Books October 2002

New & Noteworthy

The best bets in a crowded autumn field

Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800
by Raffaella Sarti
Yale University Press, 304 pages, $29.95

This vivid book takes readers through the daily life of European families at every economic level over three centuries. Sarti is a nosy guide: she barges into the houses of the past and shows us who hired a wet nurse and why, how often men changed their shirts, what toilets were like, how underwear fashions evolved, what kinds of soup people ate and when they ate it. With keen intelligence she explains what these facts reveal about relations between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. The publisher has recently issued a number of important, specific studies on the history of European family life, but this book, with its clear writing and wealth of arresting details, will fascinate and beguile the general reader.

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 1862
by James M. McPherson
Oxford University Press, 224 pages, $50.00

September 17, 1862, the day Union and Confederate forces fought at the Battle of Antietam, is the bloodiest day in American history. More than 6,000 Americans were killed—well more than twice the number lost on D-Day. The battle was also the political and diplomatic turning point of the Civil War. McPherson's latest book (its publisher's lead title for the fall season) is a slim account of the battle that does little harm but little good, and hardly justifies its marketing campaign—which seems designed to synergize Civil War and 9/11-anniversary solemnity. Those looking for a detailed, dramatic, and authoritative narrative of Antietam will be far better off reading Stephen W. Sears's Landscape Turned Red.

Literary Studies

London Perceived
by V.S. Pritchett, photographs by Evelyn Hofer
David R. Godine, 224 pages, $19.95

Pritchett's graceful and elegiac portrait of London, its history, architecture, literature, and daily life, originally published in 1962, is finally back in print. I've never read a more penetrating or lovelier book on the city. The author, the most accomplished English critic of the second half of the twentieth century, concludes that London is above all a city of conversation, conversation that is "light, sociable, discursive, enquiring ... and is regarded as a relaxation and not as a means to an end."

Sinclair Lewis: Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth
edited by Richard R. Lingeman
Library of America, 1346 pages, $40.00

From the archives:

"Sheer Data" (February 2002)
Sinclair Lewis's great accomplishment was, as E. M. Forster marveled, "to lodge a piece of a continent in our imagination." By Benjamin Schwarz

The publisher has already issued the definitive texts of Lewis's greatest novels, Main Street and Babbitt, and with this volume readers now have easy access to all the author's important works from his most creative period, 1920-1930. Through their ceaseless, precise detail these books capture bourgeois midwestern life—its speech, its houses, its gadgets, its caste marks, its stultifying social rounds. Lewis's absorption in this milieu made him able, as E. M. Forster marveled, "to lodge a piece of a continent in our imagination."

The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939
by John Carey
Academy Chicago Publishers, 246 pages, $16.95

In this reprint of his seminal, disturbing, and excoriating 1992 study, Carey argues that modernist literature is founded on an almost murderous loathing of common men and women. His argument is at times overdrawn, but Carey's assessment of Pound's, Joyce's, Woolf's, and Eliot's crude and unconscionable detestation of the newly educated reader is chilling, and his intricate dissection of the relationship between politics and aesthetics—along with his clean and scintillating style—should serve as a model for literary historians and cultural critics.

The Immortal Dinner
by Penelope Hughes-Hallet
Ivan R. Dee, 360 pages, $27.50

Whereas MacMillan's Paris 1919 takes a large subject and reveals little new about it, Hughes-Hallett's book examines a small topic—a single London dinner party in 1817, which included William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb—to illuminate an entire world. This discursive and lively book uses the party's conversation (which was recorded in great detail in the host's diary) to elucidate not only the personalities and work of the writers but also such subjects as surgical techniques, the London theater, and African exploration.

Vera Brittain
by Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge
Northeastern University Press, 581 pages, $24.95

This exhaustive but trenchant biography limns Brittain's heartbreaking transformation from shallow jingoist in the First World War to committed pacifist in the Second—and thus, like Brittain's own memoirs, is as much a portrait of a generation as of an artist. With great sensitivity the authors focus on the central struggle in Brittain's professional life (and in that of many women writers): the effort to reconcile the attractions of domesticity and marriage with those of solitude and independence.

Current Affairs

High and Mighty
by Keith Bradsher
PublicAffairs, 464 pages, $28.00

Bradsher, The New York Times's Detroit bureau chief for five years, examines the environmental, economic, and—most important—safety problems created by sport-utility vehicles. An intelligent reader will conclude from this meticulous and sober investigation that the makers of these behemoths have exploited a lucrative market of self-regarding urban and suburban consumers who care not a whit that by driving such menacing and wasteful machines they are committing a horrendously antisocial act.

Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11
by Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 400 pages, $26.00

The author, the foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times, occupies the same position in the cultural and political landscape as that once held by Walter Lippmann—which will confirm for any independent-minded person that our civilization has utterly collapsed. Friedman's latest book, a collection of his columns, displays his peculiar propensity to be at once hokey and pretentious (a typical column takes the form of a memo to "The Arab Street"—a phrase signaling that the conventional wisdom is sure to follow—from "President Bill Clinton"). Friedman says in twelve words ("This book is the product of my own personal journey of exploration") what a competent writer could say in—actually, wouldn't say at all. What's worst about this book's publication, though, is the sickening display of mutual ingratiation on Charlie Rose that will, inevitably, kick off its promotional campaign.

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Benjamin Schwarz is the former literary and national editor for The Atlantic. He is writing a book about Winston Churchill for Random House. More

His first piece for the magazine, "The Diversity Myth," was a cover story in 1995. Since then he's written articles and reviews on a startling array of subjects from fashion to the American South, from current fiction to the Victorian family, and from international economics to Chinese restaurants. Schwarz oversees and writes a monthly column for "Books and Critics," the magazine's cultural department, which under his editorship has expanded its coverage to include popular culture and manners and mores, as well as books and ideas. He also regularly writes the "leader" for the magazine. Before joining the Atlantic's staff, Schwarz was the executive editor of World Policy Journal, where his chief mission was to bolster the coverage of cultural issues, international economics, and military affairs. For several years he was a foreign policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, where he researched and wrote on American global strategy, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and military doctrine. Schwarz was also staff member of the Brookings Institution. Born in 1963, he holds a B.A. and an M.A. in history from Yale, and was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford. He has written for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The Nation. He has lectured at a range of institutions, from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School to the Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. He won the 1999 National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in book criticism.

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