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Books: Deck the Shelves: For $3.95 and Up

16 minute read

$50 and Over

Ruben’s Life of Marie de Medici by Jacques Thuillair. 158 pages, plus 108 color pages. Abrams. $125. In 1622 history’s richest and most lavish painter was retained by the vainest and most powerful woman in France to create an appropriate tribute to herself. The result —more than a score of enormous panels—now fills a whole room of the Louvre. There visitors are free to ramble past acres of pearly, naked flesh and hectares of jewels and velvet, observing Marie, attended by nymphs, monsters, peacocks, courtiers, gods, satyrs and angels, as she makes a near mythological progress from a shaky Italian girlhood to the role of Queen Regent for Louis XIII. This huge book—the year’s most fabulous—acquaints the reader with the history and shows off the art far better than any number of visits to the Louvre.

Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator by Thomas S. Buechner. 328 paaes. Abrams. $75.

After 317 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, plus countless ads for everything from varnish to the Boy Scouts, Norman Rockwell is enshrined—in the U.S. at least—as “the best-known artist who ever lived.” He is certainly the chronicler of one American dream, with its gawky Huck Finns, jolly G.I.s, laundered blacks and apple-cheeked mothers in bifocals; its flags, turkeys, sneakers and little clapboard banks. Today Rockwell’s America may seem almost as distant as Thomas More’s Utopia, but this sumptuous tome pleasurably suggests why his genre pieces, painterly apple-pie to the last brush stroke, defined a whole area of solid comfort and nostalgic selfesteem.

The Works of Vincent van Gogh by J.B. de la Faille. Illustrated. 701 paqes. Reynal. $55. Rather than yet another mindless Van Gogh blockbuster, this is the first catalogue raisonne of his work. Every known painting, drawing and sketch Van Gogh did is catalogued and pictured, along with any description or comments on the work that he may have made. If all this sounds drab and scholarly, it is also cleansing and restorative to the eye.

Impressionists and Impressionism by Maria and Godfrey Blunden. 238 pages. Skira. $50.

This is a big year for Impressionists, and this is the year’s biggest Impressionist book. Massive and beautiful reproductions, a plethora of useful notes and quotations, and a highly readable narrative text that is particularly good at recreating the sights and slurs of the salon and world against which the Impressionists rebelled. $26 to $35

As the Eye Moves … a Sculpture by Henry Moore. Photographs by David Finn; Words by Donald Hall. 160 pages. Abrams. $35. One hundred and thirty-one ways of looking at a bronze—in this case, Henry Moore’s Three Piece Reclining Figure No. 2: Bridge Prop. Finn’s fine photographs explore masses, probe patinas, present perspectives, titillate with textures. Poet Hall’s words are blessedly brief. Their joint aim is to educate the eye. A splendid book for Moore fanciers. For others, the year’s richest example of cultural overkill.

The Art of the Japanese Screen by Elise Gril-li. Illustrated. 275 pages. Walker. $35. Since Japanese temples and houses have only one stationary wall, magnificent screens are their equivalent of murals. Unlike Western muralists, who aim for massive compositions, the Japanese strive for lightness and flexibility. As this richly illustrated volume shows, they achieved marvels of air and motion in a fluid style that relies totally on brilliant color and design.

The Great Age of Fresco: Discoveries, Recoveries and Survivals. Millard Meiss. 251 pages. Braziller. $30. Fifteenth century Italian painters were apt to reckon fresco-painting the highest art, because of its difficulty and permanence. Today, menaced by polluted air, damp, neglect, and decay, the walls of Renaissance Italy hold in their friable plaster some of the greatest monuments to faith and beauty ever painted. This book provides a popular guided tour to many of them with Art Historian Millard Meiss as cicerone. Watchful, urbane, provocative and wearing his scholarship lightly, he has written brief essays on more than 100 major wall paintings, ranging 400 years from Giotto’s fresco-cycle in Assisi to a radiant Tiepolo ceiling in Udine.

The Atlas of the Universe by Patrick Moore, O.B.E. 272 pages. Rand McNally. $29.95. Thanks to astronaut-photographers and an inspired display of informative graphic devices, this book is an art gallery of the many faces of the universe. The moon section seems a bit pale and familiar, but those on the sun, earth and stars are feasts of bright color spaced with small but meaty helpings of text. The Central Sahara, for example, is transformed by orbital photography from a cartographic vord to a flaming, rippling sunset sea.

