Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
Scrapie is an old disease of sheep, long studied by veterinarians with no helpful results. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first observed in 1913, in Germany, and has remained an uncommon affliction of human beings. Kuru was discovered in New Guinea in the 1950s, among a people addicted to a particularly unsanitary form of cannibalism. Something called transmissible encephalopathy attacks mink when they are ranched. These are all degenerative brain diseases and all are invariably fatal. Once scientists began fitting the far-flung evidence together, it appeared that these diseases were caused by various strains of the same basic agent, thought to be a slow-acting virus that has proved impervious to any known method of killing a virus. Mr. Rhodes's report of these scientific studies and the people who have conducted them is lively, very well written, thoroughly interesting, and frequently gruesome; it eventually arrives at bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- mad cow disease. It is at this point that the book becomes truly alarming. The British government's initial attempt to brush the whole poisoned-beef problem out of sight (which included officially advising a woman whose granddaughter was dying of the illness to "think about the Common Market"and keep quiet) delayed serious action; it has never progressed to effective action. According to Mr. Rhodes, mad cow disease is in a position to reach not only beef eaters but consumers of any other meat, including those in the United States, and this new disease is "an atrocity of destruction . . . drawn out horribly for months." The Black Death was merciful by comparison. This book is a serious warning from an accomplished scientific reporter, and should be read as such.
Very Bad Poetry
Why should anyone deliberately read bad poetry? The editors consider their dreadful specimens funny. They must be easily amused.
The authors of this fine life of a fine actor have avoided both the idolatry and the denigration that so often disfigure Hollywood biographies. Bogart, of course, is an interesting subject regardless of his professional status. His background and education (in which he took little interest at the time) were such that, according to the critic Richard Schickel, he "should not have ended up being an actor in Hollywood."But he did, and once there, contributed to the early protests against anti-Communist hysteria and, more successfully, to action against the contract system by which studios virtually enslaved players. The book contains information about studio maneuvers, both financial and political, and about such colleagues as Katharine Hepburn and John Huston, all of it intriguing, some of it amazing (why did nobody ever think to shoot Jack Warner?), some of it laughable. A. M. Sperber worked for years on interviews and records and anything else she could find about Bogart. After her death, Mr. Lax put her material into final form. They both deserve gratitude.
The protagonist of Dame Muriel Spark's latest novel is Tom Richards. He is a distinguished maker of dreams -- that is, movies -- and his idea of reality is anything that interferes with the creation of his envisioned film. A great deal does interfere, beginning with his own fall off a crane. Insulated by his record of success and his wife's money (she is heiress to an American cookie empire), Tom forges ahead, converting his dream into the relative solidity of pictures. Meanwhile, the kind of reality that affects the three-dimensional world (love affairs, lost jobs, lunacy, and the like) proceeds as usual. The combination makes a wonderful novel. Dame Muriel's writing method is unique and irresistible. She assembles a group of characters who then appear to go their independent ways, uncontrolled by the author, who merely reports their doings with cool precision and a puckish satire so smoothly integrated into the action that it seems to arise spontaneously. There is a great deal of practical knowledge and subtle psychological understanding underlying her work, but the author never permits it to encumber the surface or slow the pace of this brilliant, concise novel.
The Forgotten Ape
Bonobo have been called, inaccurately, pigmy chimpanzees. They are chimpanzees, all right, but almost the reverse of their more familiar cousins. Professor de Waal, a distinguished primatologist, has observed them at length in several zoos and has combined his knowledge with that of observers in Zaire, where bonobo live in the wild. His book may offer more about bonobo than anyone but an ape enthusiast really wants to know, but for those who do want to know, it is a splendidly thorough, up-to-date report on an exceptional creature. What Professor de Waal describes is a society of mamma's boys, permanently subject to female control. It is also an erotic society, with sexual contacts conducted steadily, ingeniously, and with no discernible concern for sex or age. One of Mr. Lanting's many photographs sums up these apes rather well. It is of a male bonobo, standing straight as a palace sentry, well prepared for sexual action, and offering handfuls of sugarcane. Bonobo may lie at the root of civilized behavior.
When Eliot sold a notebook containing miscellaneous early work to the collector John Quinn in 1922, he wrote, "You will find a great many sets of verse which have never been printed and which Iam sure you will agree never ought to be printed . . . Ibeg you fervently to keep them to yourself and see that they never are printed." So much for an author's sensible intentions. Here they all are, the trial runs and the discards, immersed in a scholarly paraphernalia that runs all the way to the color of Eliot's ink. Appendix A, however, does offer significant information. It proves that comic dirty verse is a genre for which Eliot had no talent.
Not exactly rediscovered. The Russians have known all along the whereabouts of these "Treasures From Prewar German Collections" and are now revealing what Yevgeny Sidorov, the Minister of Culture, describes as "these last prisoners of war." The assemblage includes Goya's late, blood-chilling depictions of misery, Rowlandson satires, an Ingres, a Delacroix, a fine group of Daumiers, Millet, Menzel, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec from the nineteenth century; and from the twentieth Signac, Nolde, and Archipenko. The display is glorious, and the commentary is useful without becoming overwhelming. Altogether a welcome view of lost and now recovered beauty.