indian tribes is stitched together from what can be gleaned from oral and written history, archaeological findings, ethnographical analogy, and re-enactment by living history. For obvious reasons, the proportion of surmise falls as that of incontestable fact increases with the passage of time. The purview includes information concerning not only the life and ideas of the Powhatans, but their interactions and change after white European culture entered their lives in 1607. Written more in the fashion of popular than academic history, the book is nonetheless scholarly. It is not surprising that there is much we did not know about the early history of the tribe. It is astonishing that this volume contains so much we did not know about the fate of the tribe after English colonization. The long struggle of a people conquered in their own homeland to adjust their identity to such realities and the sad tale of the continuous threat that Anglo-Virginian culture has posed to their cultural survival are fascinating subjects. Although this fine book is not the last word on these subjects, it is a very good start.

The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.- Soviet Relations, by Donald E. Davis and Eugene P. Trani. Missouri $42.50

Among historians of the Cold War, it is generally recognized that the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union began after the Second World War (although strains in the relationship were certainly evident during the war). In this fascinating work, Davis and Trani contend that the origins of the Cold War are found in the early dealings the U.S. had with the post-revolutionary regime in Moscow. Davis and Trani do not contend that a single historical phenomenon, the “Cold War,” existed from 1917—1992. Rather, as the title suggests, U.S.- Soviet relations should be divided between two periods of antagonism. The former clearly set the stage for the latter. For Woodrow Wilson, communism was anathema to American and international ideals. Davis and Trani demonstrate how the Wilson administration vacillated between recognition and repudiation of the regime. After this period of inconsistency regarding the new regime, the Wilson administration enacted policies that effectively amounted to a diplomatic quarantine—containment without teeth. While the demands of the wartime alliance forced the Soviets and Americans into cooperation, the prior history of antagonism was not forgotten. The way the Cold War played itself out, according to Davis and Trani, was conditioned to a great extent by the dynamics of the interaction of the First Cold War. This is an important contribution to the broader literature on Russian-American relations. It is well researched and should be considered by all interested in the Cold War origins.

Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History, by William Stueck. Princeton $29.95

Rethinking, the Korean War is an impressive contribution to the literature on the “Forgotten War.” This work, synthetic in nature, exploits newly declassified information in the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union. In so doing, Stueck effectively draws together previously disconnected strands into a single volume on the origins, conduct, and effects of that war. The primary strength of this work is its ability to clearly demonstrate what “we now know,” based on a balanced examination of primary source material and recent secondary source contributions. Topically, the focus of Rethinking the Korean War centers mainly on the diplomatic aspects of the war. To the extent that military operations are considered, they are quickly placed in the proper diplomatic context. Given the thematic structure of the work, Stueck is forced to consider contentious issues in short order. Irrespective, he deftly addresses major debates in Korean War historiography. Among his judgments is that the Korean War must be viewed as having primarily international origins, as opposed to being a civil war at its base. He clearly takes issue with Bruce Cumings’s argument that the Soviet Union was largely divorced from Korean affairs by mid-1949. Stueck contends that it was Kim Il-sung’s desire to keep the Chinese out of the war as long as possible, preferring instead to curry the favor of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s instructions to Kim, that he first consult Mao Zedong before launching his attack, effectively painted Mao into a corner from which he could not escape. This is an important work and will likely appeal to the specialists and general readers alike.

Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans, by Jane Taylor. Harvard $39.95

Remembered now almost solely for the ruins of their eerily beautiful capital, Petra, the Nabateans were a powerful Arab people who are brought to life in this work. Taylor uses her unprecedented access to the Jordanian waddis—and her skills as a photojournalist—to present the grandeur of this forgotten civilization. Taylor addresses many attributes of Nabatean culture from its origins in the Negev desert to fixed settlement at Wadi Musa and explores the interchange between Greek, Roman, and Bedouin cultures that characterized the people of Petra. To give greater depth to the generalized history, the eighth chapter is a recreation of the life of a young woman based upon the scrolls she carried pertaining to her marriage, children, and property. The rich combination of archaeological history, detailed descriptions of Nabatean cultural life, and the personal story of a resident—all illustrated with striking photographs of the region—makes Taylor’s work an excellent contribution to the study of the ancient Middle East.

