The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $12.95
Charles A. Lindbergh, the “Lucky Lindy” of 1927, became an international hero at the age of twenty-five. It was not luck that brought him across the Atlantic, for he was and still is the most skillful aviator alive. Unlike the famous aces who survived the First World War, Major Bishop of Canada and Charles Nungessor of France, Lindbergh, with his cool, questing intelligence and inexhaustible vitality, continued to take a versatile, at times controversial, part in world affairs. His Wartime Journals, originally 400,000 words, have been shortened, but not retouched, in a volume which is surely one of the most surprising and readable revelations of a man of action. The entries, with a well-edited commentary, begin in the spring of 1938 when he and his talented wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, went to live on the tiny isle of Illiec on the Brittany coast from which he took off in his private plane on trips to assess the air power of the European nations and the Soviet Union and, incidentally, to sample their intentions for war; they close in 1945 with his melancholy inspection of the Germany he so admired. In the writing three figures emerge: the incomparable aviator, the public figure so often harassed, and the private man, the last being the most likable.
The Lindberghs had sought refuge in Illiec partly to escape from the American press and partly to be within walking distance—when the tide was out—of Charles’s mentor, Dr. Alexis Carrel, the Nobel Prize winner. Lindbergh’s press relations were never cordial and for this his naïveté is to be blamed: it seems not to have occurred to him that in winning the biggest cash prize in the sky he became news, and that the notoriety which followed was the price of what he had won. The newspapers’ exploitation of the kidnapping and the trial was brutal, and as the journal shows he was embittered for life when he and Anne fled from Englewood. But on the island they lived in peace: Anne was finishing Listen! the Wind, while he commuted to Paris, Berlin, or London; then, reunited, they walked the sands with their dogs, planted pines and cypress, bathed with young Jon, or dined with the Carrels and their friends. He read Lin Yutang, whom he knew and liked, Whitehead’s Adventure of Ideas, Plato, Liddell Hart; in Paris he visited Despiau’s studio to watch the sculptor working on a head of Anne; for her he bought her favorite flower painting by Vlaminck. Back on Illiec they experimented in painting, and Charles began the first draft of his book The Spirit of St. Louis. They were in love with each other, and there is tenderness in these passages.
On his several visits to Germany in the 1930s Lindbergh, the public figure, had been impressed by what he saw in the factories and what he heard from designers like Messerschmitt, and by the time he was decorated by Goering he was convinced that the Nazis were invincible in the air. By contrast he was appalled by the disorganization of France (October 1, 1938: “There was not, and is not, in France one fighting plane as fast as the latest German bombers!”) and by the lethargy in Britain (“England . . . has been asleep. . . . Aviation has largely destroyed the security of the Channel, and her superiority of manufacture is a thing of the past”). He accepted the “absolute necessity for a changed attitude toward Germany if a disastrous war is to be avoided,” and in this he was confirmed in his talks with Nancy Astor at Cliveden, with Ambassador Kennedy (a man “of constructive influence”), and Bill Bullitt, our Ambassador in France. While he was posing for Jo Davidson the talk centered on Chamberlain, and the sculptor, so Lindbergh wrote, “thinks I always see and talk to the wrong people.”
Was it anti-Semitism or his Swedish heritage which made him so uncritical of Germany? His mistrust of FDR deepens with each entry, but there is never a word about the gangsters around Hilter. When he and Anne brought the family back to the States he threw himself strenuously into the reorganization of our air power as a consultant to General “Hap” Arnold; and the men he confided in were Herbert Hoover, Fulton Lewis, General Wood, Senators Byrd and Borah. Build up our defenses, he argued, but remain strictly neutral even if France and England go down the drain. The German fortress could not be breached. In this he was credulous and wrong.
Lindbergh says that we lost the war. The notion that anyone wins a world war is obsolete. Britain lost an empire, already doomed, but maintained its integrity by standing alone. India, Norway, Denmark, and Holland learned the power of passive resistance. France cured a paralyzing rupture. The West, Germany included, was freed from the beastliness of an avenging fanatic, and at war’s end we devised the oxygen tent of Marshall Aid. Was this worth the terrible sacrifice? I think so, considering the alternative.
