by Phoebe-Lou Adams
by John Malcolm Russell.
Yale/Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Austen Henry Layard, a young Englishman with
more pedigree than money,
was poking about the Middle East when, in 1845, he discovered the remains of
Nineveh and organized its excavation. Assyrian art was an astounding and
disconcerting revelation to midcentury Britain. Layard was a relative of Lady
Charlotte Guest, the daughter of an earl and the wife of Sir John Guest, a
magnate in the iron business. Lady Charlotte took to Assyrian art at once and
with enthusiasm. By means that today would be considered highly improper (and
that did raise a few Victorian eyebrows), she procured enough Assyrian
sculpture and artifacts to add a "Nineveh Porch" to the Guest estate of Canford
Manor. The porch was a wild mixture of Victorian Gothic taste and modified
Assyrian motifs. The antiquities were real -- a most extraordinary
collection to have been in private hands. The pieces were eventually
dispersed, hawked about
by an art dealer, and flirted with by several museums; they wound up in the
Metropolitan as a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. Display space was always a
problem. At one point it seemed that "these marbles, which began their Western
career in the Canford stable, might spend the remainder of their days in the
Metropolitan's garage." (Under plastic, because the roof leaked.) Mr. Russell
writes with unpretentious efficiency, seldom revealing his own opinion of the
events he reports, which involve aesthetic theory, social wire-pulling,
religious misinterpretation, and a number of interesting people --
Lady Charlotte, who had a weakness for young men on the make. It is a truly
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According to the Son
by Norman Mailer.
Random House, 242 pages,
Mr. Mailer told one of his publisher's editors,
supposed to look into the eye of the tiger," and certainly a life of Jesus
Jesus himself is a daring enterprise. The result, however, is not particularly
surprising. Mr. Mailer presents a good man, who does indeed hear divine
instructions and advice, whose miracles are genuine (and also exhausting), and
who loses his temper, contradicts himself, worries about the source of his
power, and fears for the future of his people and the movement he has started.
What is missing in this reasonable character is any hint of the magnetically
persuasive preacher that Jesus must have been. Satan and Judas have
considerably more energy, probably because Mr. Mailer had less Scripture and
therefore more freedom in imagining them. One can hardly hold this against the
author: Milton had similar trouble. Satan is a great scene stealer.
by Lawrence Joseph.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
Mr. Joseph, once a lawyer himself, persuaded attorneys
judge to talk about the profession. It may be the interview format, which
but not timing or tone of voice, that makes these people seem pointlessly
belligerent, fond of spiteful gossip, and very protective of their tails. They
create a general atmosphere of discontent, but one does not learn anything
definite about the law in their company.
Stephen Foster and
the Rise of American
by Ken Emerson.
Simon & Schuster, 400 pages,
As everyone surely knows, Stephen Foster (1826-1864)
was a prolific
composer of American popular songs that spread around the world. Bayard Taylor
(1825-1878) heard "Oh! Susanna" sung in Hindi in Delhi. Foster's songs were
irresistible. Foster himself was a feckless drunk who managed to be paid very
poorly for his music at a time when other popular composers prospered. Mr.
Emerson covers the rise of American popular culture as well as Foster's sad
career, and does it well. He describes the development of the minstrel show,
the interweaving of African and European musical traditions, the erratic
effects of racism, the influence of imports like Jenny Lind, and the devious
methods of publishers. It is all thoroughly interesting.
edited by Oscar Handlin and
Harvard, 491 pages,
In their thorough and lucid introduction to this
collection of travel
reports, the Handlins describe perceptions of and attitudes toward the United
States in non-European countries. The visitors' observations that constitute
the body of the book vary widely in point of origin and point of view. A few
are by well-known authors -- Rabindranath Tagore, Octavio Paz. Most are by
journalists or students or diplomats. These travelers observed racism, economic
disparity, poor school systems, and a number of other regrettable but familiar
deficiencies. They occasionally found something to admire. What holds a
reader's attention, providing occasional surprises and even amusement, is the
way a particular writer views his material and the relationship of that view to
his personal background. Travelers, whether they want to or not, carry their
own countries with them, and some of the countries one encounters in this
collection are decidedly engaging.
by Michael McGarrity.
Norton, 316 pages,
Mr. McGarrity is a skillful writer who weaves an
intricate plot about
misdoings in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. The mystery starts with a crime
as old as poaching and ends with one as contemporary as today's headlines.
The Chauvet Cave
by Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel
Deschamps, and Christian Hillaire.
Abrams, 135 pages,
The Chauvet Cave was found in 1994, and has been
identified as the
oldest painted cave yet found anywhere, with artwork more sophisticated than
that of later date, and depictions of animals not seen elsewhere. The three
discoverers provide a spirited account of their excitement and delight on
opening the amazing cavern. Handsome photographs present a very small sampling
of the paintings. This book, published promptly in 1996, is being repromoted
because it is unlikely that anything more will emerge from Chauvet for some
time to come. The French government has, as usual, assumed possession of the
cave to ensure its protection and careful study. The landowners affected by the
procedure do not agree on their property lines but do agree that the
compensation offered them by the authorities is inadequate. The triangular row
is now in the courts. As Jean Clottes, the president of the International
Committee on Monuments and Sites, observes in his epilogue to this beautiful
and frustrating book, "If it has waited for thirty thousand years, what are a
few years more?"
Recent books by Atlantic authors:
Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us Who We
Are Today by Steven D. Stark. The Free Press, 340 pages, $25.00.
Stark is a regular contributor to The Atlantic, and portions of this
originally published in these pages.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; June 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 279, No. 6;