Return to the May 1997 Table of Contents
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
Tracking the Secrets of a
Terrifying New Plague
by Richard Rhodes.
Simon &Schuster, 259 pages,
Scrapie is an old disease of sheep, long
studied by veterinarians with
no helpful results. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease was first observed in 1913, in
Germany, and has remained an uncommon affliction of human beings. Kuru was
discovered in New Guinea in the 1950s, among a people addicted to a
particularly unsanitary form of cannibalism. Something called transmissible
encephalopathy attacks mink when they are ranched. These are all degenerative
brain diseases and all are invariably fatal. Once scientists began fitting the
far-flung evidence together, it appeared that these diseases were caused by
various strains of the same basic agent, thought to be a slow-acting virus that
has proved impervious to any known method of killing a virus. Mr. Rhodes's
report of these scientific studies and the people who have conducted them is
lively, very well written, thoroughly interesting, and frequently gruesome; it
eventually arrives at bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- mad cow
disease. It is
at this point that the book becomes truly alarming. The British government's
initial attempt to brush the whole poisoned-beef problem out of sight (which
included officially advising a woman whose granddaughter was dying of the
illness to "think about the Common Market"and keep quiet) delayed serious
action; it has never progressed to effective action. According to Mr. Rhodes,
mad cow disease is in a position to reach not only beef eaters but consumers of
any other meat, including those in the United States, and this new disease is
"an atrocity of destruction . . . drawn out horribly for months." The Black
Death was merciful by comparison. This book is a serious warning from an
accomplished scientific reporter, and should be read as such.
Each highlighted book title can be ordered from Amazon.com.
Browse an anthology of Brief Reviews by
Very Bad Poetry
edited by Kathryn Petras
and Ross Petras.
144 pages, $10.00.
Why should anyone deliberately read bad poetry? The
their dreadful specimens funny. They must be easily amused.
by A. M. Sperber and Eric Lax.
Morrow, 676 pages,
The authors of this fine life of a fine actor have
avoided both the idolatry
and the denigration that so often disfigure Hollywood biographies. Bogart, of
course, is an interesting subject regardless of his professional status. His
background and education (in which he took little interest at the time) were
such that, according to the critic Richard Schickel, he "should not have ended
up being an actor in Hollywood."But he did, and once there, contributed to the
early protests against anti-Communist hysteria and, more successfully, to
action against the contract system by which studios virtually enslaved players.
The book contains information about studio maneuvers, both financial and
political, and about such colleagues as Katharine Hepburn and John Huston, all
of it intriguing, some of it amazing (why did nobody ever think to shoot Jack
Warner?), some of it laughable. A. M. Sperber worked for years on interviews
and records and anything else she could find about Bogart. After her death, Mr.
Lax put her material into final form. They both deserve gratitude.
Reality and Dreams
by Muriel Spark.
Houghton Mifflin, 160 pages,
The protagonist of Dame Muriel Spark's latest novel is
Tom Richards. He
is a distinguished maker of dreams -- that is, movies -- and his
idea of reality is
anything that interferes with the creation of his envisioned film. A great deal
does interfere, beginning with his own fall off a crane. Insulated by his
record of success and his wife's money (she is heiress to an American cookie
empire), Tom forges ahead, converting his dream into the relative solidity of
pictures. Meanwhile, the kind of reality that affects the three-dimensional
world (love affairs, lost jobs, lunacy, and the like) proceeds as usual. The
combination makes a wonderful novel. Dame Muriel's writing method is unique and
irresistible. She assembles a group of characters who then appear to go their
independent ways, uncontrolled by the author, who merely reports their doings
with cool precision and a puckish satire so smoothly integrated into the action
that it seems to arise spontaneously. There is a great deal of practical
knowledge and subtle psychological understanding underlying her work, but the
author never permits it to encumber the surface or slow the pace of this
brilliant, concise novel.
The Forgotten Ape
by Frans de Waal,
photographs by Frans Lanting.
202 pages, $39.95.
Bonobo have been called, inaccurately, pigmy
chimpanzees. They are
chimpanzees, all right, but almost the reverse of their more familiar cousins.
Professor de Waal, a distinguished primatologist, has observed them at length
in several zoos and has combined his knowledge with that of observers in Zaire,
where bonobo live in the wild. His book may offer more about bonobo than anyone
but an ape enthusiast really wants to know, but for those who do want to know,
it is a splendidly thorough, up-to-date report on an exceptional creature. What
Professor de Waal describes is a society of mamma's boys, permanently subject
to female control. It is also an erotic society, with sexual contacts conducted
steadily, ingeniously, and with no discernible concern for sex or age. One of
Mr. Lanting's many photographs sums up these apes rather well. It is of a male
bonobo, standing straight as a palace sentry, well prepared for sexual action,
and offering handfuls of sugarcane. Bonobo may lie at the root of civilized
Inventions of the
by T. S. Eliot,
edited by Christopher Ricks.
Harcourt Brace, 472
When Eliot sold a notebook containing miscellaneous
early work to the
collector John Quinn in 1922, he wrote, "You will find a great many sets of
verse which have never been printed and which Iam sure you will agree never
ought to be printed . . . Ibeg you fervently to keep them to yourself and see
that they never are printed." So much for an author's sensible intentions. Here
they all are, the trial runs and the discards, immersed in a scholarly
paraphernalia that runs all the way to the color of Eliot's ink. Appendix A,
however, does offer significant information. It proves that comic dirty verse
is a genre for which Eliot had no talent.
Master Drawings Rediscovered
by Tatiana Ilatovskaya.
Abrams, 224 pages,
Not exactly rediscovered. The Russians have known all
whereabouts of these "Treasures From Prewar German Collections" and are now
revealing what Yevgeny Sidorov, the Minister of Culture, describes as "these
last prisoners of war." The assemblage includes Goya's late, blood-chilling
depictions of misery, Rowlandson satires, an Ingres, a Delacroix, a fine group
of Daumiers, Millet, Menzel, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec
from the nineteenth century; and from the twentieth Signac, Nolde, and
Archipenko. The display is glorious, and the commentary is useful without
becoming overwhelming. Altogether a welcome view of lost and now recovered
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 279, No. 5;