In THE CRUSADES (Random House, $4.95), HENRY TREECE, novelist and historian, has written an admirable condensed account of two centuries of complicated action. Beginning with enough previous history to explain how European society had arrived at its eleventh-century condition, Mr. Treece accounts for the Crusades as a social, political, and economic phenomenon as well as a religious enterprise. Undistracted by such fascinating byways as the circumstances that led Robert Guiscard to besiege Rome, Mr. Treece pursues the main course of the Crusades to the fall of Acre and the destruction of the Knights Templar. It is an amazing tale, told with style, wit, and a sharp eye for human foolishness.
REGINE PERNOUD’S THE CRUSADES (Putnam’s, $5.00) makes an interesting companion piece to Mr. Treece’s book. It is an anthology of excerpts from contemporary documents, both Christian and Muslim, and is full of unexpected detail along with large lumps of sober reporting. As editor of this material, Miss Pernoud is learned and graciously self-effacing. Her notes and connecting passages have an almost uncanny way of telling precisely what the reader needs to know and absolutely nothing else.
JOHN MULHOLLAND’S BOOK OF MAGIC (Scribner’s, $6.50) explains such mysteries as how to stack a deck of cards, cause a marked quarter to vanish from the victim’s hand and reappear in a sealed letter, build trick boxes, and rejoin pieces of cut string. It is designed for amateur, or would-be amateur, magicians, but the information it contains is so catholic, and Mr. Mulholland’s advice on how to deal with hardware merchants or keep an audience at bay is so amusing, that the book deserves a wider public.
THE SKY FALLS (McKay, $3.75) is a short novel by LORENZA MAZZETTI, a very young writer and director of film and television scripts. Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Waldman, it proves to be a child’s view of the last days of the German retreat through northern Italy. The narrator is presumably about nine years old, an energetic, emotional, gullible girl who reports low comedy and brutal tragedy with the same open-minded incomprehension. Miss Mazzetti is completely successful in telling what her terrifying story requires without exceeding the limitations of the child’s knowledge and vision. The Sky Falls is not pleasant reading, but it is an able, promising first novel.
QUAIL IN ASPIC (Bobbs-Merrill, $4.00) is another of CECIL BEATON’S spoofs of the memoirs of aristocratic nonentities. In this case, the nonentity is Count Charles Korsetz, and his photographs all look remarkably like Miss Elsa Maxwell in trousers. “Relaxing after polo” is a particularly effective pose. Just how funny this sort of joke can be depends on the reader’s enthusiasm for Edwardian charades. Rereading Saki strikes me as more rewarding.
PAUL HORGAN’S prose is always readable, and his account, in CONQUISTADORS (Farrar, Straus, $5.50), of the high points of the Spanish conquest in North America has the merits of liveliness and superficial lucidity. There seems, however, to be no particular point in retelling a story that has been told many times before.
THE STORY OF WINE IN CALIFORNIA (University of California Press, $15.00) is a pretty book with handsome photographs by Max Yavno and a text by M. F. K. FISHER which, although sometimes engaging, never really tells anything about the subject. At the end of the book, one has heard a great deal about casks and bottles, but one knows no more about wine in California than one did at the start. The question of how to get really good wine outside the state is not raised, let alone answered.
THE CHERRY TREE (Vanguard, $5.95) is an anthology of poetry compiled by Geoffrey Grigson. It is designed “for the young of any age,” and for once the publisher’s blurb is dead right. Disorderly, unscholarly, erratic in its approach to dates and spelling, the book has one rare and splendid merit: it is full of lovely poems, so arranged that the reader is enticed to rummage among them. A fine book to arouse, or indulge, a love of poetry unencumbered by critical theory, fashion, Freud, or the dreary urge to make something useful of the stuff.