M A R C H 1 9 9 7
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
The Warrior Generals:
Combat Leadership in the
by Thomas B. Buell.
Mr. Buell's purpose is the correction of what
he believes to be the
general and erroneous assumption that Confederate commanders were superior to
those of the Union. To that end he compares the performances of Grant and Lee,
Thomas and Hood, and Barlow and Gordon, emphasizing that the Federals were more
innovative in procedure and quicker to make effective use of advances in
weaponry. Thomas is a good example. Serving in Tennessee under Rosecrans, who
saw the possibilities of well-armed mounted infantry (no sabers), he encouraged
Colonel John Wilder to collect mounts for five infantry regiments. The Army's ordnance chief had refused to order the new Spencer repeating rifle in
quantity, on the ground that it wasted ammunition. Wilder and his men ordered
enough Spencers to equip their entire brigade and "paid for them out of their
pockets."They then "thundered off and disappeared into the rain,"and so
discomfited Confederate General Bragg that he evacuated Tennessee. In
accounting for items like Wilder's Lightning Brigade, Mr. Buell provides a
great deal of background information, much of it drawn from sources usually ignored. His basic purpose is never forgotten, but it becomes embedded in a
sizable, always interesting history of the whole war. Mr. Buell can describe
terrain, evoke conditions, and summarize action briskly and lucidly. His
sometimes unorthodox opinions are stated bluntly. Even those who refute his
premise should find the book's unfamiliar detail and good writing
rewarding -- and Mr. Buell does have an initial point in his favor. The
March 1997 Table of Contents
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The Ordinary Seaman
by Francisco Goldman.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
Mr. Goldman's novel is based on reality -- the fact
that crewmen of a ship
sailing under a flag of convenience have no legal status in an American port
and cannot go ashore even to request help. The novel's characters are fifteen
men from Central America, recruited to work on a ship under repair in Brooklyn.
Only two of them have any previous maritime experience. From the decrepit
vessel docked at the far reaches of a decrepit pier, observing the Statue of
Liberty in the distance, one of these decides that the ship will sail when that
statue walks. The men are marooned, dependent for supplies on erratic
provisioning by the captain and the first officer. They are not paid. They are,
in effect, slaves. As long as Mr. Goldman confines himself to the memories,
dreams, ingenuities, and makeshifts of his unlucky castaways, the novel is
absorbing and moving. When he veers off into the affairs of the officers, who
are more fools than villains, the momentum flags. The book remains, however, a
touching and provocative portrayal of honest innocents caught in a legal
Georges de La Tour
and His World
by Philip Conisbee and others.
Yale, 319 pages, $50.00.
The painter La Tour was baptized at Vic-sur-Seille, in
Lorraine, in 1593. He married well in 1617 and died, still in Lorraine, in
1652. He engaged
in business deals and arguments with the tax collector. There is considerable
information about such matters, none of it having any bearing on La Tour's art.
Influences, teachers, travels, technical or stylistic developments -- all the
topics that excite art specialists -- are matters of speculation. The
contributing to this survey of an exhibition at the National Gallery, in
Washington, have therefore applied themselves to La Tour's world. They cover
the history of the Duchy of Lorraine, which was swallowed up by Richelieu's
France during the painter's lifetime. They report on the local painters with
whom he might have studied, the contemporaries (Caravaggio, Callot) who might
have influenced him, and the patrons (the King, the cardinal)who may have
valued his work. The result is a lively and fascinating exploration of artistic
fashion and public taste in the first half of the seventeenth century, lavishly
illustrated, intelligently organized, and well written. Anything one wants to
know about La Tour's methods, lighting effects, subject matter, or subtle
evocation of character is here -- provided that it is knowable at all.
The Club Dumas
by Arturo Perez-Reverte.
translated by Sonia Soto.
362 pages, $23.00.
Mystery addicts who believe that the genre has certain
rules of fair
play will be infuriated by Mr. Pérez-Reverte's gothic eccentricities.
Readers with a taste for Dumas and demonology will enjoy his devious
by Patrick Chamoiseau.
translated by Rose-Myriam Rejouis
Pantheon, 416 pages, $27.00.
Mr. Chamoiseau's glittering multilingual novel presents
150 years of
history on the island of Martinique as stories and fantasies in which events
are given the power of metaphor. His principal narrator is Marie-Sophie
Laborieux, descendant of slaves and indomitable guiding spirit of an illegal
shantytown that has fought its way to acceptance as part of the city whose
growth threatens to obliterate all other life on the island. "In what Itell
you,"Marie-Sophie explains, "there's the almost-true, the sometimes-true, and
the half-true." Her history, as imagined by Mr. Chamoiseau, is more exciting
than "the true-true" could ever be.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 279, No. 3;