The Peripatetic Reviewer
by Edward Weeks
Random House, $8.95
“Rising calm through change and through storm” are the last words of “Fair Harvard,” and as they sang the words reverently at the last Commencement, some few of the alumni must have wondered what new and portentous changes would descend on this, the most staid of our universities in the year ahead. Some part of the answer will be found in what is surely the most prophetic, disturbing, and stimulating social study of this year, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler.
In his introduction, which is as clear as a bell and in which the author explains why he feels free to make so many prophecies without hedging or qualification, Mr. Toffler defines the term “future shock” as that stress and disorientation which all individuals suffer when they are subjected to too much change in too short a time. Future shock, he says, can make us ill, physically and mentally; it robs us of the power to decide, deprives our children of the roots we took for granted, and it has ruptured marriage.
The changes which have assailed those of us who are older than this century have come with dizzying speed and diversity, and as Kenneth Boulding, the economist, says, “The world of today ... is as different from the world in which I was born as that world was from Julius Caesar’s. I was born in the middle of human history, to date, roughly. Almost as much has happened since I was born as happened before.” Mr. Toffler is an omnivorous collector of startling statements, and he begins with this Olympian view: “. . . if the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.” But it is the eight hundredth with which Mr. Toffler is chiefly concerned, and as he describes the bruising perplexity with which we have survived, he keeps cheerfully reminding us of the changes which are impending and of how we shall probably respond.
He and his wife have read and interviewed an amazing number of technical experts, and the quotations of each are pithy and, as I have said, disturbing and penetrating. “Yes,” we say as the arrow goes in, “that is right, only I didn’t have the sense to think of it.”
The argument is more cohesive and cumulative than can be suggested in a brief review, and it is not without hope. “The super-industrial Revolution” (in which we of the West are involved), says Mr. Toffler, “can now be seen for what, in large measure, it is—the advance of human society to its next higher stage of differentiation.” But individually we pay a price for the acceleration. The family cycle, “one of the sanitypreserving constants in human existence,” is in jeopardy. As the cycle speeds up, we grow up sooner, leave home sooner, marry sooner (trial marriage while in college?), have children sooner, and change partners sooner—all of which leads to what the author calls “serial marriage,” which he recognizes as a pattern for today and increasingly so for tomorrow.
He is equally astute in his study of education. The rigid curriculum of yesterday has gone by the board, and in fighting to update education Mr. Toffler argues that instead of imposing “a single all-purpose, permanent new curriculum,” the review groups “must invent sets of temporary curricula—along with procedures for evaluation and renovation as time goes by. There must be a systematic way to make curricular changes without necessarily triggering bloody intramural conflict each time.”
Employment, like education, will be subject to constant revision. Mr. Toffler foresees a society in which the ability to learn a variety of new work methods quickly will be of far more importance than learning through training, or long experience, in a single job.
It is the final convergence of three factors—the factors of transience‚ novelty, and diversity—which will produce the future shock. But we have it in our power to shape change; we may choose one future over another; the thing we cannot do is maintain the past.
A QUIET VOYAGE HOME
by Richard Jessup
Little, Brown, $5.95
Richard Jessup, whose novel The Cincinnati Kid is one of the two best stories of a poker game I have read, has made a bold parlay in his new book, A Quiet Voyage Home: he has parlayed the ever-present danger which occurs when a plane is hijacked into the more inflammatory take-over of an ocean liner. There are 1600 kids aboard the S.S. New York when she sails from Le Havre: weirdies, junkies, squares, and toughs crowded together in tourist class, and with them but above them is “The Indian,” the rebellious young son of a Midwestern farmer who has studied anarchy at the Sorbonne, practiced it in the Paris insurrection of 1968, and who, in his cool arrogant way, is ready to whip the world while others do the fighting.
The Indian, so called because of the Apache headband he wears about his black mop, has stripped himself of loyalties; he has deserted his French mistress, who is three months along with his child, to carry his brand of nihilism to America; and to capture the ship with an army of students is his idea of a rehearsal for the bigger revolution to come. He is said to know nothing about ships, which is one of the several implausibilities the reader must swallow to get the narrative going, for as the Indian roams the decks finding his lieutenants, sneaking into first class, spotting the vulnerable points, and helping to provoke the resentment which will soon burst into flame, it is clear that he knows only too well what he is doing.
