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Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States)

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Collected Stories & Later Writings (Library of America)
Collected Stories & Later Writings (Library of America)
by Paul Bowles
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £30.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Paul Bowles In The Library Of America, 3 Oct. 2017
The Library of America makes the best of American writing available to broad audiences in uniform, reasonably priced volumes. In 2002, the LOA published two volumes of the works of Paul Bowles (1910 -- 1999). Bowles seemed an unusual choice for a series of "American" writers. He lived as an expatriate in Tangier for the last 52 years of his long life and seldom looked back. Until mid-life, Bowles had been a composer and music critic in New York City. The reasons for his move to Tangier remain unclear but seem to be related to his unconventional lifestyle. Bowles' career as a writer began in earnest with his move to Tangier.

This volume is the first of the two LOA volumes of Bowles and includes three of his four novels, including his first and most famous book, "The Sheltering Sky" (1949). I read "The Sheltering Sky about ten years ago and recently went back to it. Upon rereading, I was hooked and determined to read more of Bowles. The three novels in this collection are each set in North Africa and each feature lonely, isolated American characters at odds with the environment and with the local culture. The novels are darkly introspective, sharply descriptive, and brooding.

Set in North Africa following WW II, "The Sheltering Sky" tells the story of two American intellectuals, Port and Kit Moresby, who are alienated from American life. They seek to find meaning and to resurrect their passionless marriage in the towns near the Sahara desert. The book describes Port's and Kit's inexorable deterioration to death and madness as they move restlessly into a series of ever more desolate desert locales. The book is a mixture of exoticism and philosophy and demands slow, careful reading. In an early review, Bowles' friend Tennessee Williams described the novel as "an Allegory of Man and his Sahara". Williams wrote:

"There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement."

The remaining two novels are less well-known. They share much of the introspective, lonely character of the "Sheltering Sky" but include more in the way of social description. Thus, Bowles' second novel, "Let it Come Down" (1952) is set in Tangier following WW II while it was administered as an International Zone by the allies. The book includes many scenes of local life, with both the expatriate and the local Moslem communities. But it focuses on the character of Nelson Dyar, a nondescript American who moves to Tangier for no clear reason other than his boredom with his job as a bank teller and unadventurous life. While in Tangier, Dyar quickly falls in love with a prostitute and becomes involved in several dubious activities. The dark and brooding novel shows the development of unanticipated evil and violence in Dyar's character.

"The Spider's House" (1955) is set in 1954 when local Moroccan insurgents rebelled against French colonialism. Bowles said later that he didn't want to write a political novel but was compelled to do so by the circumstances. "The Spider's House" is a long, many-faceted book which describes and meditates upon the war. It includes a large group of varied characters, American and British expatriates, local Moslems, and members of the insurgency. The two major characters are an American expatriate writer, John Stenham, loosely modeled upon Bowles himself, and a young religious adolescent Moslem, Amar. The book includes many reflections by the protagonists on competing views of life and religion. The agnostic Stenham is deeply sympathetic to the faith of the Moslem believers but is finds himself unable to support one side over the other in the war. This is a thought-provoking book with some beautifully written descriptive passages that does not cohere fully as a novel.

Shortly before his death, Bowles gave an interview about his philosophy of life which was reprinted in part in a long New York Times obituary of November 19, 1999. It is worth quoting to help understand Bowles and his books. The obituary recounts:

"" I live in the present", Bowles said, and added about the past: "I remember it as one remembers a landscape, an unchanging landscape. That which has happened is finished. I suppose you could say that a man can learn how to avoid making the same actions which he discovered were errors. I would recommend not thinking about it.'

For Bowles the point of life is to have fun, 'if there is any point at all.' Enjoyment, he said firmly, 'is what life should provide.'

When it was suggested to him that others might say that life should provide a greater moral purpose, he said: 'What is moral purpose? The word 'moral' sets nothing ringing in my head. Who decides what's moral and what isn't? Right behavior, is that moral? Well, what's right behavior?'"

Daniel Halpern edited this volume which includes a good chronological summary of Bowles' life, sparse notes, and a brief glossary of Arabic terms. The texts do not include the Prefaces Bowles wrote to subsequent editions of "The Sheltering Sky" and "The Spider's House." The latter preface is valuable. This is an excellent volume for readers wanting to get to know the works of an American loner and outsider.

Robin Friedman


The March
The March
by E. L. Doctorow
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Doctorow's March, 2 Oct. 2017
This review is from: The March (Hardcover)
In his latest novel, E.L. Doctorow explores the American Civil War, specifically the march of General W.T. Sherman and his army through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in 1864 --1865. Sherman's march is generally regarded by historians as the predecessor of modern total war. The march was directed not only against the Confederate army, but against an entire people, as Sherman's soldiers cut a broad swatch through the States and through cities, destroying resources, homes and food everything in their path. The war was of such a magnitude and the passions among the combatants and the citizens so strong that the will of the South to fight, not only the force of arms, needed to be subdued. This was a cruel, difficult, and still controversial march as Sherman cut his Army of from its own communications and supplies further North, marauded, and pillaged and lived off the land bringing destruction to everything in its wake and spawning a long legacy of bitterness in the South.

