Week ending October 12, 2012
Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945–1956. Doubleday. Nov. 2012. c.560p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9780385515696. $35. HIST
When World War II came to an end in Europe in May 1945, the armies of the Soviet Union occupied all of Eastern Europe—and for the next 45 years that would be the case. Stalin and his henchmen aggressively took control of all aspects of life in the occupied nations, shutting down all independent agencies, governments, newspapers, etc., throughout the region. Within a decade, all pretense of freedom was gone for millions of citizens. Pulitzer Prizer winner Applebaum (director of political studies, Legatum Inst., London; Gulag: A History) has applied her immense knowledge—and impressive language skills—to a thorough investigation of how the Soviets under Stalin and his successors systematically established nearly totalitarian control of Eastern Europe and, in so doing, laid waste to cultures and societies that had been built over centuries.
Verdict This is a powerful and sobering book, by far the best treatment to yet appear on the topic. There have been earlier studies treating individual nations (e.g., Laszlo Borhi’s Hungary in the Cold War, 1945–1956, and Andrzej Paczkowski’s The Spring Will Be Ours: Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom, translated from Polish by Jane Cave), but no one has accomplished the synthesis of multiarchival sources that Applebaum presents here. An important and essential study of a neglected aspect of the Cold War era. [This book has been nominated for the 2012 National Book Award in nonfiction.—Ed.]—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Bass, Rick. The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. c.288p. illus. ISBN 9780547055213. $25. NAT HIST
Prolific nature writer and novelist Bass (A Thousand Deer: Four Generations of Hunting and the Hill Country) has a devoted following, but one that will likely be disappointed by this latest effort. Here, he travels to the Namib Desert, along the western coast of southern Africa (and primarily in Namibia), to search for the black, or hooked lip, rhinoceros. Though it has the poetic descriptions and well-turned phrases readers expect from Bass, the book lacks focus—he doesn’t even see his first rhinoceros until the book is halfway through. Divided into three sections, “Pastoral,” “Wild,” and “Dust,” the work spends almost as much time reflecting on the grizzlies Bass left behind in Montana as it does on Africa and its animals.
Verdict Readers looking for a volume about rhinos can pass on this title. Rambling and distracted, this book does not meet the high standards of Bass’s other work.—Edell Marie Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI
The Image of the Black in Western Art. Vol. 4: From the American Revolution to World War I. Pt. 1: Slaves and Liberators; Pt. 2: Black Models and White Myths. Belknap: Harvard Univ. 2012. ea. vol: 384p. ed. by David Bindman & Henry Louis Gates Jr. illus. index. Pt. 1: ISBN 9780674052598; Pt. 2: ISBN 9780674052604. ea. vol: $95. FINE ARTS
These two volumes of Bindman and Gates’s monumental series analyzing the depiction of people of African descent in Western art focus on the era of slavery and emancipation in the United States (and elsewhere), the intensification of Western contact and colonization in Africa, the rise of the scientific and pseudoscientific study of human races, and the emergence of movements that pushed for black empowerment. Some of the works of art reproduced in these volumes are by famous artists, such as Charles Willson Peale and Francisco Goya, and many are well-known images—including portraits of the likes of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as literary characters such as Uncle Tom and Little Eva—and iconic paintings, for example, Delacroix’s Raft of the Medusa. The text, while scholarly, dense, and detailed, is not pedantic; it can be easily understood by general readers. As a result, these volumes will appeal to a wider audience than most of the earlier titles in the series as the subject matter should be more familiar and relatable to most readers.
Verdict These two volumes, like the rest of the series, will long prove to be definitive resources in understanding how racial attitudes have evolved in the Western world.—Eugene C. Burt, Seattle
Lattin, Don. Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk. Univ. of California. Oct. 2012. c.328p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780520272323. $29.95. BIOG
Lattin uses his experience as a journalist covering topics of religion and spiritualism to tell the story of three men’s spiritual searches in the mid-20th century, together with his own later journey seeking sobriety. He presents biographies of Aldous Huxley; Gerald Heard, a more-or-less forgotten philosopher; and Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. This blend of biographies to create one narrative is similar to his technique in The Harvard Psychedelic Club, which covered Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil, with the difference being that Lattin’s own story is in the mix here, the threads of the three biographies pulled together and woven into Lattin’s own memoir. Lattin’s stark and brutal honesty about his own drug and alcohol addiction and search for enlightenment creates a captivating narrative. However, the jumps between that and the other three story lines are disconcerting and make the work at times difficult to follow.
Verdict Although the audience and scope of this work may seem narrow, Lattin’s storytelling is compelling. Recommended especially as a memoir.—Paolina Taglienti, Everest Coll., Henderson, NV