His devotion is more explicable than his politics: his devotion to Dr. Carrel, who led him into his experiments in biology; to Dr. Robert Goddard, the pioneer of space rockets; to Orville Wright, whose plane he helped recall and place in the Smithsonian; his devotion to his mother, which shows in many a touching allusion; and his devotion to the grandeur of earth and sky. Flying alone to an appointment, he suddenly realized that he had not eaten for hours and that there was a can of beans in the baggage compartment. “I pulled the back off both seats and let the plane fly itself,” he wrote, “while I leaned and wiggled back far enough to reach the can.”
Only professionals will appreciate the many passages about his testing of war planes and the missions which he himself flew in the Pacific. But one skips at the risk of missing his moments of exhilaration. “I love being alone over mountains and in clouds and rain, with sunshine above and moist earth below.” One may differ with Charles Lindbergh, but one cannot question his sincerity or his eagerness for life.
by Vannevar Bush
Morrow, $8.95
This is an age when scientists for the first time have realized their power in the affairs of men and the urgent necessity of their being understood. In Pieces of the Action Vannevar Bush has written the sixty-year record of his personal involvement in actions, some of them as momentous as the preparation of the atom bomb and some as testy and amusing as his confrontation with Winston Churchill. “Van” Bush, as he is affectionately known, is a Yankee from Provincetown who came up to Tufts College with a salty disposition, immense vitality, and a quick, original mind. He worked briefly for the General Electric Company “testing quite a lot of valuable machinery on $14 a week,” and when he was fired, resumed his studies, received his doctorates from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the same day, and began to teach.
When he was called to Washington as president of the Carnegie Institution, he extended his knowledge of science and industry, and, incidentally, had the chance to observe the often sensitive relations between the Executive and the Congress. Thus he was well placed for his wartime assignment as head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, in which he directed a team of many thousands of scientists, engineers, and physicians, the brainiest aggregation ever assembled for a common purpose in this country. He knew where to find the best men, made room for the talented refugees from Europe, and with deputies like James Bryant Conant he effected a friendly cooperation with British scientists. Radar, sonar, the proximity fuse, the DUKW, the atomic bomb—these were a conspicuous few of the results of such teamwork.
If any further demonstration is needed of the greater resilience of a democracy in contest with dictatorship it will be found in the operation of the OSRD under Dr. Bush. He held the confidence of the scientists, he was granted an extraordinary latitude of trust by the President, and by the firm candor of his testimony he won the respect of senators as tough as McKellar. Why, he asks, was German science and technology “so deeply ineffectual” in the race for the atomic bomb? Two reasons: “First, Hitler’s insanity had eliminated their Jewish scientists. The Jews have produced far more than their share of brilliant scientists, in Germany and here. . . .” Secondly, “The Nazis had no genuine collaboration between scientists and military men” (this, Bush cautions, is not true of the Soviet Union).
After an opening chapter in which Dr. Bush gives his reasons for believing in the American way of doing things and the philosophy he has evolved, he divides his text into seven pieces which can be read in continuity or in whatever order one pleases. I began with “Of Teachers and Teaching,” which tells of his youth; moved on to “Of Leaders and Leadership,” which speaks of his fealty to three Presidents, Hoover, FDR, and Truman, and with special insight of the relations between Secretary Stimson and General Marshall. In the chapter entitled “Of Stumbling Blocks,” I was delighted by his headon encounter with General Somervell, chief of the Service of Supply. Somervell was a traditionalist who was frank to tell Bush that “you and your crew are a damned nuisance,” and he said forcibly that “the Army did not want the DUKW and would not use it if they got it.” Bush prevailed, and the DUKW became a vital factor in landings in the Pacific, in Africa, in Sicily, and most notably on the Normandy beaches. So, too, Van was to prevail with the proximity fuse when he went to the Front to introduce it to some of our less imaginative artillery officers. A great administrator, an inventor of the Differential Analyzer, and of the Memex when its day comes, a tough incisive fighter, Dr. Bush is for all of us the shining example of an engineer who can write and be understood!
by Peter De Vries
Little, Brown, $6.95
Mrs. Wallop, the heroine and workhorse of Mr. De Vries’ new farce, is not a woman to be taken lightly. A widow of middle years with a nest egg of a quarter of a million bequeathed by her husband and watched over by her elderly boyfriend, Will Gerstenslager, she has been getting along quite happily making ends meet by running a boardinghouse and later by nursing those who are too ill to resist her in the small town of Appleton, Indiana. She needs no karate to defend herself against the malice and gossip of her neighbors—her lively mind and sharp tongue are more than sufficient. But literary assassination is quite a different matter.
