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THE CHORBA/LANE REPORT FOR OCTOBER 1997: NY Times Book Reviews on Popular Culture and American Culture: by Phil Lane, California State U, Fresno (email@example.com) Editor's note: The purpose of these reports is to broadcast basic information concerning books relevant to the study of popular culture and American culture, books that might be reviewed for H-PCAACA (and then published in the _Journal of Popular Culture_ and _The Journal of American Culture_). We invite reviewers. Basic information is at our H-PCAACA Web site: http://h-net.msu.edu/~pcaaca. After scanning that material, suggest a book for review to Peter Rollins. Peter Rollins (Rollins@osuunx.ucc.okstate.edu) Michael K. Schoenecke (firstname.lastname@example.org) ___________________________________________________ W.W. Norton and Co.: HOW THE MIND WORKS by Steven Pinker ("Interdisciplinary'' is a suspect word -- it is too often the grayspeak of campus grandees -- but artificial intelligence and the theory of evolution do seem to be making an interdisciplinary merger. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the clearest writers about this new synthesis. ''How the Mind Works'' examines brain mechanisms -- or rather, computational models of brain mechanisms -- and the evolution of our reasoning abilities, emotions and social and sexual behavior. Oct. 5/97) W. W. Norton and Co.: MUSICAL LANGUAGES by Joseph P. Swain (Meaning, thank God, is finally coming back into fashion in the study of language=85.This breath of fresh air in the study of language is mirrored in the domain of music in ''Musical Languages,'' by Joseph P. Swain, an associate professor of music at Colgate University. This book's ambition is to resuscitate a long-standing but recently quite neglected vision of music as a vehicle for conveying semantic structures from one mind to another. The key question, of course, is: What are these semantic structures that lurk inside patterns composed of notes? What is music about, then? Why does it move us so? Oct. 12/97) W. W. Norton and Co.: NEW AMERICAN BLUES: A JOURNEY THROUGH POVERTY TO DEMOCRACY by Earl Shorris (In ''New American Blues,'' Earl Shorris sets out to chart the difficult daily lives of those who have little money and little hope-- America's poor. He does this through anecdotes about individuals, through discussions of debates about welfare and, finally, by proposing that the poverty-stricken be given a chance to foster an interest in the humanities as a way to build an inner reserve of dignity. Oct. 19/97) W. W. Norton and Co.: MUTUAL CONTEMPT: LYNDON JOHNSON, ROBERT KENNEDY, AND THE FEUD THAT DEFINED A DECADE by Jeff Shesol (In 1961, at a late-night supper in the White House living quarters, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson accosted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in front of embarrassed friends and officials. ''Bobby, you do not like me,'' Johnson declared. ''Your brother likes me. Your sister-in-law likes me. Your daddy likes me. But you don't like me. Now, why? Why don't you like me?'' Kennedy did not respond to Johnson that evening, but his feelings were clear. As Jeff Shesol notes in ''Mutual Contempt,'' a penetrating and richly detailed account of the ''feud'' that shaped the 60's, Kennedy despised Johnson with a ferocity that startled many observers, while Johnson harbored fears of Kennedy that bordered on paranoia. Oct. 26/97) Random House: THE MONEY: THE BATTLE FOR HOWARD HUGHES'S BILLIONS by James R. Phelan and Lewis Chester (It's hard to fathom why someone so rich would die without a will, though James R. Phelan and Lewis Chester think they know. They say Hughes could well have anticipated the chaos of heirs, hangers-on and governments grasping simultaneously for his $6 billion fortune and that this prospect provided the curmudgeonly plutocrat with some premature posthumous pleasure. But who could have anticipated just how protracted, and how populated, the fight would be? It lasted 10 years, involved over a thousand players, generated countless headlines, a movie and millions in legal fees. It also brought forth a host of long-lost spouses, children and other relatives, plus assorted freeloaders and charlatans. Oct. 5/97) Random House: ON OUR OWN: UNMARRIED MOTHERHOOD IN AMERICA by Melissa Ludtke (Of all the changes that have marked the second half of this century, the most profound has