Doctorow begins his story of Sherman's campaign in the midst of it -- after the Union Army had captured Atlanta and begun the first leg of its march to Savannah, Georgia. Doctorow gives a vivid picture of an Army on the march, for the most part unopposed, destroying everything in its path. The march through Georgia is the subject of the first section of the book.

The second part of the book describes the campaign into South Carolina. Destruction in this portion of the campaign reached astounding levels because Sherman, together with most of the Union leaders, held South Carolina responsible for initiating the war. This section of the book includes graphic pictures of the Union Army's difficult march through the swamps of lower South Carolina and of the burning of Columbia. (There is still disagreement about whether the North or the South was primarily responsible for the burning. Doctorow shows that it was some of both.)

The third section of the book, set in North Carolina, deals with the waning days of the War, with the final battle of Bentonville, with Sherman's meeting with Grant and Lincoln, and with the end of the War and Lincoln's assassination. The Nation clearly and a great deal of healing and soul-searching to do.

Doctorow gives the reader an excellent sense of the movement of the armies, the horrors of war, death, injury, and barbarity, and, in particular, of the state of medical practice during the conflict. We are given a good portrait of General Sherman, but of the other leaders of the Army only the clvalry leader Kilpatrick, known as "Kil -Kilpatrick" for his feckless behavior gets a great deal of attention.

The book takes a broad sweep, but there is no single main character that stands out. The story is mostly presented through vignettes and miniatures involving a wide cast of characters. These include a brilliant but emotionally cold Union doctor, Wrede Sartorius, a beautiful young former slave, Pearl, who can pass for white, former Southern slaveholders whose plantations are destroyed and lives uprooted, and Arly and Will, two poor rural Southern soldiers who endure a variety of adventures behind Union lines and provide comic, if sardonic, relief. These individual stories are told from a variety of perspectives and are interlaced with each other. Thus, it takes attention on the reader's part to follow the narrative.

The stories show a great deal about the effects of the march on specific people and groups of people -- we see the war through the eyes of the newly freed slaves, of the dispossessed plantation owners, and of the troops on the ground, among other people and are encouraged to think about its scope and significance. Doctorow puts meditations and soliloquy passages into the parts of some of his protagonists about death, freedom, destruction, and sexuality. These are among the best parts of the book. Doctorow's characters are well-developed and their stories help us to understand varying perspectives on the conflict. But at times, I found them somewhat mannered and a distraction from the focus of the book on Sherman's march.

There are several highly graphic depictions of death, injury, suffering, and surgical operations in this book which capture unforgettably the brutality of warfare.

Doctorow has written an excellent novel about Sherman's march which will encourage the reader to reflect upon its meaning for and continued influence upon our Nation's history.

Robin Friedman


Sweet Land Stories
Sweet Land Stories
by E. L. Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Doctorow's Sweet Land, 2 Oct. 2017
This review is from: Sweet Land Stories (Paperback)
I read and enjoyed Doctorow's current historical novel of Sherman's march, "The March," and wanted to read more. Doctorow's "Sweet Land Stories" (2004) lacks the sweep of his Civil War novel. But it excels in its picture of American down-and-outers, loners, losers, grifters, and wanderers. It includes short but unforgettable scenes of a varied and almost timeless America, in rural Illinois, Chicago, Alaska, a religious commune, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.

The book consists of five short stories, four of which appeared initially in the New Yorker while the fifth story, "Child, Dead in the Rose Garden" appeared first in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Each of the stories is faced-paced, draws the reader into the action, and can be read easily in a single sitting. The stories reminded me of Hubert Selby's "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and of the novels of Charles Bukowski without their rawness. Doctorow's is the voice of a polished literary artist.

Three of the stories are told in the first person by male narrators. The first story "A House on the Plains" is recounted by Earle and tells of his conniving and murderous mother on a small farm in Illinois. For all the brutality and irony of the story, the characters come alive sympathetically. "Baby Wilson" is told in the voice of a young man with nowhere particular to go whose girlfriend has kidnapped a baby claiming it is the couple's. We are treated to a picturesque ride through dusty roads and small towns as the two loners truly become a couple and parents as well as they struggle to resolve the situation.

"Walter John Harmon" tells the story of its namesake, a former garage mechanic and thief, and current alcoholic and philanderer, who becomes the leader of a religious commune. But the narrator is an attorney who has given up a staid if successful law practice and, with his wife Betty has joined the commune. The tone of the story is set by its first sentence: "When Betty told me she would go that night to Walter John Harmon, I didn't think I reacted." Doctorow shows the credulous, unresolved needs of many people, including highly educated individuals, for belief and spiritual support, as the narrator is cuckolded by Walter John Harmon who runs off with Betty and abandons the commune to its fate.