The Bible: History and Culture of a People, A Pictorial Narration by Erich Lessing. 307 pages. Herder & Herder. $29.50. Erich Lessing writes with his camera. In Ulysses, he evoked Homer’s wine-dark seas and siren shores in color photographs occasionally akin to poetry. In The Bible, he does much the same for the Old Testament. Many subjects are archaeological artifacts, rendered with the composition and color of a still-life oil. Other scenes are familiar to the ear but startling to the eye: particularly the shimmering, flame-red “burning bushes” on the desert of Midian. The message of Lessing’s visions: Yahweh lived.

Picasso’s Third Dimension by Gjon Mill. 183 pages. Triton. $27.50. These days any product of the Picasso industry should be approached with skepticism. But Photographer Mili concentrates on Picasso’s sculptures, collages and constructions, and keeps his critical comments and name-dropping memories of the master brief, clever and pointed. He has produced an unexpected small miracle: a Picasso book that seems fresh and perhaps even necessary.

Diary of a Century by Jacques Henri Lartigue. Viking. $27.50. Accomplished Dilettante Lartigue was given his first camera in 1901 at age seven, and immediately began to illustrate his diary. He is still at it. Son of a rich Parisian banker, but above all child of an ebullient and optimistic age, Lartigue recorded the expensive frolics of his family and friends—auto racing, glider flying, womanizing. With rare charm, he also caught the nostalgic flavors and spicy fashions of seven decades —from pleated cascades of ankle-length silk in the Bois de Boulogne (1904) to the rayon trickle of miniskirts on Carnaby Street (1968). One of the graphic confections of the year.

The Kingdom of the Horse by H.H. Isen-bart & E.M. Biihrer. 303 pages. CJ. Bucher and TIME-LIFE Books. $26.95. Quite simply the ultimate horse book. $20 to $25

Micro-Art by Lewis R. Wolberg, 291 pages. Abrams. $25. A first-class attempt to prove visually that less is more. Photographer Wolberg offers a short history of microscopes, then dazzles the reader’s retina with 220 amazing photographic enlargements of everything from the female sex organs of moss (blown up 300 times), to a virus (160,000 times its actual size) that greatly resembles an archipelago. The colors and textures are gorgeous, but at the price, they are a costly pleasure.

The Adventure of Sail 1520-1914 by Captain Donald Macintyre, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N. 256 pages. Random House. $25. Far more sea-and eyeworthy than the usual splendiferous, spanker-sized boat book, in part because it offers longish selections from the writings of Conrad, James Cook, Lord Nelson, Richard Dana, George Anson and others. More notable, though, is the broad range of paintings and illustrations, and the fact that whoever did the captions miraculously knew a lot about things like rigging—and caption writing too.

The Master of Mary of Burgundy, A Book of Hours. Edited by J.J.G. Alexander. Unpaged. Braziller. $25. Like the slender archways in the works of early Flemish masters, this tiny, devotional book opens on small worlds of piety and delight. It is a facsimile re-creation of a Book of Hours made, circa 1478, for the daughter of the last great Duke of Burgundy by a master miniaturist. His biblical figures, mock tourneys, glimpsed landscapes and rich borders decked with acanthus rolls, peacock feathers, shells and fabulous birds and beasts brilliantly profit from the example of the Limbourg brothers and Jan Van Eyck.

The Horizon History of Russia by the editors of Horizon Magazine. Text by Ian Grey. 404 pages. American Heritage. $22. Russia’s first thaw occurred about 15,000 years ago when the Ice Age came to a close. South of the Arctic Circle, evergreens spread from Finland to the Bering Sea. A great network of rivers, including the Don, began flowing quietly and otherwise; the steppe rolled out from the Carpathians to Mongolia; the semi-deserts of Central Asia pillowed to the south. Into this immensity came Goths, Slavs, Vikings and Tatars, mixing their blood on battlefields and in bedrooms. The text is necessarily simplified, but clear and cool. More than 400 excellent illustrations.

Michelangelo: The Complete Sculpture. Text by Frederick Hartt. 310 pages. Abrams. $20. Nobody ever made marble into flesh with more power and passion than Michelangelo. Anyone who doubts it should buy this outstanding photographic study of all 38 of his sculptural works. A fine text helps in examining all the masterpieces, including the David, the Pietd, and the horned Moses—which turns out to bear a preposterous resemblance to Charlton Heston.

