The various narrators of ALBERTO MORAVIA’S MORE ROMAN TALES (Farrar, Straus, $4.75) are all male, all residents of Rome, and nearly all involved in difficulties occasioned by women or money. The variety of changes that Mr. Moravia rings with these two bells is extraordinary, particularly since he scorns fancy work with slang or dialect. An elderly butler, a middle-aged mechanic, a beatnik youth mad for rock and roll, all speak the same tongue — yet each is a distinct, recognizable character whose style of thought, like his problems, is uniquely his own. By throwing away almost every fictional device invented since 1800, Mr. Moravia has created stories with a fine air of freshness and clarity.
Nothing of the sort can be reported of GIOVANNI GUARESCHI’S COMRADE DON CAMILLO (Farrar, Straus, $3.95), although previous acquaintance may have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm for this book. The first sight of the wily village priest and the bumbling Communist mayor and their reciprocal badgering act is amusing, but they do not wear well through a succession of volumes. This time the tale is set in Russia, supposedly, but it’s the same old vaudeville turn all the way.
The editors of the abridged Johnson’s Dictionary, E. L. McAdam, Jr., and George Milne, have now edited A JOHNSON READER (Pantheon, $6.50). The book includes samples of Johnson as essayist, biographer, prefacer, satirist, and talker. A quick look at Johnson the talker is sure bait to lure the reader into the slower progress of his formal writing, for the doctor was a man of truly irresistible brilliance.


(Harper & Row, $4.95), by HANS HELLMUT KIRST, is a savage, often savagely funny antimilitarist novel. It has so many ramifications into the fields of politics, society, and even psychology that to label it merely antimilitary is unfair, but it would be equally unfair to give away Mr. Kirst’s tricky plot by explaining in advance where it is going. He has created, using characters who are reduced to caricature symbols in the manner of Dickens, a sort of Euclidian theorem about war and warriors. General Sherman crammed the same thing into three words, but Mr. Kirst’s extended demonstration is interesting reading. German authors are seldom terse.
MUSIC OF THE MIND: 1000 YEARS OF EUROPEAN POETRY (Grosset Dunlap, $2.95) is precisely what the title suggests — an anthology of translations from continental European poets since the eleventh century. The editors, RICHARD MCLAUGHLIN and HOWARD E. SLACK, have omitted men like Dante and Goethe on the sensible grounds that they cannot be adequately represented in an anthology and should, in any case, be studied at length. By concentrating on less unwieldy poets, the editors have presented a varied, useful, interesting collection. The translations are by various hands, and if not all of them are equally good, it is a condition only to be expected. At least, there is no monotony of style — a steady, decent mediocrity is one of the worst sins of anthologies. Greece and the Balkans are not included, nor anything from the British Isles; this is probably the only international, long-range poetry collection ever sent to press without Pangur Ban.
WATER AND LIFE (Atheneum, $5.75), the latest book by the naturalists LORUS and MARGERY MILNE, covers more aspects of water than one would think, offhand, existed. From how much of it there is in the human body, to contamination with atomic waste carried by migratory waterfowl, the Milnes have run down every scrap of information available about water, and they here present it in uncomplicated, well-organized terms. Water and Life is a serious book, but not a dire treatise on imminent disaster. If the pollution of streams is depressing, the reader is soon cheered by an account of progress in making fresh water from the sea, and the Milnes balance their examples of stupidity in the use of pesticides with descriptions of various ingenious water traps for farming in desert areas. Unhappily, the examples of water traps all seem to date from the late Stone Age. We have since forgotten what we knew about this kind of agriculture. The book is a wonderful medley of fact, argument, and exhortation, interesting all the way.