The story "Jolene:A Life" tells of a young woman with three bad marriages and other affairs who works through a life of trouble and attains a degree of peace at the end. This is a tawdry story with tawdry scenes, tattoo parlors, topless bars, sexual abuse, gangster-style killings, convincingly portrayed. Jolene struggles throughout all this to develop her talent as an artist.

The final story, "Child Dead, in the Rose Garden" seems to me weaker than the others in that it is too overtly political. I had the same problem with Doctorow's "The Book of Daniel" which is a fictionalized account of the Rosenbergs. This story also differs from its companions in that the protagonist is not a down-and-outer but a respectable person in a responsible job. The story is about the adventures of a retired special agent named B.W. Molloy who, over official resistance, solves a mystery about how the body of a dead child was found in the White House Rose Garden and in the process learns a good deal about himself.

Doctorow has made his reputation, and deservedly so, as a writer of American historical fiction. This book is smaller in scope than novels such as "The March" but perhaps digs deeper into the hearts of its characters. This book together with Doctorow's difficult modern novel "City of God" which to me shows the promise of a secular, open America, are thoughtful, spiritual works which I have greatly enjoyed.

Robin Friedman


Couperin: Music for Harpsichord, Vol.1
Couperin: Music for Harpsichord, Vol.1
Price: £7.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Francois Couperin On Naxos, 30 Sept. 2017
This budget-priced recording of harpsichord music by the seventeenth century French composer Francois Couperin (1668 -- 1733) is an outstanding introduction to some little-known music of the French baroque. The performance by harpsichordist Lawrence Cummings, recorded in 1994, has received great critical acclaim. I am pleased that the CD is still getting attention with two recent and justly enthusiastic reviews on this site.

Francois Couperin's harpsichord music departs from that of his predecessors in several ways. While earlier French composers wrote primarily dance pieces, Couperin shifted the focus to short character or genre pieces depicting a specific person, scene or emotion. In addition, the music of earlier French composers for the harpsichord was highly improvisatory, in a form called style brise, derived from music for the lute. It frequently does not use bar lines, relying on the imagination and improvisatory skill of the performer. Francois Couperin changed that by writing out his scores in great detail and in insisting upon a faithful, exact performance of what he wrote.

The eminent scholar of the French baroque period, James Anthony, has aptly described Couperin's harpsichord music as "so elusive, yet so compelling." He wrote:

"[I]n the company of some of Chopin's Mazurkas and Debussy's Preludes, much of Couperin's keyboard music is more a communication between instrument and performer in the intimacy of his music-room than it is between performer on the stage and an unseen audience. It reveals itself only gradually and only after repeated playings. It is wed to its instrument as is no other music."

Couperin's extensive output for the harpsichord is gathered into four large books each of which is subdivided into a section called an "ordre". On this CD, Cummings performs the first ordre of Book One, composed in 1713, consisting of 18 pieces.

The first five pieces are in traditional dance form, but even here Couperin imparts a special character to his miniatures. Thus, the opening Allemande is meant as a portrayal of and high compliment to the Duke of Maine, while the sarabande(no 4), titled "la Magisteuse" is a portrait of Louis XIV in his glory.

The remaining works in the first ordre are all character pieces, many of which derive from vocal music. Some of them are humorous as in "Les Nonetes" portraying a pair of none-too-chaste nuns and "La Bourbonaise", a portrayal of a highly flirtatous and independent woman. Other pieces, such as "Les Sentiments" are highly reflective and melancholy while still others such as "L'Enchantress", "La Pastorale", and "Les Plasirs de Saint Germain en Laye" have the grace and ease of a painting by Watteau. There is much to enjoy here.

The CD concludes with the first and second concerts from Couperin's series "Concerts Royaux". Couperin composed these works for performances at Louis XIV's Sunday musical soirees. They are scored for performance by solo harpsichord or by ensembles. They are performed by Cummings here, with viol and viola da gamba, respectively, added to the final work of each set. These two concert suites return to the use of traditional dance forms. But they are notable because they show Couperin absorbing the style of the Italian baroque into his work. In particular, the second concert includes an "Allemande fugate" and an "air contrefuge" which adopt a fugal style of writing derived from Corelli, a great favorite of Francois Couperin.

This CD will appeal to lovers of the harpsichord and to those listeners who want to explore the beauties of early music.

The quotations in this review are taken from James R. Anthony, "French Baroque Music" revised edition p. 259.

Robin Friedman


Doctor Sax (Penguin Modern Classics)
Doctor Sax (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Jack Kerouac
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Sax, 30 Sept. 2017
The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's (1922-- 1969) "On the Road." The Library of America, among others publishers, has marked the occasion with the publication of a new volume including five Kerouac "Road Novels". I wanted to reread other works by Kerouac besides the "road novels" that are in danger of being overlooked, and I turned to "Dr. Sax". Kerouac wrote "Dr. Sax" in 1952 while living with William Burroughs in Mexico City. It was a difficult time for both writers. Kerouac had already written "On the Road" but could not get it published. Burroughs had just accidentally killed his lover, Joan Vollmer, during a drunken game of "William Tell". "Dr. Sax" proved even more difficult to publish than "On the Road" and did not appear in print until 1959.

