Short Reviews: Books

Thirteen brief book reviews

The Establishment Is Alive and Well in Washington, by Art Buchwald. Putnam, $5.95.
Mr. Buchwald’s daily columns, collected, are as pertinent and as comical as the day he wrote them. What a pity that some of his commonsense fun cannot be injected into the politicians he pokes it at.
Hamlet's Mill, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. Gambit, $10.00.
Drawing arbitrarily on various learned disciplines, the authors have attempted to construct a master theory of myth—a theory, that is, which, accounts for the appearance of identical mythical motifs in areas between which no cultural contact can be discovered or even surmised. This courageous enterprise has produced a difficult, disorderly (no conscientious examination of myth can he anything but disorderly), and provocative book, based on the assumption that the great international myths represent an explanation of the structure of the universe, and that this explanation—long since forgotten except in its picturesque narrative form—was actually mathematical and derived from astronomical observation. If this scandalously oversimplified description boggles imagination, let the reader not take alarm; the book is equally boggling but much more persuasive. It is likely to draw howls of protest from the scholars whose fields have been raided and to remain, like Robert Graves’s White Goddess, a lion in everybody’s path for years.
Selected Writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann, translated and edited by Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight. Illustrations by Jacob Landau. University of Chicago, $17.50.
Apart from his importance in the history of fantastic literature, Hoffmann is still amusing and surprising.
The Affair of the Poisons, by Frances Mossiker. Knopf, $7.95. In case any readers are both uninformed and curious about the witchcraft and murder spree at the court of Louis X IV , the tale is all here, reinforced by a history of the fifteen years of intrigue that led u p to it. The author has wasted no energy on trying to account for the odd doings in modern terms.
Baneful Sorceries or the Countess Bewitched, by Joan Sanders. Houghton Mifflin, $6.95.
This is certainly black arts month. Same case converted into a Gothic novel complete with apparitions, moldering castle, slow poison, infanticide, renegade priests, devil worship, and the inevitable vaporish heroine blundering about in the middle of the night. Impossible to take a word of it seriously, but palatable if one has a taste for toe of frog.
Bernard Shaw: A Reassessment, by Colin Wilson. Atheneum, $6.95.
Mr. Wilson’s discussion is interesting on Shaw’s early life and the slowness with which he developed what was to become his official public character of comic curmudgeon, a role which Mr. Wilson believes did him as much harm as good. When it comes to the plays, the text drifts into petit-point debate on relative merit.
The Unexpected Universe, by Loren Eiseley. Harcourt, Brace & World, $5.75.
Mr. Eiseley is a poet who writes prose and a scientist who mistrusts laboratory facts, He quotes Montaigne’s “The conviction of wisdom is the plague of man,” and argues brilliantly for less pragmatic conviction and a more flexible concept of wisdom.
The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, translated and edited by David Cairns. Knopf, $12.50.
Garrulous, opinionated, enthusiastic, quarrelsome, erratically affectionate, passionate for the right (he was not always too clear what right was, but never mind) , and seemingly able to recall conversations word for word eternally, Berlioz had all the equipment of a great memoir writer, and his controversial musical career gave him something worth writing about. This is a good new translation of a wonderfully absorbing book.
Pricksongs & Descants, by Robert Coover. Dutton, $5.95.
Mr. Coover calls these pieces fictions. Since they involve either rearrangements of old materials like Red Riding Hood and the Gingerbread House or revelations of the author in the act of writing something never finished, he is right to avoid the term short story, which would raise expectations that his experiments are not intended to satisfy.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by R. E. Raspe and others. Illustrated by Ronald Searle. Pantheon, $6.95.
Mr. Searle’s illustrations are the point—wildly bizarre, improbably logical, and altogether equal to the Baron’s most extravagant inventions.
Les Tres Riches Heures Du Duc De Berry, Introduction and Legends, by Jean Longnon and Raymond Gazelles. Braziller, $30.00.
A fine reproduction of all the illustrations and some of the text pages of this exquisitely beautiful fifteenth-century work.
The Decorative Twenties, by Martin Battersby. Walker, $17.50.
The 1920s style in glass, furnishings, textiles, and the like was compounded of late Art Nouveau, early Bauhaus, and a dash of Russian Ballet, but it had its own unmistakable character as the engaging illustrations assembled here demonstrate. The text is a sober catalogue of ships, but useful for study of the period.
The Guilty Head, by Romain Gary. World, $5.95.
Mr. Gary will never be taken seriously by literary critics if he persists in devising a new style and set of tricks for each novel, but what impudent, savage fun he is for readers who need not worry about consistent interpretation of a total oeuvre. Genghis Cohn the Jewish ghost has solidified into a malcontent adventurer spreading international alarm in Tahiti.