Giovanni Pisano, Sculptor by Michael Ayrton and Henry Moore. 248 pages. Weybright & Talley. $20. Giovanni Pisano, who died some time before 1320, was one of the daemonic figures of art. The energies he could release from a block of stone, the jagged drama of expression and gesture, the force and complexity of his inventions helped change the history of sculpture. Until now there has been no good book on him—a strange gap which Michael Ayrton, himself a sculptor, has closed with a graceful and scholarly tribute.

Impressionism, A Visual History by William Gaunt. 296 pages. Praeger. $20. Mostly full-page reproductions of a remarkably broad and well-chosen selection of paintings, faced by long, clear captions that discuss the artistic subject, adding appropriate biographical and social commentary when necessary. The printing is sometimes slightly off, but the book offers a splendid, simple way for readers to see why and how a dozen or so Frenchmen overturned painting precedent and helped sharpen the observing eye of the world.

Letter and Image by Massin. 286 pages. Van Nostrand Reinhold. $20. Next to a picnic ant traversing the pages of a scattered Sunday newspaper, the most letter-drunk creature on earth must be a pedestrian standing in New York City’s Times Square. There, among the advertisements, is the greatest typographical density in the world—or so says Massin, a French graphics authority. He adds that an average American can easily see 1,500 signs a day. Massin proceeds to an alphabet history illustrated by everything from illuminated manuscripts to contemporary advertising. A close look at page 70 will reveal a highly suggestive subliminal holiday greeting formed by an acrobatic and apparently chilly couple. Mainly for admen and art directors.

Under $20

Last Survivors by Noel Simon and Paul Geroudet. Illustrated by Helmut Diller and Paul Barruel. 275 pages. World. $19.95. A somber subject—the possible extinction of 48 species of animals, mostly remote and exotic —approached with great dignity. The indri and the aye-aye may not be with us much longer, but they are here accorded the same curious scientific detachment as studies of, say, the salmon or the pigeon. Simon’s accounts of such rare rituals as the spring mating dance of Attwater’s prairie chicken (“The cocks of the district assemble . . .”) make delightfully recondite reading—rather like social anthropology writ small. The paintings, particularly those of Helmut Diller, are first-rate.

Movement and Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet by Lincoln Kirstein. 290 paqes. Praeger. $17.50. A delightfully idiosyncratic history of classic dance by the co-founder and general director of the New York City Ballet. It minutely and wisely analyzes 50 landmark ballets, from Balthasar de Beau-joyeulx to George Balanchine. Kirstein’s prose is suave and evocative. The stunning black and white illustrations, many of them never before reproduced, are a far cry from the expectable salon-photography narcissism.

The Life and Destiny of Isak Dinesen by Frans Lasson and Clara Svendsen. Illustrated. 227 pages. Random House. $15. Hundreds of pictures of the author and dozens of her family, friends, pets, houses, manuscripts and even book jackets. What is desperately missing from this reverential literary curiosity is any sense of the vitality of its subject. Isak Dinesen’s writing was mercurial, elaborate and passionate. Her life was filled with tragedy and long illness as well as with adventure. Her husband was the model for Hemingway’s Francis Macomber; her great love, Denys Finch-Hatton, was one of the legendary hunters of Kenya. For those who know Dinesen’s life and work, the characters and settings are here. Otherwise the book is a family album.

The Edwardians by J.B. Priestley. Illustrated. 302 pages. Harper & Row. $ 15. The lower classes were wretched and the Boer War was a scandal, but in the main the Edwardians were as self-possessed as their older brothers, the late Victorians, and a good deal gayer. The Empire was at its apogee; surveying his South African fortune and keeping his subjunctives firmly in place, Cecil Rhodes said, “If there be a God I think he would like me to paint as much of Africa British-Red as possible.” Yet great social reforms at home permitted the top authors—Kipling, Shaw and Wells—to be optimists and rationalists in ways that no major writer has ever been since. Venerable Author J.B. Priestley indulges all the era’s colorful figures, as he does his own reminiscences of a middle-class youth in the Midlands. Illustrated with hundreds of pleasing pictures, the book is mini-history at its most palatable and benign.

