Books: Notable

4 minute read


by Margaret C.S. Christman

Smithsonian Institution Press

256 pages; $25

Christman, research historian at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, has introduced an eclectic choice of portraits, accompanied by masterly biographies in miniature. Here is the fervent “Stonewall” Jackson and the loquacious Henry James; here, too, is Charles Pinckney, the Revolutionary War officer remembered for his “incredibly bad military advice.” The works themselves are undistinguished, apart from the self-portraits by Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper; but these busts, etchings, daguerreotypes, oils and sketches constitute a museum of the human physiognomy—and of our civilization over the past two centuries.


Harper & Row; 199 pages; $29.95

Photographer Walker Evans (1903-75) is best remembered for Depression photos of Southern dirt farmers published in the celebrated Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Text for that book was written by the late James Agee, whose eager eyes peer out from a 1937 portrait that is one of the 219 remarkable photographs in this long overdue retrospective volume. No captions are needed to display the range and depth of Evans’ artistry. He knew the truth that lay in the luminous surfaces of things, whether they were the grim visages of farmers, the abstracted faces of New York subway riders, the pocked brick of a city tenement or the burnished beauty revealed in a pair of pliers and a wrench. Evans’ compositions have a classical austerity, though at heart he was a great American romantic—an artist who celebrated the nobility of ordinary objects and people.


by Frank Modell

Dodd, Mead; unpaged; $8.95


by Peter Delacorte and Michael C. Witte

Penguin; unpaged; $3.95


by Jack Ziegler

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

unpaged; $7.95

A good cartoon book is an oblong entirely surrounded by laughter. Among the merriest: Stop Trying to Cheer Me Up! by Frank Modell. One of the most versatile of The New Yorker’s cartoonists, Modell is equally at home with animal gags (Pan using a unicorn horn for a corkscrew) and domestic explosions (father to a small boy who has nailed his Christmas stocking upside down: “You call that hung by the chimney with care?”). The Book of Terns by Peter Delacorte and Michael C. Witte is something else again. Every conceivable pun on the bird-word tern is illustrated, from tern of the screw to Comintern. A single-joke book, but a funny one, deserving of a big ternout. If the bird book rises from the dictionary, Hamburger Madness by Jack Ziegler bounces off the wall. The New Yorker’s resident screwball, Ziegler is famous for muses that beckon the writer away from his work and toward a bar, and a bank with a sign that reads TIME: 4:32. TODAY’S WEATHER: SHOES.


178 pages; $17.95 hardcover,

$9.95 paper


102 pages; $15 hardcover, $6.95 paper

by William Blake

Edited by Kay Parkhurst Easson and Roger R. Easson

Shambhala/ Random House

William Blake was a great hater of the Industrial Revolution, but he might have been pleased with one of its results: low-cost reproductions of his masterworks. For over a century, facsimiles of Blake’s prophetic books have been beyond the range of the common reader’s common wallet. Milton and The Book of Urizen, both edited by Kay Parkhurst Easson and Roger R. Easson, provide a welcome corrective. They supply texts and analyses of Blake’s attempt to turn readers into seers. The full range of the artist’s palette is beyond the power of any press, but given the price of a trip to London’s Tate Gallery, these volumes constitute the New Year’s happiest book bargains.

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