probably been the erosion of the traditional family. In 1950, only 4 percent of American babies were born to mothers who were not married, and the stigma of birth out of wedlock was so great that many of them were placed for adoption. Now, almost a third -- more than a million a year -- are born to unmarried women, a change that has sparked bitter national debate over everything from sex roles to welfare reform. Oct. 5/97) Random House: THE BODY PERFECT: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF AMERICAN GIRLS by Joan Jacobs Brumberg (In ''The Body Project,'' [Brumberg] compiles a hundred years of girls' true confessions and peppers them with fascinating facts abou the changing roles of parents, doctors and consumer culture. Brumberg argues that the concerns of American girls and the response to their bodies reflect the larger cultural changes of this century. Girls may no longer be constrained by corsets or the tyranny of virginity, but they are girdled nonetheless, she believes, by a crippling obsession with their bodies. Oct. 5/97) Basic Books: SUMMER FOR THE GODS: THE SCOPES TRIAL AND AMERICA'S CONTINUING DEBATE OVER SCIENCE AND RELIGION by Edward J. Larson (There have been many trials of the century this century: Leopold and Loeb, Sacco and Vanzetti, Bruno Hauptmann, Sam Sheppard, the Rosenbergs, O. J. Simpson and Timothy McVeigh. Right up there with these is the Scopes ''monkey trial'' of 1925, in which John Scopes, a high school teacher, was prosecuted for violating a state law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Edward J. Larson provides an excellent cultural history of the case in ''Summer for the Gods,'' though his book is wanting as trial drama. Oct. 5/97) Basic Books: THE GRAND CHESSBOARD: AMERICAN PRIMACY AND ITS GEOSTRATEGIC IMPERATIVES by Zbigniew Brzezinski (What has bothered Brzezinski is that as a result of the Soviet collapse, the United States is the unquestioned world leader, unchallenged for the moment by any other power. But American democracy does not lend itself well to the running of empires. This has frustrated Brzezinski, who has now provided another scholarly blueprint for what he believes the United States should do in coming years to further America's interests, maintain the hegemony it commands and prevent global anarchy. Oct. 26/97) The Free Press: THE FUTURE ONCE HAPPENED HERE: NEW YORK, D.C., L.A., AND THE FATE OF AMERICA'S BIG CITIES by Fred Siegel (Fred Siegel, a professor of history at the Cooper Union for the Arts and Sciences, bitterly attacks the left-liberal consensus that has to varying degrees dominated the governance of each of the cities he examines. But he does so as a dedicated urbanite who, unlike many on the right, is not only at home with cultural diversity but also deeply attached to it. This perspective is typical of the vibrant and influential group of thinkers affiliated with the Manhattan Institute's publication City Journal, which Siegel once edited. Oct. 5/97) The Free Press: THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY: HOW ETHICS WARS HAVE UNDERMINED AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY by Peter W. Morgan and Glenn H. Reynolds (The authors recall how the press and public became painfully aware of lies and cover-ups during Vietnam and Watergate. Since then, as Morgan, a lawyer in Washington, and Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Tennessee, see it, the entire country has grown obsessed with ethics. Instead of paying attention to real transgressions, however, government agencies and private businesses and institutions have concentrated on appearances. Elaborate rules have been created to avoid conflicts of interest, high-sounding codes of conduct have been promulgated and a virtual industry of consultants has sprung up to help harried officials seem more ethical. What this flurry of activity has done, Morgan and Reynolds say, is to deflect attention from misconduct instead of increasing efforts to prevent it. Oct. 19/97) Alfred A. Knopf: GOD & THE AMERICAN WRITER by Alfred Kazin (Kazin devotes his chapters to Hawthorne, Emerson (who ''began as a religion but ended as literature''), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Melville, Whitman, Abraham Lincoln (considered as a writer, not a politician), Emily Dickinson, William James (who saw religion ''as therapy''), Mark Twain (a strange case), Eliot (stranger), Frost and Faulkner. And in each of