The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy, 1931-1951 by Chester Gould. 291 pages. Chelsea House. $15. Despite 27 bullet wounds during the first 24 years of his adult life, Dick Tracy manfully survived the two decades here recorded. Inevitably, though, the collection is a celebration of scurvy rogues and criminal grotesquery (The Mole; Flattop; 88 Keyes, the larcenous pianist; Jerome Trohs), because the bad guys in Tracy are always more interesting than the detective and his crew of crime stoppers. Gould is a crafty if somewhat primitive storyteller, and this ponderous volume is still exciting enough to be read with something more than nostalgia.

The Pulps, Fifty Years of American Pop Culture. Compiled and edited by Tony Goodstone. 239 pages. Chelsea House. $15. Mayhem, rape, demonology and interplanetary carnage in a representative sampling from Mammoth Adventure, War Aces, Thrilling Wonder, Western Trails, Spicy Detective, etc., including facsimile ads for “nose shapers,” neckties that glow in the dark and “real live pet turtles.” The horrid yarns still entertain and—because they have been so outdone by TV and today’s other de-scribers of mindless violence—they are even soothing in a creaky, campy way.

David Hicks on Bathrooms. 151 pages. World. $15. England’s best-known decorator wants bathrooms majestic and unapologetic. To show the way, he offers a selection of stately 19th century baths with Egyptian, Greek Revival and rococo influences. For “character, luxury and style” in the 20th century, Hicks leans toward upholstery, mahogany furnishings and crystal chandeliers. Must reading for arrivistes in the first flush of prosperity.

The Teddy Bear Book by Peter Bull. 207 pages. Random House. $10. The title was mercifully changed from Bear With Me. But Actor Bull’s archly preserved chattiness is ubiquitous—and finally maddening. A pity, because the book (TIME, Dec. 5, 1969), originally published in Britain, is stuffed with sepia pictures of quaint and cuddly bears as well as a fair amount of interesting history. Sample: Everyone knows that a cartoon showing Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear cub in 1902 led to the Teddy, but no one, not even Bull, can say whether the first bear was stuffed by the famous house of Steiff in Germany, or a chap named Morris Michtom in Brooklyn. Less for kids than for arctophiles.

The Backgammon Book by Oswald Jacoby and John R. Crawford. Illustrated. 224 pages. Viking. $10. Though it is illustrated with the customary attractive leaves from medieval manuscripts and Flemish paintings, this is a no-nonsense text on one of the world’s most ancient and alluring dice games. Instructions and diagrams are clear. There are good sections on probabilities and such popular variations of the game as acey-deucy and chouette. Still this is one gift book that will get off the coffee table and onto the gaming board.

A Thoreau Gazetteer by Robert F. Stowell. Edited by William L Howarfh. 56 paqes. Princeton. $7.50. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone,” said Henry David Thoreau, the most conspicuous nonconsumer in American letters. At $7.50 this slim, handsome gathering of maps, sketches and photos, which serve as a guide to Thoreau’s travels as a naturalist, surveyor, dropout and poet, should please—but not greatly compromise—admirers of H.D.T.’s writings and principles.

Owls by John Sparks and Tony Soper. 206 pages. Taplinger. $5.95. Chaucer saw them as messengers of death, Ophelia evoked them when going mad, potato chip ads exploit them, fairy tales celebrate their imagined wisdom. This compact book explores the history, habits and life-styles of owls (there are 133 kinds) in straitlaced prose, enhanced by excellent photos and drawings by Naturalist Robert Gillmor. For bird watchers who give a hoot.

Little Wars by H.G. Wells. 111 pages. Macmillan. $5.95. The current facsimile fad’s most curious item:—a 1913 booklet by the celebrated novelist-historian explaining how he devised a labyrinthine war game. It was played with lead soldiers and blocks, etc., but really made possible by the invention of what Wells calls “this priceless gift to boyhood,” a toy model 4.7 breech-loading cannon (still sold in England) that could fire a wooden shell accurately 30 feet. His game is played, Wells advises firmly, “by boys of every age … by girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted women.”

Fighters Between the Wars: 1919-39 by Kenneth Munson. 164 pages. Macmillan. $3.95. Facts, figures, max. speed, ceiling, etc., plus handsome, precise, detailed, small two-view color portraits of the Boeing P-26A, the Gloster Gladiator, the Heinkel 112 and all the wonderful rest of them. Perfect alike for those who can or cannot distinguish between dihedral and a Dewoitine 510.

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