- Historic Sites
November/December 2006 | Volume 57, Issue 6
Lost Girls , written by Alan Moore with art by Melinda Gebbie, is an explicitly sexual work. Some of the couplings, though quite common in the Victorian erotic fiction that is one of the novel’s inspirations, would, if real, be unacceptable to us on grounds of safety, legality, and morality. The author and artist intend to test the reader as much as titillate—no fictional characters were harmed in the making of this novel.
Even Moore calls Lost Girls pornography, but he protests too much. Pornography is cheap; it doesn’t require Moore’s immersion in literature or Gebbie’s beautifully nuanced illustrations, and its characters don’t grow, as the Lost Girls do through their storytelling. All the sex, then, must be in service to something greater than mere arousal. Moore’s argument is that the sexual imagination is part of the human psyche, and the intellectual (as opposed to the actual) exploration of the ideas it produces can never be perverse. It is in the world outside the book that perversity reigns, permanently debauched in June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand and unleashed the barbarism that post-Enlightenment Europe had seemed to have vanquished. It is with this event that the novel ends. As Alice observes after a long erotic idyll has been interrupted by falling darkness, “Something quite glorious was finished with for good.” — Steven GoldmanSports History Everyone had a stake in this fight
It took David Margolick seven years to research and write his remarkable book Beyond Glory (Alfred A. Knopf), about a heavyweight fight that expired in 124 seconds. But his literary odyssey was worth it, for he has produced a gripping tale about Joe Louis’s first-round destruction of Max Schmeling on the night of June 22, 1938, at Yankee Stadium. However, this book is much more than a sports-page story, for it succeeds in re-examining the signal role that a grimly determined Louis played (much as Jackie Robinson did a decade later) in behalf of Americans with black skin.
With World War II looming, Margolick peers at all of the grotesqueries, horrors, and complications surrounding a prizefight that had millions riveted to their radios. The book reminds us that Louis, the heavyweight champion at the time, was regarded by Germany’s dictator, Adolf Hitler, as little more than subhuman. His rival, the German Schmeling, was something of a chameleon (he had a Jewish manager and a Jewish promoter) as he fulfilled the role of designated Aryan. Having been beaten by Schmeling two years earlier, Louis was supported zealously by America’s black citizenry, even as many whites shared Hitler’s racial theories. The bout, therefore, had a social and cultural subtext not often found in the world of fun and games.
Margolick reminds us of the country-wide emotional convulsion that took place as Louis pounded Schmeling to the canvas and the enormous crowd roared in amazement. Few people did not have some kind of connection with Louis’s struggle, whether they were blacks in Detroit, Jews in New York, or whites in the South. We are grateful to Margolick for recapturing an episode that has long been overlooked but is worth recalling in all its dramatic detail.— Ray RobinsonStudy of the War on Terrorism THE VIEW FROM 400 B.C.
Books on American history can take many forms. Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other is about the Peloponnesian War, the contest between Athens and Sparta that lasted from 427 b.c. to 404 b.c. and ended with Athens’ decisive defeat. That war inspired Thucydides to write one of the first and still perhaps the greatest works of history. The Peloponnesian War remains the most necessary text for any realist theory of international politics. (The editor of this magazine told me that on a visit to the Pentagon a few years ago, he was intrigued to notice a copy of The Peloponnesian War within reach of almost every desk occupied by an officer advising the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)
A skeptic might have wondered whether we needed another work on the subject, but Hanson’s book has been warmly received and is selling very well indeed. Hanson has previously published a number of books on the classics, others on military history, and two collections of his columns on national security in the wake of 9/11. His Peloponnesian War is in many, many ways a war with grim relevance for Americans, and Hanson knows this and is not afraid to say so: He speaks of “shock and awe” failing in Sicily and of “coalitions of the willing,” and an early section has the frank title “Athens as America.” A long chapter, titled simply “Terror,” examines the role and effect of terror in the war Hanson brilliantly analyzes.
Many ages and minds have revisited the Peloponnesian War and found it a powerful guide to their own times; at the height of the Cold War many Americans saw themselves as Athens facing a Soviet Sparta. Now the tale of Athens as a democratic imperial state inspiring resentment, war, and large, hostile coalitions again speaks to Americans in urgent and not necessarily encouraging ways.