these writers Kazin sees a search for something like faith, or at any rate a grappling -- not with God Himself but with an undefinableness that always seems to be disappearing around the corner. Oct. 12/97) Alfred A. Knopf: JACKIE ROBINSON: A BIOGRAPHY by Arnold Rampersad (Somewhat surprisingly, until now there has been no rigorous account of Robinson's life. Rampersad, who collaborated on Arthur Ashe's memoir after writing the definitive biography of Langston Hughes, has assembled a jumble of journalistic, archival and oral data into an elegantly rendered, meticulously documented narrative, a level-headed and sensitive chronicle of Robinson's life from his birth in a sharecropper's cabin, the grandson of a slave, in 1919 to his death 53 years later. Oct. 19/97) Alfred A. Knopf: JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: A PUBLIC LIFE, A PRIVATE LIFE by Paul C. Nagel (In writing a biography of John Quincy Adams that attempts ''to illuminate the . . . private as well as public'' aspects of his subject, Paul C. Nagel, who has written two previous books on the Adams family, has set himself a thankless task. We already know a great deal about Adams the statesman, while Adams the man was, to use his own adjective, in many ways ''repulsive.'' Oct. 26/97) Alfred A. Knopf: COMPANERO: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF CHE GUEVERA by Jorge G. Castaneda St. Martin's Press: GUEVERA, ALSO KNOWN AS CHE by Paco Ignacio Taibo 2d (It is a measure of Guevara's broad appeal that two substantial new books on his life come from dissimilar well-respected Mexican writers, Jorge G. Castaneda and Paco Ignacio Taibo 2d, whose contrasting political and stylistic approaches nevertheless betray a strong common admiration for their subject and reflect the passions that Guevara's name still evokes in friends and foes. Oct. 26/97) Picador USA: AS IF: A CRIME, A TRIAL, A QUESTION OF CHILDHOOD by Blake Morrison (On Feb. 12, 1993, in Liverpool, England, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables murdered James Bulger=85.It was a sordid, senseless murder that would have attracted little media attention if adults or even teen-agers had been involved. But Thompson and Venables were 10 years old, and Bulger had not yet turned 3=85.The New Yorker hired Blake Morrison to cover the trial; he fulfilled the assignment with ''Children of Circumstance,'' which appeared in the magazine's Feb. 14, 1994, issue=85.He must have felt, however, that his job had been left half done= , because more than three years later, in ''As If,'' he has told the story again, this time padding it out with what seems to be every thought that crossed his mind while he went about his journalist's business. Bits of the 1994 article remain --there are few new facts -- but now they're engulfed in a thick porridge of speculations, reminiscences and rhetorical questions. Oct. 12/97) Hyperion: THE FRANCHISE: A HISTORY OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE by Michael MacCambridge (This is an exhaustively researched and detailed tell-all chronicle of Sports Illustrated's first 43 years. As such it is also the story of the rise of big-time sports in the latter third of this century from Balkanized rinky-dinkdom to today's megabillion-dollar industry, second in Americans' affection only to sex. Oct. 12/97) Northeastern University Press: PRISON JOURNAL: AN IRREVERENT LOOK AT LIFE ON THE INSIDE by Joseph Timilty with Jack Thomas (Citizens of greater Boston are still puzzled and pained that an unsuccessful candidate for Mayor of Boston and a long-time State Senator, Joseph Timilty, was sent to Federal prison for four months after a jury convicted him of fraud in a real estate promotion.Timilty, with the assistance of Jack Thomas, a journalist on The Boston Globe, has given us parts of a diary that he kept for 120 days at a low-security prison in Schuylkill, Pa., near Harrisburg. ''Prison Journal: An Irreverent Look at Life on the Inside'' is readable and agonizing, and convincing proof that something is fundamentally wrong with the way the nation treats first-time white-collar criminals -- although not everyone will agree that it offers a persuasive resolution. Oct. 12/97) The Free Press: WHY OUR CHILDREN CAN'T READ AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT: A SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION IN READING by Diane McGuinness Addison-Wesley: RAISING LIFELONG LEARNERS: A PARENT'S GUIDE by Lucy Calkins (In her book ''Why Our Children Can't Read,'' Diane McGuinness claims to have devised a foolproof method of teaching reading. She is convinced that her system can eliminate problems in reading for virtually all children nationwide. Lucy Calkins's ''Raising Lifelong Learners'' doesn't promise a foolproof method, but she does believe her particular approach is the best possible way to insure that children become fluent readers. How can it be, then, that there is not a single significant point of agreement in these two books? Oct. 12/97) Addison-Wesley: ARCHIBALD COX: CONSCIENCE OF A NATION by Ken Gormley (Gormley's years of research in interviews and public and private papers have produced a gripping account of Cox's five-month tenure as head of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and of why his work led Nixon to the blunder from which he would never recover. Oct.19/97). Henry Holt and Co.: MAN OF THE CENTURY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF POPE JOHN II by Jonathan Kwitny (The author, Jonathan Kwitny, a former writer for The Wall Street Journal and reporter for PBS, also aspires to history, to set the record straight -- not just that of the Pope's tenure, but the record of life in the last half of the 20th century. With what can be seen as either staggering audacity or laudable quixotic naivete, Kwitny darts from St. Peter's to the far corners of the globe to produce an often dense chronicle spliced with accounts and analyses of world-shaking events, parochial scandals and theological debates. Oct. 19/97) The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press: THE KENNEDY TAPES: INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE DURING THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. (It is not hyperbolic to say, as many have, that the Cuban missile crisis was the single most dangerous episode in the history of mankind. Had people been aware of the nature of the talks taking place in the White House, the number of those expecting catastrophe would surely have been much higher. With ''The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis,'' we now have the chance to sit in on those talks. It has long been known that Kennedy secretly recorded his meetings with the special executive committee (Ex Comm) that he assembled to deal with the crisis (his advisers included Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Robert Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson). But little of the material had been released before late 1996. Oct. 19/97) Simon and Schuster: TAKING CHARGE: THE JOHNSON WHITE HOUSE TAPES, 1963-1964 edited by Michael R. Beschloss (This book is an extensive selection of conversations taped by Lyndon B. Johnson during the first nine months of his Presidency -- beginning on the day of the Kennedy assassination and continuing through the close of the Democratic National Convention in 1964, at which Johnson was triumphantly nominated. Oct. 19/97) Simon and Schuster: BIG TROUBLE: A MURDER IN A SMALL WESTERN TOWN SETS OFF A STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF AMERICA by J. Anthony Lukas (The strikes and violence that crackled through the mining regions of Colorado, Montana and Idaho form the immediate backdrop of the epic story J. Anthony Lukas tells in ''Big Trouble.'' Lukas, who committed suicide earlier this year, solidified his reputation as a relentlessly probing reporter of the American scene in ''Common Ground,'' the chronicle of school integration in Boston. Turning his searchlight on the past, he has written a work of history that has journalistic immediacy but also conveys the musty scent of a bygone age. Oct. 26/97) Houghton-Miffflin Co.: TRESSPASSING: MY SOJOURN IN THE HALLS OF PRIVILEGE by Gwendolyn M. Parker (Why would a black American woman leave a coveted senior management position at American Express? Abandon a decade-long career that afforded her hefty bonuses, dinners at expensive New York restaurants and vacations in the south of France? Gwendolyn M. Parker did exactly this; ''Trespassing: My Sojourn in the Halls of Privilege'' recounts her decision. She joins a growing number of upper-middle-class black Americans -- Ellis Cose collected some of their stories in ''The Rage of a Privileged Class'' -- speaking out about the pressures and perils of racial tokenism in corporate America and the psychic costs of material success. Oct. 