Bound for Santa Fe: The Road to New Mexico and the American Conquest, 1806—1848, by Stephen G. Hyslop. Oklahoma $34.95

Hyslop examines the cultural interaction among Americans, Indians, and Mexicans in New Mexico and along the Santa Fe Trail, from Zebulon Pike’s trip in 1806 through the end of the Mexican War in 1848. He does this in three separate parts, the first two concentrating on the historical and geographical background to the Santa Fe trade, and the last on the American conquest of New Mexico. Hyslop’s main aim is to “portray the venture as the travelers experienced it,” and he succeeds admirably at this task. One lesson learned on the trail was that moderation and accomodation with Indians and New Mexicans lent itself to prosperous trading and peaceful travel far more than did arrogance and violence. The “American exchange with Mexico” blurred cultural and territorial lines, as Americans sought compromise with the Pueblos and Mexicans in an effort to succeed at trade or earn a livelihood in New Mexico. Even so, a great many Americans still “expressed puzzlement and exasperation” at the culture they encountered in New Mexico. More than any other event, the war altered the old strategy of accomodation, as Americans came to view the absorption of New Mexico into the Union as a part of Providential design. Illustrative of this evolution was the widespread use by 1848 among Americans of the word “Greaser,” a pejorative term rarely used to refer to New Mexicans prior to 1846. Yet Hyslop takes a long range view and asserts that perhaps the war was but “a fleeting distortion of that compromising give-and-take between inextricable rivals whose fortunes were forever entwined . . .regardless of the boundaries drawn between them.” One notable failing of this otherwise fine book is that the only primary sources used are contemporary published accounts and edited letters and journals. This reviewer wonders if manuscript sources (for example, the Mexican and Spanish Archives of New Mexico, available at the New Mexico State Library), when added to this select group of published materials, would shed additional light on the cultural exchange along the Santa Fe Trail. Overall, however, Bound for Santa Fe is a worthy read for anyone interested in Southwestern history and the roots of the United States’ cultural, military, and economic intersection with its southern neighbor.

LITERARY STUDIES Spain in America: The Origins of Hispanism in the United States, edited by Richard L. Kagan. Illinois $42.50

This collection of seven essays, written by some of the profession’s top scholars, addresses the broad issue of the creation of the image of Spain in the United States. Spain is not, as Jonathan Brown observes in the foreword, bullfighting and flamenco. “Spain” as we currently understand it, is a construct mostly of the early 19th century, created by historians of literature, writers, and collectors of art and artifacts (“a Protestant intellectual and social elite centered in Boston and New York,” in Brown’s words). Richard Kagan addresses the genesis of historical scholarship, Rolena Adorno discusses Washington Irving’s legacy, Thomas Hart writes of George Ticknor’s History of Spanish Literature, and James D. Fernández studies the views of Latin America and Spain put forth by Prescott and Longfellow. To round out what began as a conference held at the Spanish Institute in New York in 1996, Mitchell Codding reveals Archer M. Huntington’s important role in the advancement of Hispanic studies in the U.S. Janice Mann does the same for the art historians Georgiana Goddard King and Arthur Kingsley Porter, and Louise Stein discusses the diffusion of Spanish music in the U.S. between 1778 and 1940. In all, this is an excellent collection of serious studies, of interest to anyone curious about the origins of Spanish studies (“Hispanism”) in this country.

The Hunt in Ancient Greece, by Judith M. Barringer. Johns Hopkins $48

The purpose of this book, we are told, is to further our understanding of certain aspects of Greek culture, mainly from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C., through a study of the representation of hunting scenes in painting and literature. A good deal of work has already been done, and a good many questions raised, on the meaning and the practice of the hunt, by Schnapp and Vidal-Naquet, and others, so that to a certain extent this is more a commentary on what we know, or what we think we know, than a new departure in interpretation. The core chapters, as one might expect, link aristocratic hunting, but largely in a metaphorical sense, to the training of the athelete, to the preparation for war, and to sexual pursuit, and provide useful, up-to-date references. Unfortunately, the book, from the effusive list of acknowledgments to the dense prose style, in which one example follows another in a descriptive rather than an analytical context, to the inconclusive ending, reads very much like an unimproved dissertation in which the chief difficulty seems to have been to relate the visual portrayal of hunting to the real lives of the men of the time in a convincing way.

Aristophanes IV, edited and translated by Jeffrey Henderson. Harvard $21.50

The plays of this new Loeb Classical volume span what must have been the most “troubled times” of Aristophanes’ life, for it was during this period that the collapse of the Athenian Empire occurred. Intellectuals willing to consider and satirize human folly experienced great fear and discouragement. Frogs, from the height of his powers, champions the disenfranchised and expresses a longing to retain elements of Athenian morality, honor, art, nobility, and greatness that were passing away. Assembly Women considers the effects of communistic gynecocracy and introduces a greater measure of comic obscenity than hitherto he had displayed. Wealth explores the value to each personal life of a fair chance for justice, life, liberty, and happiness. The rather old-fashioned values of this enormously humane genius were in middle age embracing a wider swath of humanity and finding ways to reach an audience that was more vulgar, far less reverential, learned, or complex. These wonderful translations capture the thought and spirit, the entire spectrum of individual voices, the inevitable punctuating earthiness of this great poet. The enormous personal courage with which Aristophanes withstood the degrading effects of the Athenian collapse, yet weathered and accepted change if it were shaped for the benefit of mankind, is without modern counterpart, more’s the pity.