"Dr. Sax" differs from "On the Road" and the other books in the LOA collection in that it is set in Lowell, Massachusetts, the town where Kerouac grew up. Lowell is a small mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River. During Kerouac's boyhood, it was home to a substantial French-Canadian immigrant population, to a community of Greek Americans and to several other diverse ethnic groups. Kerouac's parents were both immigrants from French Canada. They spoke a dialect of French in their home and Kerouac did not learn English until he was about seven years old. A fascinating part of "Dr. Sax" is the French dialogue among Kerouac and his family -- with Kerouac immediately providing an English rendition in addition to the French.

The book is written from the perspective of an adult -- Kerouac in 1952 in Mexico City -- looking back and reflecting upon his childhood and early adolescence from the standpoint of his ongoing difficult life as a writer struggling for publication and combating his own inner demons of drugs and alcohol. It opens with a dream, and Kerouac tells the reader that "memory and dream are intermixed in this mad universe." The book features a strange character the young Kerouac invented named Dr. Sax, a sinister figure in a cape and slouch hat. Dr. Sax is accompanied by other bizarre characters including Count Cordu the Vampire, the Great Snake, the Wizard, and others who live in a large weed-grown abandoned house on a snake-infested hill just outside of Lowell. Kerouac conceived the idea of Dr. Sax from various comic books that were popular when he was a child.

"Dr. Sax" is memorable largely for the picture it draws of Kerouac's childhood and of Lowell. (Kerouac is named Jack Duluoz or "Ti Jean" in the book.) It gives good portraits of Kerouac's mother and father and of the family's many moves among the poorer neighborhoods of the town and of Kerouac's older sister and ill-fated brother Gerard who died when he was ten. Kerouac, Ti Jean is portrayed as a sensitive, imaginative and athletic child. The book offers portraits of Kerouac playing baseball and marbles, going to church, engaging in pranks and fights with his childhood friends and enemies, watching movies and reading books, experiencing the first flush of sexuality and learning to masturbate, and learning of death, in the person of Gerard and several others. The book also shows a great deal of Lowell and its environs, especially of a large flood that destroyed much of the city's downtown in 1936.

The story of young Ti Jean and of Lowell is punctuated by comic-book like tales of Dr. Sax. Dr. Sax also appears as a shadowy figure commenting upon and observing the life of young Kerouac and his family and friends. There is something sinister about Sax throughout most of the book. He is partly drawn from William Burroughs, as he is shown travelling through South and Central America for various "powders". In the lengthy final chapter of the book, Ti Jean accompanies Dr. Sax in a bizarre chapter in which Sax purports to ward off the forces of evil that threaten Lowell. The story gets a sharp wizard-of-Oz-like twist at the end.

With the comic characters and the surprise ending, there is a great deal of mad humor in Dr. Sax, but the tone still is predominantly one of melancholy and reflection. In one particularly good scene, Kerouac's dying uncle prophetically tells him: "my child poor Ti Jean, do you know my dear that you are destined to be a man of big sadness and talent-- it'll never to live or die, you'll suffer like others -- more" The Dr. Sax figure, similarly, seems to show the price Kerouac paid for becoming a writer. The book suggests -- with its subtitle "Faust Part Three" that Kerouac's writing was part of a Faustian bargain with Dr. Sax in which Kerouac paid for his literary imagination with a sad and tormented life.

Dr. Sax was Kerouac's favorite among his own novels, and many readers would among his work regard it as his best or second-best after "On the Road." (Other works have their own partisans as well.) This book will interest readers who want to see a lesser-known side of Kerouac. The book is written in a variety of styles. It is erratic and not easy reading. Those who are interested in Kerouac's portrayals of his life in Lowell might also enjoy "Maggie Cassidy" and Kerouac's first and underappreciated book, "The Town and the City".

Robin Friedman


After God: The Future Of Religion (Master Minds)
After God: The Future Of Religion (Master Minds)
by Don Cupitt
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The Unanswered Question, 30 Sept. 2017
In 1906, the American composer Charles Ives wrote a short orchestral piece called "The Unanswered Question". He described the music as a "cosmic drama." The piece is indeed a musical picture of the human search for meaning and religion and a world full of skepticism about both. (Ives himself was a believer of a rather traditional sort.)

I thought of Ives, and his "Unanswered Question" in reading Don Cupitt's short study "After God". Cupitt is a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and his written widely on religious subjects. He is the founder of the "Sea of Faith" movement, which is an attempt to provide meaning for religion in a non-theistic, non-traditional sense.

