The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Barbara Ward and René Dubos
Norton, $6.00

In one of his last speeches, on July 9, 1965, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson referred to the earth as a little spaceship in which we travel together, “dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil.”How truly vulnerable such supplies are we did not begin to realize until the population explosion obliged us to weigh the future. Barbara Ward and René Dubos. the one so economically humane, the other so biologically apprehensive, have winnowed the suggestions and remonstrances from the experts of many countries and prepared an unofficial, provocative survey of what man, especially in this century, has done to the environment, the waste and destruction so heedlessly committed, and the restoration or precaution he has been driven to by bitter experience. Their report is the vivid body of evidence, the bone on which delegates from 108 nations chewed at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm; in book form it is the first comprehensive warning to aroused citizens everywhere of what needs doing locally if our small planet is to be maintained in health, not disintegration.

That politics and backbiting broke out in Stockholm is inevitable and beside the point. As this report is aware, the smaller developing nations, intent on building up their economy, will always bristle when cautioned what not to do by those powers that have it made. But the example of the big dunce in the corner, the United States, which because it is the wealthiest nation in the world is also the most wasteful, cannot be overlooked. Example: of the seven million automobiles junked in the United States in 1970, seventy thousand were abandoned in the streets of New York City alone. Example: one third of all publicly supplied water in the United States comes from rivers that are also channels of waste. Example: the average American household is now generating five and a half pounds of solid waste a day. The prospect of things going on as they are has prompted one wit to ask, Will modern man reach Mars while standing up to his knees in garbage on planet Earth?

We learn by being bitten. One of the great assets of this stimulating report is its cautionary examples: when enough bathers on the beaches of Rome had succumbed to hepatitis in 1971, the authorities decided to do something about the polluted water; when enough of the fishermen in the large landlocked bay of Minamata in Japan had become “Mad Hatters,”threatened by “mental derangement and death,”it was recognized that bacteria in silt and decaying matter were converting at a lethal rate the mercury in water systems into methyl mercury. We also learn by watching the other fellow. The water in California’s Lake Tahoe, once contaminated by the sewage of an eager tourist industry, is being cleansed by a costly process, but the technology may throw light on a cheaper method of purification.

The authors walk delicately in their discussion of pollution by the automobile and the future of the car in the center city, but are more forthright and far-ranging on the question of housing. Here they draw refreshing illustrations from Europe’s two most densely populated countries. Holland and Britain. In their National Physical Planning Act, the Dutch have projected what their small land will be like thirty years from now when work will occupy only 42 percent of a citizen’s time. In Britain the Greater London Council, disillusioned with the effect of high rise, “removed all future high-rise dwellings from the drawing boards.”To counterbalance the ugly monotony of New York’s canyons the authors cite the restoration of Warsaw, the greening and the spaciousness of Hankow, the rebuilding of Leningrad, the comprehensive planning in Romania which began when 40 percent of the people were still farming. Everywhere, in Milan, Paris, London, Moscow, and in our old cities, the less-skilled pile up in ill-housed poverty. But it is in the pooling of knowledge and initiative in this report that new hope dwells.

In the latter sections the report moves to the larger imponderables where collective action must ultimately have its effect, to the oceans, “the most immediately threatened part of the biosphere” (when twenty whales born and bred in east Greenland were recently harpooned and tested, six identifiable pesticides, including DDT, were found in the blubber of all), and to the first steps toward an acceptance of collective responsibility. The scale of the problems and our long drift of ignorance give us pause. But of one thing Miss Ward and Dr. Dubos are certain: “This is the hinge of history at which we stand, the door of the future opening on to a crisis more sudden, more global, more inescapable, and more bewildering than any ever encountered by the human species . . .” It is obvious that a general spending on armaments of two hundred billion a year is a wage the planet can no longer afford.

MY DEAR WISTER-: The Frederic
Remington—Owen Wister Letters
by Ben Merchant Vorpahl
American West, $9.95

The friendship between Frederic Remington and Owen Wister began with a long evening of talk when they first met in Yellowstone country in the autumn of 1893; it was to continue for fifteen years and in the early stages produce a partnership between the illustrator and the writer of unique stimulus to both. They had turned thirty, Remington the more rugged and the younger by a year. While Wister, a Philadelphia blue blood, had studied music at Harvard, Remington had played on the Yale eleven captained by Walter Camp, and drudged in the newly established art school. When Remington in 1882 lost his inheritance as a silent partner in a Kansas City saloon, he turned to the Plains, mixing with the cowhands and the cavalry as he drew his first black-and-whites. In 1885 when Wister’s romance of writing opera collapsed, he too went West to regain his health and to begin writing. By the time of their meeting each had seen a good deal of the frontier, but it was Remington who was the catalyst. With his big torso and stumpy legs he had seen more action, been in more danger, and known the cowboys for what they were. Wister, the dreamer and the snob, believed that the Populists and the immigrants (“encroaching alien vermin,” he called them) could debase the United States, and it was his notion that out of the West might come a new American, essentially Anglo-Saxon, who would reconcile the North and the South and cleanse the melting pot. He kept looking for this new breed in the cowboy until Remington put him wise. The difference in the temperament of the two men, their dependence upon each other in their formative years, and their separation when Remington proved to be the greater artist have been admirably illuminated by Ben Merchant Vorpahl.