The Vehement Passions, by Philip Fisher. Princeton, $26.95

In a field getting more crowded by the year, Fisher manages to press on with the insights amassed by other philosophers of the emotions and craft a consistently engaging book. Although the book may not say anything entirely new, it manages to present a wealth of information in an admirably clear and accessible format. Particularly strong is Fisher’s chapter “The Aesthetics of Fear.” Conspicuously absent from the chapter “Anger and Diminution” is a discussion of Schadenfreude, the pleasure we sometimes feel when another stumbles or is brought low. People outside of universities curious about how the emotions regularly manage to dominate our thinking and planning will enjoy this overview of a fascinating field.

The Shape of a Pocket, by John Berger. Pantheon $24

This collection brings together 24 of John Berger’s essays from the last ten years. The essays, short and searching, explore a wide range of artists and topics—Rembrandt and the body, Géricault’s studies of madness, a theory of the visible, drawing, apple trees. As with so much of Berger’s diverse writing, every page of this book is animated by a profound attentiveness to the forms of art and to experience itself. But perhaps what unifies these particular essays is the difficult idea that authentic works of art—paintings and drawings especially—are records of a transient, mysterious collaboration between the artist and the real, visible, “existent” world—between the artist and a mouse, a mountain, or a color. This understanding of art as an encounter grounds many of Berger’s most suggestive insights. Of drawing, he writes: “Real drawing is a constant question, is a clumsiness, which is a form of hospitality towards what is being drawn.” In an essay on Degas: “A feature of [his] late works is how the outlines of bodies and limbs are repeatedly and heavily worked. And the reason is simple: on the edge. . .everything on the other, invisible, side is crying out to be recognized and the line searches. . .until the invisible comes in.” Berger’s writing is fully alive with such thinking, such efforts to discover and reveal the hidden life—of motive, desire, need—in art and experience alike. Reading these essays, one feels one’s range of possible apprehension enhanced; one learns new kinds of questions. Berger reminds us why art and the serious contemplation of art can matter to us today as a vital and unique “aid to living.”

Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds, by Peter J. Schakel. Missouri $32.50.

Many works have touched on the importance of imagination in the work of C.S. Lewis, but few, if any, have given the topic the detailed treatment it receives in this volume. No one would deny the role of imagination in the fiction Lewis wrote for children and for adults, but Schakel goes further and examines the role of imagination across the breadth of Lewis’ writing. This approach allows a comprehensive picture of Lewis to emerge—not just Lewis the teller of tales or Lewis the Christian apologist, but Lewis the lover and champion of the imagination and its importance to human life. Schakel draws out Lewis’ views on imagination as it relates to education, reading, writing, and morality, and shows the ways in which the nature and content of Lewis’ fiction bears these views out. More valuable, perhaps, is Schakel’s exploration of the way Lewis himself felt about all the imaginative arts, from dancing to music to architecture. This allows imagination to emerge not just as a key element of Lewis’ writing, but as a key element of the way Lewis looked at the world. Anyone looking to broaden their understanding of Lewis’ widely varied works would do well to start here. Fans of children’s fiction will also enjoy Schakel’s look at the Harry Potter stories through a Lewisian lens.

A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, by Mary McCarthy. New York Review of Books $24.95

Mary McCarthy, the mid-20th-century novelist and critic, was perhaps best known as a stouthearted defender of substance and common sense. Her scathing artisitc and social commentaries graced the pages of The New Republic, The Nation, and The New York Review of Books and were typically marked by a clarity and intelligence that seemed to justify the not unfamiliar aggressiveness of her tone. There is only a hint of that tartness in this collection of her essays, however. With entries such as “On Madame Bovary,” “Notes of a Resident of the Watergate,” and “A Streetcar Called Success,” A. O. Scott, the project’s editor, has instead focused on McCarthy’s dazzlingly lucid charm and erudition. Her criticisms withstand the test of time, and her insights still seem fresh.

Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, 1939—1956, Volume V, edited by Robert S. Baker and James Sexton. Ivan R. Dee $35

It is undoubted that Huxley’s was among the great intellects of the 20th century, but opinions would diverge concerning the success with which his prolonged struggle to understand the nature of science, technology, the course of human history, morality, and the meaning of life was waged. Whether the works contained in this volume were produced because he had achieved deep mystical insight or that they conceal within their daunting complexity his defeat in a very unequal struggle is a rich source for argument. His career as brilliant social novelist abandoned, the wide ranging and provocative essays published here continue to make some sense of the variety of human experiences. All but gone is the young man’s hope that extraordinary gifts of rational analysis might permit him to arrive at conclusions that might improve the human lot. The older Huxley has given way to increasingly complete submission to passive contemplation of the broad range of human activities in order, apparently, to appreciate their senseless exemplification of the boundlessness and emptiness of the Universe. The extraordinary wit, taste, and sensitivity, and the remarkable energy of his great and challenging intellect remain; whether his fundamental change in tone and impulse is representative of defeat or victory is difficult to judge. It is, however, worth trying to find out for oneself which was true.

Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative, by Jean-Luc Nancy. Minnesota $17.95

In less than 100 pages, Jean-Luc Nancy provides an innovative and strikingly original interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy. Rather than the received opinion of most, that Hegel’s thought represents a closed, totalitarian system, Nancy argues that Hegelian dialectic circulates on all levels throughout the social field. The movement of negation and sublimation is not a single, overarching master narrative, but a fluid construct that opens every singular, contingent event or entity onto others. In a number of important philosophical works, Nancy has returned again and again to the same themes: the meaning of human freedom, the possibility of community, the relationship between history, literature and loss. Here, Nancy appropriates the vast architecture of Hegelian philosophy to support his project: the continuing exploration of what he has called the “singular plural”—the simultaneous and inseparable unity and diversity of the world. A controversial and highly challenging work.

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Essays on Art, Race, Politics and World Affairs, edited and introduced by Christopher C. De Santis. Missouri $49.95

Volume 9 in the ambitious and necessary Collected Works of Langston Hughes, this text comprehensively collects Hughes’ nonfiction writing (with the exception of his Chicago Defender columns, which were too numerous to include, and his civil rights writing, which has its own separate volume). In an elucidating introduction, De Santis argues for Hughes’ status as an important essay writer as well as poet. Some of his most powerful political and social critiques were in essays, De Santis writes, and these pieces also offer illuminating insights into Hughes’ life and politics. While not the first collection of Hughes’ nonfiction writing, it is the most comprehensive, attempting to represent the whole range of Hughes’ writing from 1921—1967. There is a wide variety of material in this volume, from forgettable newsy pieces (“Harlem Ball Player Now Captain in Spain”) to well-known essays (“The Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain”). The essays are divided into sections by decade, with three additional sections composed of forewords and introductions; reviews; and tributes, letters to the editor and miscellaneous pieces.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, translation and introduction by Gregory Hays. Modern Library $19.95.

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations has stood the test of time in a number of respects. First and foremost, it is a powerful account of how the philosopher-king viewed the world and his place in it. In so doing, he produced a record of spiritual exercises that are imparted with wisdom and which are immanently practical. Additionally, Meditations continues as an important work because it has been used and recommended by many present-day leaders in society. Whether they have adhered to the guidance offered by Marcus, or not, the recurrence of recommendations by many has stimulated interest in the work for quite some time. In this new translation (the first in 35 years), Gregory Hays brings Marcus’ words to life. The presentation is beautifully rendered and amazingly approachable. While the presentation of the text alone makes this work worth examining, it is the introduction that makes this book stand out. Hays outlines Marcus’ life and career, pithily and succinctly describes Socratic doctrine (on logos, Hays writes “I hope that readers who have assimilated such terms as “karma” and “the Tao” will be prepared to welcome this one too”), explicates the style, construction, and genre of the Meditations, and offers a useful guide to further reading. Hays’ translation is worth reading and is a nice addition to the Modern Library.

Reviewery, by Christopher Ricks. Handsell/Other $30

A collection of reviews is a perilous thing; it necessarily suppresses what is essentially the reviews’ primary interest—the books reviewed—and foregrounds what is essentially secondary—the reviewer’s voice. To read such a collection is like watching athletes undertake the mundane fundaments of their sport: only the regular excellence of the best doing the ordinary can keep us rapt. One’s collected assessments of others have no intrinsic glamour, and the reader’s attention can only be kept if the voice and intelligence revealed through the reviews is of sufficient interest to elicit admiration in its own right. Yet very few voices, and fewer intelligences, can merit such admiration. Fortunately, Ricks is among the few. His style is flowing and firm—his paragraphs are uniformly solid, with all that is in them relevant to the limited aim of the paragraph, but always keeping larger aims in mind, so that each sentence fits neat like a perfect brick, yet also gestures at larger issues than the momentary structural necessities which elicited it. But beyond the ease and elegance of Ricks’ style there is the intensity of his relentless attention: the weight of his intelligence presses down on all sentences, to see which strain, creak, and perhaps crack under the pressure, and which do not. Ricks nicely articulates the principle that guides his own work: “no criticism is long worth much that does not arise from and return to the very words”; and his criticism cleaves to this principle with unwavering fidelity. As Keynes once said of Newton, it was the intensity and persistence of his concentration that marked his genius out from others; Ricks has something of this, not in his attention to philosophical or scientific questions, but rather in his attention to language itself. To read his reviews is to glimpse what such attention can reveal about texts, and possibly, by glimpsing, one might be inspired, or provoked, to strengthen one’s own attention a little. Reading this book, that is, is conducive to one’s own literary merit. Highly recommended.