The book is modernistic in tone. It is addressed to the many people who attempt to find a form of religion in their lives separate from theism. In setting out his topic Cupitt states: "Religious life is an expressive, world-building activity through which we can get ourselves together and find a kind of posthumous, or retrospective, happiness". (page xiv)

The book is in three parts. In the first part, "The Coming of the Gods", Cupitt tries to give a historical, genetic account of the origins of theistic belief, based on the development of cities and ruling hierarchies from more primitive hunting or agrarian societies. He finds both religion and early philosophy derivative of this change in human social organization.

In the second section, "The Departure of the Gods" Cupitt explores the difficulties in the concept of a transcendent God separate from the imminent world of the everyday. He talks insightfully, if too briefly, of the development of philosophy from the objective realism of Plato (both the chief hero and the chief villain of the book) through Kant's internalization of the sources of human knowledge, through Nietzsche and modern philosophy of language. His position straddles, I think, postmodern thought, which denies the possibility of any absolute truth separate from the observer, and a more traditional philosophical naturalism (denial of supernaturalism) where I think it is ultimately more comfortable.

The third part of the book "Religion after the Gods" offers a new version of religion stripped of its theological trappings. Cupitt adopts a three-fold religious practice from the wisdom of the past, consisting of 1. attempting to see one's life through the eye of eternity 2. meditation on emptiness and 3. "solar living" -- a radiant, outgoing way of life based on emotion and human need, receptive to change and to the moment, and concerned with immanences here and now rather than fixed absolutes. Cupitt sees religion as ultimately global in character, breaking down the tendency of believers to separate themselves and their creed from other parts of humanity. Strangely enough, he closes the book with advice that people remain in their current religious traditions, but follow them in a manner consistent with the teachings of his book.

Cupitt writes eloquently and well. I am in sympathy with much of his programme, but he moves too quickly at times. There is a sense in his book of the mystery and enigma that Ives presents so well in "the unanswered question"; although, paradoxically, Cupitt seems too eager to dissolve the mystery by creating a dogma of his own.

Those wanting to hear more of Cupitt might be interested in looking up his interview with Steven Batchelor in the Fall, 2003,issue of "Tricycle, the Buddhist Review."

Robin Friedman


Science and Religion - an Impossible Dialogue
Science and Religion - an Impossible Dialogue
by Yves Gingras
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Can There Be Dialogue Between Science And Religion?, 30 Sept. 2017
Together with many people, I have given thought to the relationship between science and religion and have read books from a variety of perspectives. I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this new book "Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue" by Yves Gingras, Canada Research Chair in History and Sociology of Science at the University of Quebec at Montreal. The book was translated from the French by Peter Keating.

There are many ways of seeing the relationship between science and religion: some people find science and religion, properly understood, fully compatible, some find them in inevitable conflict, and some find they address different issues or "spheres". Some writers on science and religion, including, I think, this book properly remind the reader that there almost always is a political dimension to the discussion. In my opinion, the question of the relation between science and religion is getting renewed attention because of the strong polarization of opinion and the attempt of individuals of all views to find religious warrant for what they believe.

Gingras writes from a perspective I find refreshingly rationalistic. He is aware, at the outset, of the vagueness of the question of the relation between science and religion and the need to pin it down. He argues that the sciences, both natural and social sciences involve "attempts to provide reasons for observable phenomena by means of concepts and theories that do not call upon supernatural causes." It is harder to categorize religion. For purposes of his study, Gingras finds religion consists of a particular institution which appeals to a specific text and which generally involves a belief in a personal God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are religions in this sense while pantheism or vague forms of spirituality outside denominational religion might not be.

Gingras' study has both a historical and critical component. He begins with a close examination of the conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church in the early 17th Century over the movement of the earth. He follows through the history of the conflict until 1992 when Pope John Paul II at last revoked the condemnation of Galileo. Gingras examines many other incidents of conflict between religious and scientific institutions involving, in particular, geology, biology, and Darwinism, and the historical, naturalistic approach to the human sciences, including the historical approach to Biblical texts. In these and other matters, Gingras finds that religious institutions and leaders took an antagonistic approach to science when in seemed to challenge what were taken to be Biblical or theological teachings.

Gingras examines what he finds to be largely contemporary (beginning in the late 20th Century with some earlier antecedents) to promote "dialogue" or "conversation" between religion and science. Instead of finding conflict, this approach tries to promote harmony. Gingras finds several sources of the change in approach from conflict to dialogue. He points to the change in attitude of the Catholic Church and other religious bodies and also relies as well on the growth of foundations, such as the Templeton Foundation, which sponsors through large cash awards and grants scholarly work purporting to show the harmonious relationship between scientific findings and religious belief.

