Books in Brief

Books reviewed in The Atlantic Monthly in 2005
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Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, by Scott A. Sandage (Harvard University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"In this book about the cultural ramifications of economic failure in nineteenth-century America, Sandage has taken on an important and underexamined subject and scrutinized it in inventive ways, using unexpected and largely unmined sources."

.....

Crazy Horse, by Mari Sandoz (Nebraska)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Another World," October 2005)

"The most accomplished biography of Crazy Horse and one of the best and most moving books ever written about the American West, a strange, often unsettling work."

.....

Understanding Dante, by John A. Scott (Notre Dame)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"Scott has accomplished the nearly impossible: he has married close interpretation with broad synthesis—and in clear, often vigorous prose. This is a significant and deeply satisfying book."

.....

Undressing Infidelity, by Diane Shader Smith (Adam Media Corporation)
Reviewed by Cristina Nehring ("Fidelity with a Wandering Eye," July/August 2005)

"Women need more than security to thrive, it seems. In fact, they often court the square opposite of security, as Diane Shader Smith learned when she began interviewing women for Undressing Infidelity."

.....

War in the Wild East: The German and Soviet Partisans, by Ben Shepard (Harvard University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"Analyzing the official paperwork of three army security divisions responsible for the suppression of Soviet insurgents, Shepherd focuses on the conduct and motivation of field officers, who served as the crucial links that 'converted the ideological, military, and economic imperatives of the Third Reich's war of extermination into action.'"

.....

The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 3: 1956-1991, by Norman Sherry (Viking Adult)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("I'll Be Damned," Month 2005)

"Sherry's work is so replete with absurd and sinister remarks by Greene on his travels as a tourist of revolution in the Caribbean and Latin American zone that one could fill this page with balls-aching propagandistic remarks that impeached him out of his own mouth."

.....

Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, Edited by Valerie Steele (Charles Scribner's)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Passion in Fashion," December 2005)

"The three-volume, 1,600-plus-page Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion encompasses everything from Albanian folk dress to the ultra-luxury designer Zoran.... The mostly crisp, authoritative entries ... prove addictive and fascinating."

.....

Edie: An American Biography, by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton (Grove Press)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"Nearly thirty-five years after Edie Sedgwick's death from an overdose, at the age of twenty-eight, her glamorous vapor continues to intoxicate alienated, artsy, wannabe-anorexic teens.... The persistence of Edie's iconicity can be credited, paradoxically, to Stein's attempt to make real this woman whose short life was at once a sad waste of time and culturally, ad infinitum the time of seemingly everyone's life."

.....

The Lights that Failed, by Zara Steiner (Oxford)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"[In] this 938-page volume, which covers the years from the Paris Peace Conference, in 1919, to Hitler's appointment as chancellor, in 1933, Steiner ... illuminates the world view and unspoken assumptions of her historical actors, rather than to impose an interpretation of the past based on subsequent events."

.....

Sinatra, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (Knopf)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"Although Summers and Swan have laid some important groundwork for the considered and sprawling biography their subject merits, this slackly written, cobbled-together book is third-rate Vanity Fair fodder, not a biography."

.....

Directions to Servants, by Jonathan Swift (Hesperus Press)
Reviewed by Mona Simpson ("Serf Advisory," December 2005)

"Directions to Servants lacks the central conceit and driving polemic of A Modest Proposal, but delivers a gallery of sharp miniatures, in aggregate asserting the eternal spunk, appetite, ultimate dignity, and humanity of servants."

.....

Animal Rights, Edited by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (Oxford)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("If Pigs Could Swim," September 2005)

"Among the eloquent essays compiled by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum in the new book Animal Rights is one by Richard A. Posner, an advocate of 'humancentricity,' who asks, 'Are the Spanish, who watch bullfights in which the bull is killed, more violent toward each other ... than Americans, who do not watch bullfights at all? I don't think so.'"

.....

Stephen Spender: A Literary Life, by John Sutherland (Oxford University Press)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Nice Bloody Fool," January/February 2005)

"It may be that Sutherland felt a need to compensate for previous injustices in the writing of this biography, but one sometimes has the sense that his dutifulness became a chore to him. The word 'idyllic' is employed so many times, even for scenes of relatively ordinary satisfaction at the seaside or in the countryside, that after a while I stopped circling it."

.....

