The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion

A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks

THOSE who are collecting war libraries will do well to build a new five-foot shelf: there is still a great deal that can and needs to be told. This season there are fewer war novels; the respite gives us a chance to catch up with the better narratives of 1929. I recommend

the war stories of Edmund Blunden and Robert Graves, both of which, it seems to me, are more eloquent than the German version. Incidentally it is surprising to realize that, although the United States sent one million and a quarter men to France and had double that number in training, there were only some three hundred thousand readers (wives and sisters included) who bestirred themselves to buy so universal a book as All Quiet on the Western Front. These figures illustrate the indifference which is one of the chief reasons for our relatively small distribution of books. . . . This season, as I was saying, our war literature has passed from fiction to other considerations. There is, for instance, a book on the Paris Gun; there are two unsparing accounts of war nursing; and from Austria we have had the first farcical story of the private who was always out of luck. I am referring to Schweik (Doubleday, Doran, $2.50). We have as well two books on the international spies — Mata Hari by Major Thomas Coulson (Harper, $3.00), and Espionage by H. R. Berndorff (Appleton, $2.50). These volumes deal with much the same personalities—the famous spies, such as Mata Hari, Colonel Redl, the ‘ Lady Doctor,’ and the many others who seem to have perambulated about Europe in a comic-opera fashion. Both books have their incredible passages, at least to this reader: for instance, in Espionage we are told that the British carrier-pigeons ‘had tiny cameras . . . so light that they could be fastened to the birds’ tails.’ Reading this, all I could think of was a close-up of a barbed-wire fence. Even admitting the improbable, however, there is much that is exciting and most readable in these two books. Major Coulson does the better job, it seems to me. His portrait of the Bed Dancer and of the spider webs which she built about her is restrained and free from the bias which one finds in the German’s book. As for the lady herself, Mata Hari, she, like Cleopatra and Nell Gwynn, is one whom I feel cheated not to have known.