In BETWEEN OXUS AND JUMNA (Oxford University Press, $5.00), ARNOLD J. TOYNBEE describes a circuitous journey through northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The book contains some observations on the nature and political views of the people in the area, but Mr. Toynbee was attracted to the region primarily by fine scenery and historical associations, and sees the ghost of Alexander rather more clearly than the body of any living tribesman. Since he traveled mostly by car, he pays a good deal of attention to the height of passes, the depth of mudholes, and the technique of crossing irrigation ditches. All in all, the book recalls those articles in the National Geographic back in the days of the first automobile caravan to Timbuktu.
EUSTACE MULLINS, a young admirer of the old poet, defends his idol rather too furiously in THIS DIFFICULT INDIVIDUAL, EZRA POUND (Fleet, $5.00). He has had access to good material from Pound himself and organizes it well, but a sentence like “Despite the efforts of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg to imitate Guest’s profitable folksiness, they have not yet ascended into his income bracket” raises serious doubts of Mr. Mullins’ good sense.
How-to-do-it books used to undertake to teach a reader to do something he wanted to do and expected to enjoy, but the field has now been extended to include things the reader doesn’t really care about and that will involve him in all sorts of trouble. The latest example of hazardous instruction is RICHARD H. RUSH’S ART AS AN INVESTMENT (Prenticc-Hall, $10.00), which proposes to teach readers who hate painting and cannot tell a Dali from a Diner how to make money by buying and selling pictures.
FREDERICK J. POHL, an indefatigable amateur archaeologist, has been hunting Viking remains along the northeast coast for years. ATLANTIC CROSSINGS BEFORE COLUMBUS (Norton, $4.50) reports his progress to date, which, to be honest, is not much as far as solid, indisputable evidence is concerned. For one thing, no two experts ever translate any set of runes the same way, a situation which Mr. Pohl endures, as he endures the other vagaries of professional scholarship, with humorous despair.
PÁL KELEMEN’S EL GRECO REVISITED (Macmillan, $12.50) is not the usual biography of a painter or analysis of his works. The author summarizes the history of Byzantine art and discusses the productions of the Greek colony that flourished in Venice during the Renaissance, tracing the strong influence of the Orthodox Church in the painting of El Greco. The book is well and extensively illustrated in black and white, and the writing is attractively personal. Mr. Kelemen advances ideas as his own notions rather than as cosmic truths.
Although subtitled A Tale of the Civil War,ROBERT PENN WARREN’S WILDERNESS (Random House, $4.95) is less concerned with historical detail than with the difficulty of understanding the world and deciding how to act in it. The book’s hero is a European Jew who arrives in the United States with vague ideals about liberty inherited from 1848 and, thanks to a mild deformity and an upbringing by a particularly conservative rabbinical kinsman, no practical experience of life whatsoever. His name is, inevitably, Adam. Since Mr. Warren’s purpose is to explore the conflict, in an exceptionally uncomplicated mind, between the pure ideal of liberty and the seedy compromises, deceptions, and brutalities involved in putting it, however imperfectly, into practice, the novel is curiously devoid of the kind of action lound in most war novels. Unintellectual details like getting a job or disposing of a murdered man’s body are brushed aside with a sentence.
It hardly seems possible that the country needs any more cookbooks, but two great big useful beauties are available for luxurious excess. MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING (Knopf, $10.00), by SIMONE BECK, LOUISETTE BERTHOLLE, and JULIA CHILD, provides directions which can be readily understood and followed. The LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIQUE (Crown, $20.00) of PROSPER MONTAGNÉ, finally translated into English by a platoon of experts, combines definitions, explanations, recipes, and warnings in one vast and glorious volume, a veritable Mount Everest among cookbooks.