During the Civil War Remington’s father had served for five years in the cavalry and his big son, 240 pounds in the saddle, inherited the love for horses. At sixteen he stated that “there is nothing poetical about me,” and when he headed West, he was hunting, so the author tells us, for money, so he could get married, and a fight, so he could “be a soldier like Father.” As what we would call a combat artist, he rode with General Miles and General Crook, and what he saw of the Indians, the troopers, and the cattlemen prompted his remark, “I am by nature a sceptic—I would not recognize the Second Coming if I saw it.” No one before him had caught so vividly the flash of action and the irony of defeat. His illustrations for magazines like Har-per’s Weekly had brought him to Teddy Roosevelt’s attention, but it was not until Owen Wister came along that he found a writer who could feed him the dramatic Western stories that he needed, and when they verged on the romantic, he said so. His letters to Wister in their explosive, gutty style are masterpieces, correcting, urging, and illustrating with line drawings what he knew to be true. Set beside the somewhat pompous prose of Wister’s essay, “The Evolution of the Cow-puncher,” they glow.

It was while Remington was hung up in his efforts to illustrate one of Wister’s less active pieces that he turned to “mud”—his name for modeling clay—and began work on “The Bronco-Buster,” that statuette which was to enlarge his scope and which embodied, as Mr. Vorpahl well observes, precisely those elements which “Remington had to fight to get Wister to include in ‘The Evolution.’ ” Less than a month later, with the publication of Red Men and White, Wister made his first serious bid as a book writer, and thereafter their paths began to separate. My Dear Wister is to be enjoyed for its history of the West, for its evaluation of a friendship, and for its technical appreciation of two talents at work.

by Charles Gaines
Doubleday, $5.95

Craig Blake, the hero of this Southern novel, is a wealthy, footloose young bachelor of Birmingham, Alabama, with a jaded interest in debutantes, past and present, and without family ties. He camps out in the vast house he has inherited on the mountain, makes a pretense of being interested in real estate, and takes a diminishing pleasure in gambling with his contemporaries at the Woodstream Country Club. Craig is ripe for a pickup, for any challenge that will draw him away from the boredom of his conventional behavior. In this vulnerable mood, after a too hearty lunch, he drifts into a health center, attracted by the sign that tells him JOE SANTO, MR. ALABAMA, TRAINS HERE. The receptionist, a suntanned sexy girl, catches his eye, and a bulky attendant in a white smock takes his name and asks him, “Did you want to gain, reduce, or tone?” Blake, physically in great shape, is just curious enough to buy a ticket which admits him to a circus unlike anything he had known before in Alabama.

The four members of the Erickson Olympic Studio who take Craig in tow are Thor Erickson, the owner, whom he dislikes; Mary Tate, the receptionist, who is out to get him; Franklin, the trainer, who explains the fine art of the strongman’s technique; and Joe Santo, their champion, who is pushing for the title of “Mr. Southeast.” To Craig this new world of the oiled torso, musculature, and the Atlas pose is as novel as it is exciting. He relishes their vegetarian meals, “a garden of food” washed down with water mixed with Tiger’s Milk. He can’t keep his eyes off Mary, and is pleased that Santo likes him—a good thing, too, for Joe is a man of limitless strength who had had something going with Mary before Craig broke in.

The story, as it passes from the first innocent impressions, the hard training and the camaraderie which Craig enjoys, to the ringside of the “Mr. Gulf” contest in Mobile, is skillfully handled by the author; and the finals in which Wayne Latrobe, a fabulous black, is pitted against an aging veteran whom the M.C. refers to as the “Mississippi Mastodon” is quite the best scene in the book. But these people do not improve on acquaintance, and Craig gets out of his depth. Violence and sexuality are part of the tough intimacy of the Olympic Studio. The idea of setting up Mary as the mistress of Craig’s ancestral home excites the jealousy of Erickson, her boss, and in the fury of the lovers’ separation it is Craig who stays hungry.

One looks for promise in a first novel and it is here, in the raunchy dialogue—especially when Franklin is speaking—and in the graphic description of the strongmen at work. The weakness in Mr. Gaines’ novel is that he sets up an expectation which is not fulfilled. For all of his selfish indulgence, Craig Blake with his fine body and quick response is a likable man, and his common sense should have warned him that he had nothing to gain from these weirdies. But he does not mature as the story proceeds and it is for this reason that I prefer the impressionable chapters to what follows.