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Books come in an ever wider range of formats, from mass market paperbacks to ebooks to slip-cased hardcovers. Then there is the book as beautiful object, which covers the Cahiers Series, a joint project between London-based Sylph Editions and the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris (and distributed in the U.S. through University of Chicago Press). The beauty of these slender, sewn volumes isn’t limited to their high-quality paper, multi-colored inks, graphics, and overall elegant design, but extends to their content as well. The Cahiers Series is devoted to “new explorations in writing, in translating, and in the areas linking these two activities.” Politics & Prose is a happy to have several of these volumes available now for $19 each.
CRUDE WORLD: The Violent Twilight of Oil,
by Peter Maass
I recommend Peter Maass's balanced, extremely well researched analysis of the way in which petroleum distorts the actions of the countries that possess it, the countries that desire it, and the corporations that move it from one to the other. The author of Love Thy Neighbor - about the civil war in Bosnia - traveled around the world surveying large countries like Russia and Nigeria, medium-sized ones like Venezuela and Ecuador, and tiny ones like Equatorial Guinea. In every case, he found that when oil dominates the economy, not only is there endless opportunity for graft and corruption, but other sectors like agriculture and manufacturing often suffer from neglect. Maass also reveals the relationship between the United States and the oil-producing countries: we tolerate corruption and graft in order to keep the oil flowing. He has done an admirable job of presenting a vast amount of material in a brief and readable account. Now in paperback.
- Carla Cohen
Though Hurricane Sandy hangs over us with power outages and flooding, we can’t forget we are in the final stages of a Presidential election, though we won’t know what variables played a role in the election until it is over. Meanwhile we, especially people in Ohio and other battleground states, are saturated with ads. We can retain our passion for public service and leadership if we look to history, where nothing is airbrushed. The richness of American history is captured in three recent books: two books on President Lincoln's leadership and a biography of Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward help me savor and appreciate the challenges of leadership and public service. These books grip the reader from beginning to end as they fully explore new about the Lincoln Presidency—why it inspires, what challenges it faced, the obstacles Lincoln overcame, and what ones he didn’t.
Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union - Louis P. Masur (Harvard Univ., $29.95)
Louis P. Masur's Lincoln's Hundred Days presents a gripping story of the hundred-day gap between when the decision was made to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and its effective date on January 1, 1863. Lincoln educated his cabinet about emancipation through story and parable. “Stand patters,” mostly Democrats, pulverized Lincoln’s decision. “Maximalists,” who were also Abolitionists, thought Lincoln was a hesitant and compromised leader. The African American leader Frederick Douglass understood the Proclamation's import even if it did not free slaves in the states that hadn't seceded, the reason—according to Masur—that Lincoln strongly supported a constitutional amendment banning slavery. Douglass, sagacious advocate that he was, began publicly addressing the question of what would happen to the slaves after freedom, even before the Proclamation took full effect. Masur’s book also covers the period before the end of the Civil War when Lincoln visited wounded troops. (Remember the troops were an important part of Lincoln's electoral margin over the fired General McClellan.) Lincoln felt the power of the Emancipation Proclamation decision even as he walked silently in Richmond during the war. One woman proclaimed, "I know I am free for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him."
Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year - David Von Drehle (Holt, $30)
David Von Drehle's Rise to Greatness opens on New Year's Day 1862 with Lincoln greeting hordes of citizens, and takes us through the whole year. Each chapter follows one month, and discusses the complexities of saving the Union from McClellan's imperious caution and disloyalty to his commander-in-chief; the challenge from the British as Charles Francis Adams, our Ambassador to Great Britain, pushes for emancipation; and the official declaration of the emancipation policy. Von Drehle closes the book with the birth of freedom. What Von Drehle does so brilliantly is capture Lincoln's sense of history and how change is created and sustained. Of Lincoln, Von Drehle writes, "to him, human history was an inexorable current that sometimes meandered, sometimes raged, but ultimately found its own course." In Lincoln’s view, change required working through "his options with the most cautious initiatives" because as volatile issues were taken on—especially slavery—there was no going back. Von Drehle shows us that at the start of 1862 the nation looked backward, not certain that the Union could be preserved, but as 1863 began with the Emancipation Proclamation in place, the nation could look forward.
Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man – Walter Stahr (Simon & Schuster, $32.50)
Carla and I once had the good fortune to visit the Seward home in Auburn, NY. Our interest was triggered by Gore Vidal's novel Lincoln (arguably his best work) and reinforced by Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. In Seward, Walter Stahr takes William Henry Seward to a deeper level with the story of a creative and forward looking political leader. Few politicians are themselves after a defeat yet Seward, in his mind assured the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860, loyally served Lincoln as Secretary of State. (Yes, Obama and Clinton appear to be a Lincoln and Seward parallel.) In this role, Seward had the courage to challenge the compromise Clay, Webster and Calhoun suggested of turning over fugitive slaves. When Seward is injured shortly before the war's end by a runaway horse and coach, he is visited by Lincoln. I wish the conversation had been recorded: Lincoln returning from a Richmond hospital after shaking hundreds of wounded soldiers’ hands and an ill Seward. Seward did not have the strength to speak at length but with the war at a near end you can imagine the discussion of the plans for the future—two politicians, two leaders, two patriots, looking ahead.
- David Cohen
There are always wonderful exhibits in Washington (and up and down the East Coast).
On Exhibit will highlight some of these shows, and their respective catalogs.
RICHARD DIEBENKORN AT THE CORCORAN
The exhibit: June 30 through September 23, 2012
The catalog: Richard Dibienkorn: The Ocean Park Series (Orange County Museum of Art/ Prestel, $65)
In 1967, Richard Diebenkorn started the first of his Ocean Park paintings. He would continue working on this series of luminous abstracts for the next twenty years.
A wonderful show of many of these paintings has arrived at the Corcoran, and it is the perfect summer show (and one of the best exhibits in many years). Dozens and dozens of Richard Diebenkorn’s large (roughly 8 x 6 ft) paintings are in sky-lit, sun-filled spaces. His smaller, jewel-like works on paper and cigar-box lids, as well as prints, are interspersed in smaller rooms in the exhibit.
The paintings invite long observation: up-close, from across the room, and from two rooms away. Diebenkorn’s fine-tuned adjustments are all visible on the canvases. He redrew charcoal lines, added and scraped down thin, glowing layers of paint, making large and tiny changes until each painting was a satisfying, luminous whole.
Displayed chronologically, the Ocean Park series (named after a beachfront neighborhood in Santa Monica where his studio was) start with a few paintings with hints of abstracted Matisse-like shapes; you can then see Diebenkorn play with his palimpsest of grids and sunny color to make the series an ever changing theme and variation.
There are three essays in the catalog: exhibit curator Sarah Bancroft on Diebenkorn’s painting history before, during and after Ocean Park; curator Susan Landauer on his echoes with other California painters, Matisse, and Cézanne; and poet (and Ocean Park neighbor) Peter Levitt’s rhapsody on Diebenkorn’s sea and sky-inspired colors.
Go immerse yourself and revel in Diebenkorn’s abstract masterworks.
- András Goldinger