Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
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.
Very Bad Poetry
Why should anyone deliberately read bad poetry? The editors consider their dreadful specimens funny. They must be easily amused.
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.