m_topn picture
Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

Go to this issue's Table of Contents.

A P R I L  2 0 0 0 

Books Brief Reviews



by Phoebe-Lou Adams


Rudyard Kipling: A Life
by Harry Ricketts.
Carroll & Graf, 448 pages, $28.00.

In the appreciative preface to his splendid biography of Kipling, Mr. Ricketts describes him as a chameleon. Salman Rushdie once defined him as two people -- Kipling Sahib and Ruddy Baba. Kipling himself gave thanks to "Allah Who gave me two / Separate sides to my head!"

I would go without shirt or shoe,
Friend, tobacco or bread,
Sooner than lose for a minute the two
Separate sides of my head!

He probably meant the reporter who collected facts about molehills and mountains, and the fiction writer who could inflate the one and flatten the other. Born in India to witty parents, schooled in England, back to India as a cub journalist, by age twenty-five Kipling was an author of international reputation and on his way to tackle London, via Singapore, Japan, and the United States. The London literati were quite welcoming, but Rud did not take to people who forever discussed aesthetic principles and the state of their souls. The literati soon became suspicious of a man who wrote about a kind of people that most of them had never met except on accidental progress through the servants' hall, and by 1910 they no longer considered him to be a serious writer. By 1920 his insistence on the beneficial effects of the British Empire (if well administered), his wartime hatred of "the Hun," and his opposition to the League of Nations (which did indeed prove to be a toothless debating society) got him labeled an imperialist and a crotchety relic. But people continued to read him (and still do), whether or not they noticed his early use of the avant-garde stylistic devices that Mr. Ricketts points out. There is a widespread Kipling underground, and if this biography, full of episodes and lively quotation, expands it, a number of deprived persons will discover some wonderful storytelling.

More on books in The Atlantic Monthly and Atlantic Unbound.

Each highlighted book title can be ordered from Amazon.com.

Browse an anthology of Brief Reviews by Phoebe-Lou Adams


The Farfarers
by Farley Mowat.
Steerforth Press, 391 pages, $16.00.

Mr. Mowat postulates that before Indo-Europeans swept over Europe, a people he calls Albans farmed and fished there and must have flourished, because they had the time and the manpower to erect dry-stone structures not attributable to the later arrivals. He assumes that they became expert builders and sailors of skin boats capable of ocean voyages. They also became hunters of walrus, highly valuable for tusks and hide, and too expert at it for their own good. As European stocks became exhausted, the Albans looked for new hunting grounds; by A.D. 800 they had reached Canada. They eventually went as far north as the Kane Basin and as far west as the eastern shore of Hudson Bay. They left foundations and stone towers that have survived very well. Mr. Mowat presents his radical reconstruction of conventional history not as fact but as a hypothesis. It is supported by fragments of testimony going all the way back to Pytheas (c. 330 B.C.), by well-studied records of Dark Age Britain, and by interviews with maverick archaeologists who persist in investigating sites that the official establishment prefers to ignore. A person from Canada's National Museum told Mr. Mowat that officials there fear an archaeological embarrassment. Mr. Mowat also refers to his own travels in the Arctic, his considerable sailing experience, and knowledge he has picked up along the road, such as the proper way to prepare "seal tar." Very little of this is what is called hard evidence, but in the aggregate it becomes soundly impressive, accounting for the otherwise unaccountable existence of stone structures where native cultures did not build such things. Mr. Mowat intersperses frankly fictional vignettes of Alban life among his historical materials. The text is energetic and highly readable. This is a book to delight addicts of archaeology, Arctic exploration, history, and good writing.


The Eternal Darkness:
A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration

by Robert D. Ballard with Will Hively.
Princeton, 388 pages, $29.95.

Dr. Ballard, a veteran of more than 110 deep-sea expeditions, provides a history of marine exploration, from Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton, crammed into a steel "bathysphere" in 1930, to the intricately designed robot that, under the author's direction, found and surveyed the wreck of the Titanic. Dr. Ballard is a passionate advocate of deep-sea exploration, pointing out that all such expeditions so far undertaken have probably surveyed less than one percent of the sea floor, which constitutes the greater part of our planet's surface. With the development of "telepresence," scientists can now observe the depths from above the waves. Observation without submersion does away with what has always been the greatest obstacle to underwater investigation: people are not fish. One can hardly disagree with Dr. Ballard's proposal that we should expand that one percent.


The Nature of Economies
by Jane Jacobs.
Modern Library/Random House, 208 pages, $21.95.

The principles by which Ms. Jacobs relates economies to the natural world can be pinpointed by looking for italicized passages. They can be understood only by a careful and complete reading of the provocative argument that supports them. The book is cast in the form of discussions among people with varied interests and convictions. Although sometimes sententious, the personal opinions of the group allow for a freedom and liveliness unheard of in the usual dismal-science text. Economies as rain forests? It is a question worth consideration.


Water, Carry Me
by Thomas Moran.
Riverhead/Penguin Putnam, 252 pages, $23.95.

The narrator of Mr. Moran's elegantly written novel is a young Irishwoman who does not understand that the troubles in the North can be dangerous in the South. Owing to an odd family situation, Una shuttles between a blue-collar adjunct of Cork and her friends at the university. She and her friends are serious students, but they are also girlish hedonists, romping with clothes and teasing one another and the lads they attract in pubs. Their language is violent, and so, at times, is their conduct. A love affair disrupts the pattern. Una is an appealing character, although one frequently itches to give the girl a shake and tell her to quit mooning over water, stars, and sex and take a realistic look around her.

Recent books by Atlantic authors:

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion by Holly Brubach. Phaidon, 232 pages, $29.95. Five of the essays in this collection first appeared in The Atlantic.

The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War by Robert D. Kaplan. Random House, 208 pages, $23.00. A portion of this book first appeared as the cover article in the February, 1994, Atlantic.


Phoebe-Lou Adams has written her Atlantic book column, under a variety of titles, since 1952.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 2000; Brief Reviews - 00.04; Volume 285, No. 4; page 132-134.