19/97) Farrar, Straus and Giroux: THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN: A HMONG CHILD, HER AMERICAN DOCTORS, AND THE COLLISION OF TWO CULTURES by Anne Fadiman (It is the tale of an immigrant child whose family went in one generation from traditional tribal life in the war-torn mountains of Laos to a bustling existence in the town of Merced in the fertile San Joaquin Valley of California. This was a historic transition, and this child's story is in many ways her people's tale in microcosm -- and taken to an extreme. It is a tale of culture clashes, fear and grief in the face of change, parental love, her doctors' sense of duty, and misperceptions compounded daily until they became colossal misunderstandings. It has no heroes or villains, but it has an abundance of innocent suffering, and it most certainly does have a moral. Oct. 19/97) Doubleday: THE HIDDEN WRITER: DIARIES AND THE CREATIVE LIFE by Alexandra Johnson (The women whose brief biographies make up the bulk of Alexandra Johnson's ''Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life'' come mostly from another time-- a time when the repository of the female heart and mind was kept secret, often under lock and key. These are women whose diaries caught the essence of their lives and were, to varying degrees, absorbed into their vocation. Oct. 19/97) Doubleday: APPETITE FOR LIFE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF JULIA CHILD by Noel Riley Fitch (In American cuisine's darkest hour, a time of canned vegetables and frozen TV dinners, an unlikely savior appeared on the horizon, determined to put coq au vin in every pot. Julia Child's ''Mastering the Art of French Cooking,'' published in 1961, was a cultural milestone, the book that made French food and cooking techniques accessible to middle-class Americans. Its author, a self-described ''hungry hayseed from California,'' became a national figure, known to millions for her exuberant performances on the PBS television series ''The French Chef'' and her cheery sign-off, ''Bon appetit!'' Oct. 26/97) Doubleday: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER by Anita Hill (In ''Speaking Truth to Power,'' Hill finally offers her own account of the Senate hearings that turned her into a walking Rorschach test for attitudes about sexuality in the workplace, race in the American mind, and scandal in the political process. Oct. 26/97). The MIT Press: BURNING WITH DESIRE: THE CONCEPTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY by Goeffrey Batchen (Skipping over the much-debated question of who started photography and when (which Batchen says is ''an argument as much about virility and paternity as about history'') he focuses instead on the question of when the desire to photograph first emerged. And in particular, when that desire shifted ''from an occasional, isolated, individual fantasy to a demonstrably widespread social imperative,'' when photography became what Michel Foucault calls a ''discursive practice.'' Oct. 19/97) Oxford University Press: IN THE PAST LANE: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON AMERICAN CULTURE by Michael Kammen (Using examples that range from courthouse architecture to Washington's Birthday sales, Kammen examines several issues in American culture over the past decade: the question of a historian's detachment and objectivity; public support of the arts; the role of collective memory (and forgetting) in American life. Oct. 19/97) Oxford University Press: AMERICAN BANDSTAND: DICK CLARK AND THE MAKING OF A ROCK & ROLL EMPIRE by John A. Jackson (As John A. Jackson's evenhanded and carefully researched ''American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire'' ably illustrates, the program became a cultural mainstay because the bland facade of its ageless host and tireless advocate, Dick Clark, masked a cunning business mind and a well of ambition deep even by the standards of the entertainment industry. Oct. 26/97) Oxford University Press: RACECHANGES: WHITE SKIN, BLACK FACE IN AMERICAN CULTURE by Susan Gubar (Gubar, known for the feminist literary criticism she writes with Sandra Gilbert (most notably, ''The Madwoman in the Attic''), coined the term ''racechange'' to refer to the various imitations, impersonations and masquerades used throughout the past century to traverse America's well-embedded color line. While Gubar applies the term to blacks as well as whites, she underscores the