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Books
Brief Reviews
by Phoebe-Lou Adams


The Warrior Generals:
Combat Leadership in the Civil War

by Thomas B. Buell.
Crown,
528 pages, $35.00.

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 Federals won.

March 1997 Table of Contents


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The Ordinary Seaman

by Francisco Goldman.
Atlantic Monthly Press,
387 pages, $22.00.

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 limbo.


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 specialists 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.
Harcourt Brace, 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 inventions.


Texaco

by Patrick Chamoiseau.
translated by Rose-Myriam Rejouis
and Val Vinokurov.
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 reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 279, No. 3; pages 105-106.

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