He bides his time until the ship is well out to sea, beyond reach of the English Coast Guard, and the provocation, when it occurs on the second morning, seems innocent enough: a demonstration against the allegedly bad eggs being served in the students’ restaurant. But now the cats have been turned on, and by the time Captain Coldwater has locked up the Indian in the brig, “the Action Council” of the “North Atlantic Students Redress Assembly” has drawn up its five preposterous demands and the weirdies are literally stripping themselves for action, first in a naked theatrical production and then in their nighttime invasion of the swimming pool. It all sounds coldly planned and orgiastic.
In this story Mr. Jessup is playing with a marked deck and the cards are stacked for the guerrillas and against the Establishment. The breakdown of hippies into many splinter groups opposed to each other was actually taking place at the time this story describes, and I cannot believe that the Indian would have welded together such a violent, monolithic force in so short a time, if at all. I cannot believe that the Czech refugees would be the only students to resist the destructiveness and mass fornication which he inspires. I am equally suspicious of those who try to control the ship, the vain and weary Captain Coldwater, Colonel Algernon Peterson, the Green Beret who is stunned and cowed, and Dr. Jaca, the refugee without hope from Castro’s Cuba. Any passenger ship, even a small one, has in its First, Second, and Third Officers, as in its Engineers, men of proven competence and hands that can be trusted, but they are never mentioned. There is one brief flash, in his confrontation with the colonel, in which the Indian comes clean. But before and after this exchange, he is the cool prompter of the demoralized, both young and old.
HORACE LIVERIGHT: Publisher of the Twenties
by Walker Gilmer
David Lewis, $8.95
Walker Gilmer has written an accurate, fairly judged biography of Horace Liveright which will be read with nostalgia by those who, like myself, lived through the exhilaration of the book world in the 1920s. New York City was our capital, and the exuberant outpouring of Sinclair Lewis, Dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Cather, and the newfound popularity of poets like Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Stephen Vincent Benét, and Archibald MacLeish, cut us free forever from our protracted dependence on British authors. Publishing was an exciting business, and there were three newcomers, Alfred Harcourt, Alfred A. Knopf, and Horace Liveright, who brought style and adventure to it.
Liveright was a handsome gambler, with his hawk features and piercing dark eyes, and Mr. Gilmer has done full justice to the openhanded, magnetic way in which he built up his distinguished list of authors. Here are the letters which tell the story of how he acquired the later novels of Theodore Dreiser by literally pressuring Jimmy Walker in Albany to change the book censorship law; of his long loyalty to Eugene O’Neill; of his generosity toward Sherwood Anderson; of Hemingway’s calculated rudeness to both Liveright and Anderson; and of Horace’s failure to appreciate Faulkner. Liveright had two staunch backers in his father-in-law and in Alfred Wallerstein, his advertising agent; he was saved again and again by his unexpected best sellers: Potterism by Rose Macaulay, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik W. Van Loon, Emil Ludwig’s Napoleon, to name but three; but his infatuation with the theater and the stock market siphoned off what he made from his books. His first production on Broadway, The Firebrand, was a success, but the plays that followed were mostly failures, and by 1929 his plunges in the market had led him far down the road to bankruptcy. In publishing he was well advised and loyally supported by T. R. Smith, his editor, and by Julian Messner, Dick Simon, and Manuel Komroff, but in the deeper water there were no such advisers, and he was betrayed by his impulsiveness and then by his desperation.
PLENTY OF SEA ROOM: A Yankee Boyhood
by Emery Cleaves
Houghton Mifflin, $5.95
The dividing line between what is cute in a reminiscence of youth and what is quaint and veritable is a narrow one, and Emery Cleaves rarely oversteps it in his entertaining, summery book, Plenty of Sea Room: A Yankee Boyhood. The action takes place in the early years of this century in New Bedford, in Maine, and mostly in Newburyport, and the chief characters are young Percy Perkins, who is in short pants when the narrative begins and graduating from high school when it concludes, and his grandfather, Captain Peaslee.
Grandfather has never prospered at a variety of jobs; the most glamorous of his trials began when he gave up selling and went off to sea. The old man is liked and respected, and although he never achieved the “class,” as he calls it, of Judge Peaslee, his great-grandfather, he has never forgotten his aspirations, some of which he is in the act of transferring to his grandson. The captain keeps his eyes on Percy, and Percy, when he has time to think about it, keeps his eyes on Elvira, who is a tomboy with enough femininity to be attractive. The talk is good Yankee vernacular, and the situations, the best of them, such as the Neptune Club on picnic, Miss Bird’s lacy instruction on “Social Ethics,” the court case involving Mr. Greeley’s Cow Barn, and what Mr. Pinkham, the town drunk, does to Percy’s graduation exercises, will be read aloud with laughter.