LIVES & LETTERS George Washington: A Biographical Companion, by Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. ABC-Clio $55

It would seem that we have little to learn about the most important American of the 18th century, especially if we have read Freeman, but we were wrong. Indebted to the riches uncovered by the Washington Papers “factory” at the University of Virginia, Grizzard’s deftly selected and prepared entries, a selection of Washington’s writings, and other appendices tell us a great deal more about the man and the events, the interests, and the families (kindred, Revolutionary, presidential) that comprised his life. Jefferson concluded that although Washington’s intellect was not of the veiy highest order, he had qualities of greater importance that set him above all other men. Extraordinary judgement, presence, complete honesty and integrity were among them. He is almost without peer in the world’s history for his exceptional personal restraint in the face of a temper and temptation. The general who deferred to civil authority despite considerable vexations, the president whose virtuous leadership founded the world’s first effective republican government, the man who rejected the principle that his personal virtues could be extended to dynastic leadership—in each role he was uniquely crucial to our national history. His success was not the result of brilliance, fiat, plan, or intrigue, but rather of remarkably clear and practical vision. This allowed him, more than any contemporary excepting Franklin to read his countrymen correctly, and he had the power to hold dimmer, astigmatic visions at bay until after a promising start was made. This truly companiable volume teaches us of these gifts, of Washington’s conviviality, diversions, sense of humor, travels, and so much more—each entry as interesting as the last. If the rest of this series is to be as good as this, one ought to subscribe.

Livia: First Lady of Imperial Rome, by Anthony A. Barrett. Yale $35

Despite ancient veneration, it is likely that the modern public would be scarcely aware of Livia were it not for Robert Graves’ rendition of Tacitus’ account of her, and its memorable portrayal by Scan Phillips in the BBC’s I Claudius (1976). Phillips brilliantly captured the sinister plotting and cold-blood malevolence that rendered her, in Tacitus’ eyes, the incarnation of imperial evil. Barrett tells us, rather convincingly, that this was not so. Her 60 years at the center of Imperial Roman power were not spent calmly poisoning the flowers of republican virtue, but in nourishing the cross-pollination of old-Roman maternal, religious, and domestic virtues with the exigencies of Imperial leadership. Her remarkably adept support of the career of Augustus seems to have derived from a combination of the skills of Queen Elizabeth I and Eleanor Roosevelt, rather than those of Lady Macbeth and Lucretia Borgia. Less dramatic and far more complex than the figure that Phillips portrayed, Barrett’s Livia is more interesting and instructive. The book is an intelligent compromise between the needs of the general reader and those of the scholar, both of whom will benefit from reading this coherent and compelling account of the most extraordinary woman in Roman history.

Somehow Form a Family, by Tony Earley. Algonquin Books $13

Following a superb collection of short stories and a bestselling novel, Somehow Form a Familyis the latest work from one of the best young writers out there, Tony Earley. His writing style draws the reader in with finely tuned, deceptively simple prose, and pushes us ahead with a clarity of thought and forward honesty rare among even the best of writers. Somehow Form a Family, Earley’s first nonfiction work, is a collection of personal essays. Within them, a rural rearing in a wonderfully Southern town is drawn out with loaded guns hanging on the wall, a decision to shoot the family cat, and a trembling boy at the back of a Baptist church, unwilling to walk to the alter. These tales from Early’s small town in North Carolina are by far the strongest of the collection. The others, a ghost hunt in New Orleans and a round-the-world trip on the Concorde, while brilliantly written, do not seem to fit well with the whole. Nonetheless, Somehow Form a Family is a deftly crafted work with enough memorable insights and sharp humor to keep the reader charmed on every single page.