From Here to Maternity: The Education of a Rookie Mom, by Beth Teitell (Broadway Books)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Marshal Plan," March 2005)

"True Slacker Parents occasionally allow the television to babysit, and here is where Beth Teitell makes her most notable contribution to the Slacker Parenting field. She brashly admits, 'I let my kids watch TV. I don't just let my kids, I encourage it.'"

.....

Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, by Sue Tilley (Hodder & Stoughton)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"Sue Tilley's biography ... offers a fascinating glimpse into the mundane business of being fabulous."

.....

V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown (Random House)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"[Treglown's] refreshingly brisk book, which manages to compress Pritchett's story into fewer than 260 pages of text, is among the most intelligent and perceptive depictions of a writer's habits and routine, and of the economics of a literary profession, that I've read."

.....

Create and Be Recognized: Photography on the Edge, by John Turner and Deborah Klochko (Chronicle Books)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"The editors have assembled the work of seventeen 'largely self-taught' photographers, from the schizophrenic Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930) to the Humbert Humbert-like Morton Bartlett (1909-1992).... The title scrawled by the outsider artist Howard Finster (1916-2001) on one of his loopy, out-of-focus Polaroids—'Strange Butterfly (Black Cross)'—suggests the hallucinatory beauty displayed here."

.....

Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares, by Armando Valladares (Encounter Books)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"An antidote for those with a tendency to romanticize revolutionary despots, Valladares's memoir makes for compelling reading.... His was the first book to detail the abuses meted out by Castro and his men to those who fall from favor."

.....

Portraits, by Hellen van Meene (Aperture)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"How Vermeer might have photographed—after a tab of LSD."

.....

London 1945, by Maureen Waller (St. Martin's)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Eminent Domains," May 2005)

"[Waller's] 528-page book is at once abundantly and discerningly detailed, and her depiction of the daily fabric of wartime life in the capital is unrivaled ... This is a sad book about a city staggering to victory."

.....

Perfect Madness, by Judith Warner (Riverhead)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Kiddie Class Struggle," June 2005)

"Warner dubs today's Problem That Has No Name 'The Mommy Mystique,' a gauzy tissue of beliefs that tell us 'we are the luckiest women in the world—the freest, with the most choices, the broadest horizons, the best luck, and the most wealth ... [and] that if we choose badly our children will fall prey to countless dangers.'"

.....

War and the Iliad, by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff (New York Review Books)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"In the early months of the Second World War two brilliant and despairing Frenchwomen of Jewish background each wrote an essay on the Iliad. Weil's 'The Iliad, or The Poem of Force"' and Bespaloff's 'On the Iliad' remain the twentieth century's most beloved, tortured, and profound responses to the world's greatest and most disturbing poem."

.....

Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thought, by Jerry Weinberger (University of Kansas)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Free and Easy," November 2005)

"[An] elegant and fascinating companion to, and analysis of, the work of our cleverest Founding Father.... This is not an exposé of Benjamin Franklin's folie in respect of the fair sex—though it doesn't suffer from lack of attention to this intriguing subject. It is an attempt to describe, rather than to remove, the disguises that he assumed in a long and sinuous life."

.....

Pétain, by Charles Williams (Palgrave Macmillan)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"In this work of cool authority Williams—deputy leader of the opposition in the House of Lords and the author of biographies of De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer—places Pétain's actions and attitudes in their precise and proper context."

Poetry

The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman , by William Langland, George Economou (Tranlator) (University of Pennsylvania Press)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"As our present political reality darkens toward fundamentalist tribal warfare that can leave us feeling daily more medieval, this medieval poem illumines itself as a consolation. Permeable in its clear wishes, gorgeous in its humane and unapologetic belief, it reassures us that the Seven Sins aren't actually Deadly."

.....

Collected Poems and Selected Prose, by Charlotte Mew (Carcanet Press)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Mew's poems are few, somber, and spinsterish, but in their sad, shriveled way supremely beautiful."

.....

The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose, edited and annotated by Lawrence Rainey (Yale)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Breath of Dust," July/August 2005)

"[T]his latest attempt at context and explication has the effect, prefigured in earlier scrutinies, of helping to further demystify what is certainly the most overrated poem in the Anglo-American canon."

.....

Sent Off the Field: A Selection From the Poetry of Heberto Padilla, by Heberto Padilla (Deutsch)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"This slim volume from the late poet (arrested in Havana in 1971...) contains many of his most melancholy and incendiary verses—earning him Castro's enmity. It was not for nothing that Plato sought to banish poets from his ideal republic."

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