Gingras is highly skeptical of the possibility of dialogue between science and religion. He argues, I think with a great deal of merit, that in seeking non-supernaturalistic explanations for observable human and natural phenomena, science takes a metaphysical and epistemological stance that cuts it off from religious explanation. Many individual scientists may well be deeply and profoundly religious persons. Their religious commitments may well influence the way the approach science or the sorts of questions they choose to examine. However, their scientific work remains subject to the standards of scientific discipline which remains naturalistic and peer-determined. Thus the religiosity of individual scientists would be irrelevant to establishing the harmony between science and religion in terms of supernaturalism. Gingras examines in a rather cursory way some of the many writings purporting to show harmony between science and religion. He argues that they tend to rely on a superficial understanding of science or on a restatement of the argument from design that has had a long philosophical and scientific history. Gingras finds modern restatements of the argument from design philosophically and scientifically redundant. Thus, Gingras argues that there can be no dialogue between science and religion because each deals with a different things. Science is naturalistic and relies on institutional agreement among trained observers while religion is not so much wrong as inherently subjective and personal. Among Gingras' philosophical heroes are Scotus, whose philosophical voluntarism was opposed to Aquinas, and Kant.

Gingras' book is thoughtful and learned with many historical examples, including the fascinating recent case of the "Kennewick Man" in the United States and the conflict it posed between scientific and religious approaches to discovery. Gingras is probably, in the distinction drawn by William James, a tough-minded rather than a tender-minded thinker. I found his approach and his rationalism refreshing particularly in light of other approaches to the subject I have read. Still, he may be too quick with a large body of writing in support of "dialogue" that he does not discuss fully. He also, in my view, may move too quickly towards finding religion "subjective" without considering that it may be different from science and warrant consideration on its own. I agree with Gingras that any attempt at "dialogue" or, in the modern jargon, "conversation" should not give religion the right to interfere with any findings or investigations of science. These findings and investigations stand on their own. There may be a broader philosophical, metaphysical approach than that taken in this book. If so, there may be a sense in which "dialog" between science and religion is possible, but not the sense that Gingras critiques.

Gingras has written a thoughtful, provocative book for readers with a serious interest in the relationship between science and religion.

Robin Friedman


A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution
A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution
by David A. Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Eisenhower And Civil Rights, 28 Sept. 2017
When Dwight Eisenhower completed his two terms as president in 1961, it appeared that historians would treat him unkindly for his allegedly weak, somnolescent leadership. As president, Eisenhower lacked the charisma and forcefulness of his two immediate successors. With the passage of time, historians have become much kinder to Eisenhower and have recognized the deft character of his leadership and the nature of his accomplishments. But Eisenhower's reputation still tends to be tarnished by what is perceived as his indifference to civil rights.

David Nichols' book, "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Civil Rights Revolution" (2007) is a close study the accomplishments and the deficiencies of Eisenhower's approach to civil rights. Nichols does not try to turn the received account of Eisenhower entirely on its head. Rather, he offers a well-document judicious portrayal of Eisenhower which shows that he deserves substantially more credit for his civil rights accomplishments that he generally receives. Nichols is a historian and a former dean at Southwestern College, Kansas. This book on Eisenhower was Nichols' first since 1978, when he wrote a book on Lincoln's Indian policy, "Lincoln and the Indians". In 2011, Nichols continued his late career exploration of Eisenhower with a book on the president's handling of the Suez crisis of 1956, "Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War". Nichols' two books on Eisenhower cover, of course, much of the same time period and can usefully be read together to understand Nichols' picture of the Eisenhower administration.

For Nichols, Eisenhower's civil rights policy emphasized action rather than rhetoric. This was both its strength and its weakness. Eisenhower was a "gradualist", for Nichols, who also preferred to work quietly for what he saw as right as opposed to touting and politicizing his civil rights accomplishments. Thus, upon assuming the presidency, Eisenhower quietly but decisively desegregated the District of Columbia, which was under Federal authority, and completed the work of desegregating the military which had been begun by his predecessor, President Truman. Eisenhower also worked towards desegregating the Federal work force and Federal contracting.

Eisenhower appointed cabinet members who were committed to ending discrimination, including his Attorney General, Herbert Brownell. Brownell filed strong briefs in the Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education and in favor of stronger, faster remedial action than the Court eventually adopted. Eisenhower was actively consulted and approved the positions and the language of the briefs. Eisenhower and Brownell also made strong judicial appointments that supported the cause of civil rights. The first of these was Chief Justice Warren, although Eisenhower may have had second thoughts about this appointment. Eisenhower's remaining four Supreme Court appointments also were supportive of civil rights. Equally important, Eisenhower appointed strong Federal appellate judges in the Southern circuits who were to play a pivotal role in desegregation.

Eisenhower was more aggressive in pursuing civil rights legislation than is usually appreciated. The 1957 civil rights act was the first such legislation in 80 years. It was a weak act, but Congress, including Lyndon Johnson, had gutted strong provisions in the administration's proposed legislation. A 1960 statute, late in Eisenhower's presidency was far stronger in providing protection for voting rights.

Eisenhower's finest hour in civil rights occurred in 1957 when he sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect the judicially-recognized rights of nine African American students to attend Central High School. Although he was criticized both by segregationists and by liberals at the time, Eisenhower's approach to this situation gets a strong defense in Nichols' account. Eisenhower acted courageously and decisively to uphold the law and respect for the decisions of the courts.