significant difference in their motivations: whites have historically posed as blacks to ridicule them or to identify with them (or both); blacks have historically tried to pass as whites to survive. This difference, argues Gubar, reflects the magnitude of ''the devaluation of blackness, the overprivileging of whiteness in European and American culture.'' Oct. 26/97) Seven Stories: THE MORE YOU WATCH, THE LESS YOU KNOW: NEWS WARS (SUB)MERGED HOPES/MEDIA ADVENTURES by Danny Schechter (Danny Schechter, a former producer for ABC's ''20/20'' and CNN, and a political documentary filmmaker, worries that too often the news media are, if not willfully deceptive, at least committing such gross and institutionally sanctioned errors of omission that they might as well be lying outright. Oct. 19/97) Phaidon: SUFFRAGETTES TO SHE-DEVILS: WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND BEYOND by Liz McQuiston (Liz McQuiston, a graphic designer who has also written a history of protest graphics, traces in word and image an impressive legacy, from the earliest public demonstrations to contemporary street art and advertising, of advocating equal rights, abortion rights, AIDS research, rape law reform and protection against domestic violence. Oct. 19/97) Little, Brown and Co.: THE MAD, THE BAD, AND THE INNOCENT: THE CRIMINAL MIND ON TRIAL by Barbara R. Kirwin (Here are two New York crime stories: Ann Green, having smothered two of her infants and having tried to kill a third, was acquitted by reason of insanity; released after two weeks in a mental institution, she returned to her job as a nurse. Colin Ferguson, who mowed down 25 people on a commuter train, was adjudged competent to stand trial -- representing himself, he opened by announcing that he was charged with 93 counts because it was 1993 -- and drew more than 300 years in prison. In a system that has spent centuries trying to calibrate criminal punishment and personal responsibility, how do these things happen? Oct. 26/97) Harvard University Press: NIGHTMARE ON MAIN STREET: ANGELS, SADOMASOCHISM, AND THE CULTURE OF GOTHIC by Mark Edmundson (In ''Nightmare on Main Street,'' Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, proposes an even broader definition of the Gothic mode -- ''the art of haunting, the art of possession'' -- and finds its traces in everything from the works of Freud (''For Freud, the psyche . . is centrally the haunted house of terror Gothic'') to a range of contemporary American preoccupations, including trauma, addiction, victimhood, sadomasochism, dual identity and recovered memory. Oct. 26/97) University of North Carolina Press: A FEELING FOR BOOKS: THE BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB, LITERARY TASTE, AND MIDDLE-CLASS DESIRE by Janice A. Radway (The most interesting things about this book are its problems. The subjects of ''A Feeling for Books'' are more or less conventional to academic cultural studies. Janice A. Radway, who teaches literature at Duke University, offers an account of the history and significance of the Book-of-the-Month Club as a cultural institution and of the ''middlebrow'' culture that produced and was augmented by it (''middlebrow'' meaning that cultural ''space'' in which the artistic and the commercial exist in mutual regard and tension, as in a stormy marriage). In the process she discusses ''the peculiar cultural power associated with . . . acquiring, owning, reading and talking about books'' in modern America. Oct. 26/97) Teacher's College Press: GHETTO SCHOOLING: A POLITICAL ECONOMY OF URBAN EDUCATIONAL REFORM by Jean Anyon (In ''Ghetto Schooling,'' Newark becomes a prototype of other American cities over the last century. Anyon's story =85is one of malign neglect by public and corporate officials. Relying on interviews, newspaper articles and her own experiences, Anyon documents the slide of the city's schools from an innovative model at the turn of the century to a quasi-third-world backwater in the second wealthiest state. Oct. 26/97) ------------------------------ If you are interested in reviewing any of these books for our journals, please 1. Read the Guidelines for reviewers on our WEB site: http://h-net.msu.edu/~pcaaca/ Many basic--and often asked--questions are there answered in detail. 2. Then send a review suggestion to Peter Rollins at the following: Rollins@osuunx.ucc.okstate Many thanks to Phil Lane for construction of this Lane/Chorba Report!