Books October 2008

Cover to Cover

A guide to additional releases
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Biography

Cecil B. DeMille: A Life in Art
by Simon Louvish (St. Martin’s)

From the days when motion pictures actually flickered, in the 20th century’s teens, to the glories of 1950s Technicolor epics, DeMille’s role in the industry’s evolution was decisive. Louvish intelligently assesses this aspect of his subject, but he also roams further afield into such topics as the fabled director’s right-wing politics, his Jewish ancestry, and his surprising family connection to the radical economic thinker Henry George. A half century after his death, DeMille is ready for another close-up, and this is as good a one as we’re likely to get for some time.

Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier
by Charles Spencer (Trafalgar Square)

The hundreds of millions of people around the world who heard Charles Spencer’s eulogy at his sister Princess Diana’s funeral know that he has a way with words. This talent is evident throughout his biography of the Stuart prince who fought so flamboyantly but with mixed success in the Thirty Years’ War and on behalf of his uncle, the doomed Charles I, in the English Civil War. Spencer is adept at evoking the brutal realities of 17th-century warfare but is also skilled at portraiture, not only of Rupert but also of the host of other characters, major and minor, swirling through his maelstrom of a life.

Hidden in the Shadow of the Master: The Model-Wives of Cézanne, Monet, & Rodin
by Ruth Butler (Yale)

This judicious, exhaustively researched, and gracefully written study examines the three women who played essential, although hitherto overlooked, roles in the evolution of three great artists. Grounding her subjects’ stories in their cultural and sociological climate, Butler nicely demonstrates how feminist historiography can illuminate the life and work of male figures as well.

Mandela: Struggle and Triumph
by David Turnley (Abrams)

The subtitle is indeed accurate, for this book essentially concludes with Mandela’s election as South Africa’s president, in 1994. It focuses on how he got there, neglecting what he did—and did not—achieve in office. The author, an American photojournalist, expresses warm thanks to Mandela’s largely discredited ex-wife, Winnie, who is oddly prominent in these pages. Dogged and admirable as Mandela’s fight for justice was, his legacy is inseparable from how he united, governed, and led his country, so this portrait seems both out of date and partial, despite its evocative photographs and trenchant (though sparse) commentary.

Society and Culture

Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations
by Susan Sessions Rugh (Kansas)

A singularly middle-class American phenomenon, the family road trip enjoyed a roughly three-decade boom, from the 1940s, when rationing ended and the economy mended, to the 1970s, when the gasoline crisis did irreparable damage to the summer ritual. Rugh, a history professor at Brigham Young (whose style blessedly stints on academese), treats this period of post–World War II innocence—or Cold War escapism, depending on one’s point of view—with a healthy revisionism minus any smudge of sepia sentimentality. Instead, she erects a sturdy factual lattice that undergirds her social theorizing on domestic tourism (paid vacation leave, increased car ownership, and the nascent interstate highway system conspired to make the bourgeois practice all but inevitable); changing social norms (the Boomer factor, the work/play dialectic); and the environmental, religious, and racial realities of the time (including the roadside inequalities that may have jump-started the civil-rights movement). Smart and sensitive, well researched and no-nonsense, Rugh’s ride is well worth taking.

Punctuated Equilibrium
by Stephen Jay Gould (Harvard Belknap) The untimely death of Stephen Jay Gould deprived the world of a superb writer and popularizer of important events and processes in biology. But Gould was also a genuinely original thinker, capable of challenging even basic tenets of Darwinian notions of evolution. This latest posthumous volume, which was the central chapter of his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, argues that Darwin’s theory of a steady continuum of evolutionary progress was incorrect. Rather, Gould posits, most species have originated during punctuated geologic moments, and persisted through the periods of stasis that followed. Just as, more than a century ago, quantum theory proved that in physics, things sometimes moved forward in spurts, Gould intuited that this was also true for aspects of evolutionary biology.