In Nichols' account and in many others, Eisenhower's weakness was in his failure to use the office of the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to speak boldly of the importance of civil rights. Eisenhower failed to publically endorse the Brown decision but instead couched his actions in the legalistic terms of upholding judicial decisions and the rule of law. (In the Brown judicial proceedings, Eisenhower and the administration had strongly supported ending school desegregation.) Eisenhower did not take an active role in securing compliance with Brown: his legal options may have been limited in the absence of legislation. Eisenhower, regrettably, did not speak out following the Emmett Till murder in 1955, although he partially made amends by speaking out in a somewhat similar tragedy four years later. Whether from his own personal reservations or from the belief that activist rhetoric would have been polarizing and unproductive, Eisenhower was not an effective spokesman for civil rights during his presidency. His administration had some solid accomplishments which up until 1963-64 compared well with the accomplishments of his successors and paved the way for them

Nichols has written a thoughtful, sympathetic study of Eisenhower's civil rights record. He writes (p. 273): "Eisenhower was a 'gradualist' but so were most other politicians of the time. Martin Luther King. Jr. was morally correct to contend that 'justice delayed is justice denied' but Eisenhower was attempting to govern, not score debating points. An immediate and complete end to segregation was not politically feasible in the 1950s. Too often, the 'gradualist' label is used to close off serious analysis. The purpose of this book has been to clarify what Eisenhower intended and accomplished. Once that record is corrected, a more constructive dialogue about his leadership will be possible. To do that with integrity, the myth that he did nothing must be put to rest."

I have learned from reading Nichols' two books on Eisenhower, written late in his career. They reinforced my admiration for our nation's 34th president. More importantly the books reminded me of the values of American life and of the complexity in their realization, of the importance of openness to different opinions in working towards social justice, and of the rashness of rushing to preordained conclusions in historical inquiry.

Robin Friedman


Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War
Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War
by David A. Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Eisenhower And The Suez Crisis, 28 Sept. 2017
In 1978, historian David Nichols published his first book "Lincoln and the Indians" Lincoln and the Indians" which remains a rare study of a frequently overlooked aspect of Lincoln's presidency. I read and reviewed the book early in my days as an Amazon reviewer. Following his retirement from academic life, Nichols, who resides near the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, effectively began a second career as a historian of the Eisenhower administration. "Eisenhower 1956" tells the story of Eisenhower's greatest foreign policy test: the Suez crisis of 1956, Eisenhower's handling of this crisis remains controversial. I wanted to read this book because of my own interest in and admiration for Eisenhower. I also remembered Nichols' first book on Lincoln and was inspired to see an author branch out in a new direction upon retirement. (Between 1978 and his two recent books on Eisenhower, Nichols apparently had not published a book.)

Nichols tells a complex, detailed history clearly and well. Although he is critical of some aspects of Eisenhower's handling of the Suez crisis, he praises Eisenhower's broad approach and what Nichols sees as his principled leadership. Some critics of Eisenhower's presidency tended to see him as disengaged and as deferential to his subordinates, in particular to his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Critics of Eisenhower in the Middle East have also claimed that his administration showed too much sympathy for the Arab position and underestimated the threats that Israel faced. Nichols belongs with a group of scholars who, beginning in the 1980's, have reassessed Eisenhower's leadership style and gradually and substantially raised the stature of his presidency. In his book, Nichols portrays Eisenhower as an active, knowledgeable leader in the area of foreign affairs who managed top-down with the public interest rather than politics at heart. Eisenhower gave direction to his administration as opposed to responding passively to his staff.

Nichols shows that the Suez crisis had a long history during which Eisenhower's participation was mixed. The crisis coincided with Eisenhower's first heart attack and with a subsequent serious intestinal illness. During these periods, Eisenhower's active operation in government was necessarily limited. American policy thus tended to lack firm control, and it vacillated. During this time, the Soviet Union had begun massive arms sales to Egypt. The Israelis became concerned and the United States had to determine the extent to which it would support the sale of additional arms to Israel without precipitating an arms race and encouraging conflict. In addition, the United States and Egypt had discussed American assistance in the construction of the large Aswan Dam to stimulate Egypt's economy and reduce the flooding which over the ages had plagued the country. The Egyptian leader, Nasser, tried to play off the United States and the Soviet Union as providers of the aid. American policy on Aswan aid vacillated during Eisenhower's illness and led to the Suez crisis. During the period of Eisenhower's ill-health, he was also preoccupied with deciding whether he was physically in a condition to run for the presidency for a second term. Although Eisenhower was a Cold Warrior, his major preoccupation during his presidency was avoiding nuclear war which, the president understood, would have catastrophic, irrevocable consequences.

The Suez crisis began when Dulles rather peremptorily informed Egypt that it could not provide assistance for Aswan. A good part of this decision was a result of Congressional opposition. Nasser then nationalized the Suez canal in retaliation for the United States refusal of the aid, and Britain and France prepared for military action. Eisenhower opposed precipitate military action chiefly because of his fear that it would lead to broad war. He was committed to a negotiated resolution. Eisenhower believed that Egypt was within its legal rights to nationalize the canal as long as the canal remained open and was operated fairly. Britain, France, and Israel had reason to be worried.