A Place to Live and Other Selected Essays of Natalia Ginzburg, chosen and translated by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Seven Stories $24

The essays of Natalia Ginzburg—who penned her way through the years of fascism, war, and cultural turmoil in 20th-century Italy—have the uncanny quality of seeming to have been written by ourselves. In this latest translation, which includes lucid accounts of family, refugee life, apartment hunting, widowhood, and traffic problems in Rome, we find entirely recognizable threads, bits of experience and feelings that are so implicit in our common way of life as to be shocking on the page. This capacious sense of the feelings of our times is matched by a singular, almost quaint faith in the importance of individual responsibility. If Ginzburg’s conscience is at times naively insistent or childlike in its tenor, it only affirms the resolutely personal tint of all her thoughts, the crumbling of absolutes before the particularities of individual experience. The novelist and translator Lynne Sharon Schwartz has carefully rendered these subtle currents of belief and sensibility, moving always beneath an airy conversational style, in dexterous prose. Her judiciously compiled volume conveys Ginzburg’s world with whimsy and refreshing deference.

Jefferson on Jefferson, by Paul M. Zall. Kentucky $25

Those who wish to gain a better rounded picture of the interior life of the Sage of Monticello but who are not yet ready for Malone or even Ellis will find this small offering an enjoyable read. Author and editor Zall has already penned similar works about Lincoln and Franklin and demonstrates his skill in using the countless writings of Jefferson to assemble a picture that is both familiar and refreshingly original. The third president emerges as a complex man of extraordinary talent but one who possesses as well the full complement of human frailties. Grief over the early death of a daughter and anxieties over debt and taxes are but two of the timeless concerns that render this lofty figure accessible to anyone. His well-known rivalry with Federalist John Adams and his later frettings over slavery and the development of sectional feeling in the young nation place him in his more familiar role as an actor in a great historical drama. In spite of the vastness of the literature that already exists about this “American sphinx,” those interested in this most enigmatic of the Founding Fathers will still appreciate this small work.

Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France, by Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby. Yale $65

Lavishly illustrated and masterfully written, Grimaldo Grigsby’s study of four late 18th-, early 19th-century French painters—Girodet, Gros, Géricault, and Delacroix—is smart, original, and violent. A glance at the chapter headings is enough to send shivers down the spine of the reader, and to remind one of the degradation and the brutality of the times. “Plague,” “Revolt,” “Cannibalism,” and “Blood-Mixing” are but four of the signposts that guide the author and her examination of France’s newly-born empire. Interestingly, this volume focuses not on the artistic representations within the frenzied borders of France per se, but rather on various violent crises in the colonies. Her extended analysis of Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa and its adaptation of Senegalese cannibalistic myths is, perhaps, the most rewarding, most erudite chapter in a consistently lucid and creative book.

The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir, by Tom Stone. Simon & Schuster $24

Anyone who has lived and eaten in a small Greek village will wax nostalgic reading Tom Stone’s Summer of My Greek Taverna, and anyone who has dreamed of living and eating in a Greek village will itch to go. But not as a cook or businessman. Stone’s lively memoir recounts the unraveling of his romantic decision to accept a Greek friend’s offer to run a taverna for a summer while enjoying idyllic family life on the island of Patmos in the glistening Aegean Sea. The agony of a chefs 20-hour day, intrigues among the diners, the brinkmanship of doing business with a cunning friend, and the havoc that never-ending work wreaks on Stone’s family snap the story out of the romance into harsh and amusing reality. Stone gives readers a vivid impression of the sights, smells, sounds (including the Greek language), the people, and life in a Greek island village.

War Stories: Remembering World War II, by Elizabeth Mullener. Louisiana State $34.95

Starting on Sept. 1, 1989, the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, Liz Mullener, arguably the best feature writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, began publishing a series of pieces on the wartime experiences of people then living in New Orleans. This rich volume reprints 53 of the articles, which cover the expected: Pearl Harbor, invasions, bombing campaigns, Midway, prison camps, and the two surrenders. But this deep-digging reporter transcends the usual by finding a woman who recounts the invasion of Norway from a a little girl’s perspective, a man who strolled through ruined Hiroshima, the soldier who unlocked the gate at Buchenwald, a black soldier in the Battle of the Bulge, ending with a first Christinas after the War. Mullener writes from the inside, sometimes in her own voice, but getting out of the way of real talkers.

Sound Wormy: Memoir of Andrew Gennett, Lumberman, edited by Nicole Hayler. Georgia $34. 95

Written almost 40 years after beginning in the timber trade in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this memoir details the life of timber entrepreneur Andrew Gennett. From the beginning, Gennett makes the intentions of his memoir clear: writing not only for pleasure, but more importantly so that his “descendants may find something that would interest them in the conditions” of his life. And his plan was indeed successful. In addition to capturing the economic, social, and political turmoil of the time, Gennett’s memoir also documents his own personal struggle with his involvement in the timber industry and his interest in protecting the forests through conservation. Gennett’s examination of the timber business as he experienced it, as well as his outlook on the future of the forests, makes this an important contribution to the environmental and cultural history of the region.

Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth, by Stephen F. Knott. Kansas $34.95

Knott, a research fellow and assistant professor at the Miller Center of Public Affairs in Charlottesville, has written a fascinating book about a subject that is both timely and of enduring interest. He chronicles the rise and fall of the reputation of this most influential but unknown of the Founding Fathers. Especially in a place that is Mr. Jefferson’s own backyard, Hamilton has not generally fared well. Neglect or even character assassination have been his more usual lot at the hands of the scholarly community and in the public imagination. At times, however, he has done rather well for himself. These—not surprisingly—have generally coincided with good times for American business and the Republican party such as the period after the Civil War—the “Gilded Age”— and the 1920’s while his stock has predictably performed less well under Democratic administrations. Under the New Deal he hit rock bottom. Hamilton remains a litmus test in American history. One can tell a lot about a person by divining that individual’s opinion of our first secretary of the treasury. This is an intelligent book, rich in detail and well-written. Though the reader will need a good background in American history, this is not just for scholars. Highly recommended.

Hart Crane: A Life, by Clive Fisher. Yale $39.95

Despite its unassuming title, Fisher’s biography is a remarkably ambitious project which utilizes a wealth of documentary information to create a portrait not only of Crane, but of the Midwest, the bohemian enclaves of New York, and the American literary scene in the first 30 years of the 20th century. Beginning with an account of Crane’s family that reaches back to colonial America, Fisher explores the possible connection between an uncle’s suicide and the poet’s own infamously fatal plunge from the deck of the Orizaba into the Caribbean, and gives a more complex portrait of Crane’s parents as well as his friends and lovers, while discussing the poet’s sexuality with unparalleled candor. Fisher relates his subject with a style that has the distance and meticulousness of an archivist who occasionally lapses into moments of lyrical exposition, especially when using autobiography to illuminate passages in Crane’s poetry and vice versa.

Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, by Herman Hattaway and Richard E. Beringer. Kansas $39.95

Many historians have argued that Jefferson Davis’ and Abraham Lincoln’s performances as commanders-in-chief of the United States and the Confederacy offer a striking contrast between a deeply flawed loser and a brilliant winner. Recent biographies by William C. Davis and William J. Cooper have presented a more complex analytical portrait of Davis, a trend in the literature strengthened by Herman Hattaway’s and Richard E. Beringer’s detailed assessment of Davis as Confederate president. Hattaway and Beringer give Davis high marks in many respects and remind readers of the enormous difficulties he faced, while also leaving no doubt that he often experienced difficulty working with other politicians and sometimes erred badly in selecting top military leaders. The authors admit that “[e]ven after the many myths and lies about him have been stripped away, a residual tinge of mystery lingers.” Readers familiar with the authors’ previous works will find few interpretive surprises here, and Hattaway and Berenger likely will have little impact on those who believe Lincoln towered in almost every way over his Southern counterpart. Yet, any serious student of the Civil War will find much of value in this well researched, clearly written study.

Anel Adams: Divine Performance, by Anne Hammond. Yale $45

Although replete with useful biographical information, this volume is above all a topical study of Adams’ photographs in relationship to the large philosophical issues that occupied him, on the one hand, and to specific photographic techniques, on the other. Such chapters as “The High Mountain Experience” and “Landscape as Process” trace not only Adams’ photographic journeys but his ongoing conversations with an impressive number of artists, writers, and philosophers. The book places Adams in the immediate context of Northern California modernism and the larger one of American transcendentalism, with its transatlantic and even global resonances. And the 80 black-and-white illustrations, most of them Adams’ photographs, are alone worth the price of admission!

The Chronicle of Alfonso X, by Fernan Sanchez de Valldolid, translated by Shelby Thacker and Jose Escobar. Kentucky $36

The history of the reign of Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon (1252—1284) was written by Fernan Sanchez de Valladolid, Chancellor of the Privy Seal in the Royal Council of Alfonso XI (1312—1350). The Chronicle relates the history of the first king in the manner in which the second one, a great grandson, wanted to hear it. The first Alfonso’s reign marked both towering successes and humiliating failures. Compelled to choose a successor by the untimely death of his oldest son, the Infante Fernando, Alfonso X chose his second son Sancho, then renounced his choice to favor the dead Infante’s sons; just to choose Sancho again shortly before dying in 1284. King Alfonso’s choices clouded the crown’s succession for generations to come. The Chronicle of Alfonso X seeks to throw light on that dark past but only insofar as it can illuminate, legitimate, and justify Alfonso XI’s claims to succession. All hope for the future of Castile and Leon lay in the guarantee of a stable monarchy. However, that aspiration perished with Alfonso XI, who died of the plague at the gates of Gibraltar, young and full of promise. The kingdom’s promise and Alfonso XI’s dreams of legitimacy died with him.