One of Mrs. Wallop’s boarders was Randy Rivers, an aspiring writer, whom she cared for with what she regards as tenderness and who has repaid her by projecting her as a central character in his successful novel, Don’t Look Now, Medusa. She visits the local bookstore to see if she can identify herself while browsing, and this is what she finds: “One of those dragons of respectability in which American small towns especially abound. ... As for sex, her husband found a clamshell between those legs. . . . An ample bosom— of pure granite. . . . She wore her hair in a thick plait on top of her head, where it sat like a coiled adder, a fit trademark and apt metaphor for one ever poised to strike the unwary.” Such was the portrayal of the landlady whom Randy had christened “Mrs. Lusk,” and for whom she must have posed.
Mrs. Wallop is not one to be horrified, but she would enjoy a little revenge, and fate plays into her hands when the distinguished author is persuaded to come back to his hometown for a lecture. He braces himself too liberally for the ordeal and in mid-course takes a misstep, pitches off the platform, and in a befuddled state is brought back to his old room at Mrs. Wallop’s to recuperate. In the situations that ensue Mrs. Wallop, who at times reminds me of James Joyce’s Mrs. Bloom, holds all the aces.
But what she is ill prepared for is a second and more vindictive character-assassination by her son Osgood, an arty incompetent who has been struggling to write in New York. She reads this fantasy in the presence of Randy Rivers, and the thought occurs to them both—shall she take on and amplify the characteristics for which she has been defamed, and exploit them? In a far-out movie, perhaps? So the comedy moves into the third act, a preposterous, amusing parody that often cuts close to the bone.
by John Keats
Simon and Schuster, $7.50
Dorothy Parker was a hard girl to pin down at any time. She was witty and impulsive, a tart writer whose funny lines were quoted by sophisticates everywhere. She appeared to be happy when getting tight in public, but she was a woman not for love, who had two husbands and four lovers, and who tasted the dregs of loneliness with each. John Keats has puffed hard to place her in her setting, and with the help of Donald Ogden Stewart, who knew Mrs. Parker well and longer than most, he does give occasional flashes of her denigrating wit and of her behavior, which could be unpredictably mean or laughable.
A native New Yorker, she was born Dorothy Rothschild, part Scot, part Jew, and totally unhappy at home: her mother died in her infancy, leaving her unwanted, and self-disparagement came early. At Miss Dana’s School in Morristown, New Jersey, she is remembered as being “small, slender, dark-haired, and brilliant . . . she was peppy and she was never bored.” But the money ran out when her father died, and she took refuge in a boardinghouse, supporting herself by playing the piano for a dancing school, and writing verses on the side.
In 1916 Frank Crowninshield paid her $12 for a short verse and offered her a job on Vogue, then on Vanity Fair, where she found natural allies in Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood, who gave her the backing she craved. I think she cared more deeply for Bob Benchley than she would ever acknowledge.
The three used to lunch occasionally at the Algonquin, and when they were joined by another triumvirate—Franklin P. Adams, who edited the city’s liveliest column, “The Conning Tower,” Harold Ross, and Alexander Woollcott—the Round Table, as it came to be called, had its nucleus.
The circle were clever rather than creative: they fed on each other and loved to show off, but they were not “the center of New York’s intellectual life.” Scribner’s office, where Maxwell Perkins was encouraging the work of Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Tom Wolfe, had a far greater influence on American literature than the wisecracks at the Algonquin.
Mrs. Parker’s verse was repetitious and without the depth of A. E. Housman’s poems, with which Mr. Keats compares it; and her stories, sparse and some too brittle, do not really challenge comparison with Hemingway’s. When all is said, she remains a stinging, elusive gadfly.