For months, under Eisenhower's leadership, the allies sought a negotiated solution. Without Eisenhower's knowledge, Britain, France and Israel surreptitiously planned and camoflagued an invasion of Egypt, leading Eisenhower to claim, with great justification, that the allies had "double-crossed" him. Although his actions were and remain severely criticized, Eisenhower worked through the United Nations to arrange a cease-fire. The Soviet Union, which had invaded Hungary, had threatened to intervene on Egypt's behalf. The world may have been close to WW III, which Eisenhower was determined to avoid. The crisis came to an end and the threatened rupture with America's allies was tenuously restored.

Although the United States had effectively blundered into the crisis and showed a marked failure of intelligence operations in not detecting the British-French-Israeli plan before its implementation, Nichols gives Eisenhower high marks for leadership and principle in resolving the Suez crisis after it was thrust upon him. On the whole, and although even today Eisenhower is severely criticized over the Suez crisis, I think the praise is deserved.

As with subsequent administrations, Eisenhower tried to be friends with all parties in the Middle East and to encourage a negotiated solution to the problems which plagued the region at the time and continue to do so. Eisenhower's broad efforts proved no more successful than those of subsequent administrations. But in his cool, even-handed handling of the Suez crisis, Eisenhower may have averted a world war. He showed principled political leadership under substantial pressure. I am looking forward to reading Nichols' other book on the Eisenhower presidency: "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution".

Robin Friedman


A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians - From Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians - From Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between
by Stuart Isacoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Celebration Of The Piano, 27 Sept. 2017
Pianist and author Stuart Isacoff begins his new book, "A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians -- from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between" at a seemingly odd place well in the middle of the story. The book opens abruptly with a portrayal of the jazz pianist Oscar Peterson at the age of 81 moving his broken body to the piano at New York's Birdland and playing with the "effortless fluidity and clockwork precision" that were the foundation of his artistic expression. Isacoff explains that Peterson had spent long years in training as a classical pianist, and that his musical style melded classical elements with jazz. He juxtaposes Peterson's way with the piano with quotations from classical musicians Piotyr Anderszewski and Menahem Pressler, who is about the age as was Peterson. What Pressler says could have been said by Peterson and by many pianists:

"The other night I was playing the Schubert B-flat sonata on [a new piano Pressler had selected], and the piano was like a living soul. This was at the end of the day, and I was very tired. And yet I was reminded of what a happy man I am playing on such a piano. You become elated, invigorated, and inspired all through something built by a factory. It tells me that there is more to life than we can see."

The love of the piano, its breadth, and its tendency towards democratization are themes that run through Isacoff's "natural history" of the instrument. The large sweep of the book in a relatively brief 350 pages creates some difficulty. There is little room for in-depth treatment: the treatment of some important composers and performers is skimpy while relatively minor people and trends may receive too much attention. This problem might be difficult to avoid in a book of this type. The book also tends to skip around and to be slightly disjointed. From the beginning chapter which uses Peterson as a bridge between musical traditions, Isacoff veers back 300 years to the creation of the instrument, moves to a good chapter on Mozart as the "first piano superstar", and then offers chapters on the social history of the instrument and on the perils of performing. Isacoff illustrates his theme and tells the piano's story but at the price of stylistic awkwardness.

At the heart of his book, Isacoff develops what he calls four rough musical types, the "combustibles, alchemists, rhythmitizers, and melodists" (any serious musician will be a blend of all four components, but with certain emphases) and illustrates each type with a cross-section of composers and performers from classical to jazz to blues and rock. The musicians are as diverse as Beethoven and Schubert on the one hand and Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino on the other hand. The discussions of the musicians are short but revealing. Even better is Isacoff's attempt to draw parallels across seemingly different musical types, to show the diversity of music, and the shared love and passion that underlies commitment to it in any genre. The last several chapters of the book focus on various performers, particularly Russian and German pianists, including Horowitz, Rubenstein, Brendel, and Schnabel, American pianists such as Van Cliburn, and the eccentric Glen Gould. Isacoff considers the positive and negative results of piano competitions, the impact of technology and electronics on the piano, and much more.

The book is replete with over 300 illustrations of pianos and musicians which complement the text in bringing the story of the piano to life. In addition, Isacoff offers throughout many insets in the form of quotations from composers and pianists, such as the quotation from Pressler at the beginning of the review. Although they distract the flow of the text and occasionally reminded me of sound-bites, these insights are on the whole illuminating.

With the distractions I found and the small reservations I have about the book, I would not have missed it. I have been an amateur pianist and a lover of music for most of my life. It was moving the visit the piano and those who have written for and played it. The book reminded me of a great deal, taught me, and helped me understand my engagement with the piano.

Robin Friedman


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