FICTION Goodnight, Nobody, by Michael Knight. Atlantic Monthly Press $23

The stories of Goodnight, Nobody move with such fluidity, such effortless pace, that this brilliant new collection should be read twice: once for the sheer pleasure of it, and once more to soak up the careful artistry of Michael Knight’s prose. These stories hold together like brothers, but for everything they share in precision and depth, they are as unique to one another as snowflakes. From his band of freakish soldiers in “Killing Stonewall Jackson,” to the bungling suburbanites in “Blackout,” Knight cares deeply for his characters and stays close to them, hunkering down for the long haul even as they make painfully bad choices. His empathy for fallible men, for imperfect love, and for the heat of impassioned violence elevates scenes of the ordinary to breathtaking rites of passage. In “Birdland,” Knight speaks to issues most writers run from, and does so with a mythical Southernness as genuine as Flannery O’Connor. Knight makes daring narrative choices with confidence and grace, leaving the reader perfectly satisfied that all has been told and no words have been wasted. Goodnight, Nobody is a must read for all who appreciate the art of short fiction.

Drastic, by Maud Casey. Morrow $23.95

Maud Casey’s characters are often women on the edge, on the verge, in this, her first short story collection. Sometimes they are on the verge of something “Drastic” as in this title story wherein a social worker who seeks to save herself watches as “the outline of the world around her reluctantly emerged from the black.” Some of her characters have relationships the way other people have hives. That is, they are intense and show up anywhere and everywhere, giving a novelistic impact to a story of only 10 or 12 pages. In the way that people inhabit their bodies, Casey, as an author, seems to live inside these stories so fully, so deeply that the narrator’s inner tension is viscerally experienced by the reader, who begins to long for “Relief,” a story that achieves a wonderful climax that is both lightly comic and seriously insightful at the same time. As these one-word titles suggest, Casey is carving her own niche in the world of writers. Six of the 12 stories have been published before, all in literary magazines, and only one story, “Genealogy,” is told from a male point of view, though technically the story uses an omniscient narrator, as do most of these stories. The opening story, “Seaworthy,” seems to use the classic format of a child narrator looking for life’s answers but whatever method she uses, the author is on firm footing here. To borrow a line from the story “Indulgence,” these stories have moments that are “tiny jewels that I live for.” Drastic fulfills the promise of Casey’s debut novel and promises much more.

The Stone Carvers, by Jane Urquhart. Viking $25.95

At the behest of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, a priest is sent to the wilds of Canada to minister to the faithful. The priest is reluctant to migrate, but takes on the mission and, with the help of a woodcarver, he erects a church and the adornments it surrounds. One hundred years later, the granddaughter of the woodcarver, herself an artisan by her grandfather’s tutelage, returns to Europe to join Canadians constructing a war memorial. She bridges the continents and the centuries that separate her from her family’s heritage, recovering a lost brother along the way. This is Jane Urquhart’s fifth novel, and in many ways her best. It reminds us that though we Americans give little thought to our northern neighbors, Canada has fine writers that deserve our attention.

Lauren’s Story, by Kay Pfaltz. J.N. Townsend $22.50

This is a charming tale of requited love. Lauren and Kay discovered each other after being introduced by Kay’s sister Amy (Kay had just been jilted by Jason), and their love story began. They shared an apartment in Paris, dined together at the city’s best restaurants, played in the Luxembourg Gardens, traveled through France, and matured together. Lauren had other friends, of course (Jimmy, for one), but none came close to fulfilling her need for someone to love her, care for her, and be her friend like Kay. When Lauren falls ill to cancer, Kay realizes that “Lauren has taught me more than any creature on earth, for she’s taught me how to love.” Creature? Yes. Lauren is a beagle, now living out her last days (with Kay) in Roseland, Virginia.

The Color Midnight Made, by Andrew Winer. Washington Square $24

First-time novelist Andrew Winer is a master at creating memorable characters: Gamma, Loop, Midnight and Mary. Winer tells his story through the voice of the most vivid of his characters, a young white boy named Conrad Clay. Con’s voice is so strong and engaging, it seems as if he were standing in the room with you as he speaks. Although Con is streetwise, he is not just a punk, but instead is depicted as a complex individual who faces many challenges at a young age. As the story opens, the naval


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