The Edible Series
(Chicago)

Hamburger: A Global History
by Andrew F. Smith

Pizza: A Global History
by Carol Helstosky

Pancake: A Global History
by Ken Albala

A timely retort to gourmandism run amok, the first three titles in this chapbook series aim—nobly if quaintly—to illuminate and elevate taken-for-granted staples via concise, discrete histories. As such, Hamburger is equal parts myth debunker and modernization theorizer; Pizza traces transatlantic classism, corporate global­ization, and methodology-as-variety; and Pancake offers an iterative look at comfort food, cultural controversy, and appellative breadth. As might be expected, however, the value of a given volume depends less on the intrinsic interest of the foodstuff in question than on the ability of the writer considering it (Smith’s lively tone is the most appetizing, Helstosky’s lukewarm but palatable, Albala’s overcooked and hard to swallow). While each title is fairly bursting with facts, figures, and recipes, the casual reader would do well to consider his or her particular appetite—and to perhaps peer into the kitchen—before coming to the table.

HISTORY

For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Protection Movement
by Kathryn Shevelow (Henry Holt)

Few issues inspire more mammalian passion and ire than animal ethics—a fact that may seem, to many of today’s readers, only right and natural. But such was not always the case, explains Shevelow, a scholar of all things 18th-century and British who, in this vital new volume, begins in a time of merciless, bestial benightedness, then discovers the unlikely roots of the anticruelty movement—nobles, parliamentarians, antislavery crusaders, evangelicals, and scientists who found common cause in decency—and follows them to full modern flower (advocacy, protection, legislation). Shevelow lovingly tells the story of assorted luminary reformers: Samuel Pepys, Alexander Pope, William Hogarth, Samuel Johnson, William Wilberforce. The resultant tome is a carefully constructed history, a sometimes shocking social narrative (veined with unexpected, though welcome, humor), and a heartfelt encomium to a once-radical movement’s principles. Ultimately, and essentially, though, it’s a warm-blooded, well-reasoned plea for humaneness.

Cold War at 30,000 Feet
by Jeffrey A. Engel (Harvard)

This book recounts Britain’s challenge to American hegemony in the production of airliners during the years after the Second World War. Ho hum, you’d think. But with a cast of colorful characters—among them Ernest Bevin, Dean Acheson, and John Maynard Keynes—and acute glimpses into how things worked in postwar Washington, this chronicle of an intense commercial struggle gives readers a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten cranny of history.

Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922
by Giles Milton (Basic)

Turkey today is considered the most tolerant Islamic society in the world, but it was not always so. The Armenian genocide during the First World War, which the Turks still refuse to acknowledge, was hardly an isolated incident. The ancient city of Smyrna (now called Izmir) was a polyglot haven of tolerance where Jews, Muslims, and Greek and Armenian Christians lived peaceably together for centuries. But in a few terrible days at the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War, in 1922, victorious Turkish troops burned the city, killing more than 100,000 non-Muslim civilians. Milton tells his story with a precision that coolly elucidates the enormity of this event, witnessed by American and European naval forces operating under strict nonintervention orders.

Rivals
by Bill Emmott (Harcourt)

In a chatty but serious study, Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, details the growing competition among China, India, and Japan. Emmott sees them as more concerned with besting one another than with supplanting the United States, and he paints an alarming picture of potential conflicts among them and also with smaller states like Pakistan and North Korea. But there’s no doubt as to this book’s target: the überpower across the Pacific, “the world’s chief bearer of burdens and payer of prices.” U.S. foreign policy for well over a century has been aimed at preventing any Asian power from dominating the continent, and it seems that to achieve Emmott’s rosy scenario of Japan, China, and India as harmonious permanent members of the UN Security Council, Uncle Sam is going to have to keep stepping up to the plate—forever. For all the talk of these nations’ power potential, the book makes them out to be squabbling, if dangerous, children in need of a firm parental hand from Washington to keep them in line.

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