Current Books In Brief

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The Lowering Clouds: the Secret Diary of Harold Ickes . Simon and Schuster. 695 pp.

This third volume of the seemingly interminable Ickes diary makes clear a couple of things which were dimly visible earlier—that Ickes had a high opinion of his own capacities, and that one of his dominant motivations was an insatiable desire for power. The man was an extremely able administrator and a devoted and incorruptible public servant, whose work as Secretary of the Interior left the national domain better than it was before, yet the picture that emerges from this volume is not precisely pleasant. For his fellow Cabinet members—especially those who seemed to be rising in public favor and presidential influence—there is hardly a pleasant word. For his own endless struggle to get more authority centered in his own department, there are pages and pages and pages. The steady retreat of the New Deal from its old liberal principles in the face of the threat of war is clearly indicated, but the story is told very largely in terms of Ickes’ own frustrations. All in all, it is a strange book, more revealing than the author probably intended.

The Dalton Brothers and Their Astounding Career of Crime , by an Eye Witness; introduction by Burton Rascoe. Frederick Fell, Inc. 251 pp.

Here we have a reprint of an old yellow-back, originally printed in 1892, describing the brief career and disastrous end of a once-famous gang of western bank and train robbers. The anonymous writer seems to have made a scrupulous effort to get his facts straight, and—for whatever it may be worth—this account of the Dalton boys’ exploits is, as Mr. Rascoe points out, about as close to the real truth as we are ever likely to get. The Daltons appear to have been long on muscle but very short on brains. As a gang they lasted less than two years, and when they tried to take two banks on the same day in Coffeyville, Kansas, an impromptu posse of angry citizens shot them all to pieces. The amateur of frontier crime will find this a well-flavored account, properly keyed to a “crime does not pay” motif.

Down on the Farm: a Picture Treasury of Country Life in America in the Good Old Days . Commentary by Stewart H. Holbrook. Pictures assembled and collated by Milton Rugoff. Crown Publishers, Inc. 188 pp.

We are an urbanized, highly industrialized nation nowadays, but somehow the old-time farm seems to have its claim on all of us, and this gently nostalgic book will make the claim stronger. “Our memory,” says Mr. Holbrook, “is of a day when the world was young, the sky was blue and, despite its tribulations, the most wonderful place on earth was down on the farm. That is what the many pictures in this book are about.” Taken together, the pictures and text go far to recreate the haunting memory Mr. Holbrook is talking about.

The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775-1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents . Edited by William B. Willcox. Yale University Press. 658 pp.

This book might well be subtitled, “How Great Britain lost the war for American Independence.” It is composed of the labored self-justificatory narrative and letters written by Sir Henry Clinton, who commanded the British forces in America from 1778 to 1782, and it makes clear that ineptitude in command cost the British a war which they might well have won. Much of this ineptitude belonged to Sir Henry himself. As the editor points out in his admirable introduction, Clinton had an excellent grasp of strategy and made a number of first-rate plans; his chief trouble was that he was quite incapable of carrying them out, and temperamentally unable to get along with the naval officers and junior generals with whom he had to work. He was, in short, quite typical of the generalship Britain was producing at the time, and his ingrained reluctance to accept responsibility and take the initiative seems to have been partly personal and partly a product of the military system that produced him.

Stephen R. Mallory: Confederate Navy Chief , by Joseph T. Durkin, S.J. The University of North Carolina Press. 446 pp.

Mallory was one of the two men appointed to the Confederate Cabinet in 1861 who still held their jobs when the curtain came down in 1865, yet he tends to be one of the forgotten men of the Confederacy. Actually, as Father Durkin demonstrates in this solid biography, he was one of Jefferson Davis’ ablest co-adjutors. As Secretary of the Navy, he accomplished a great deal more than his contemporaries were ready to admit, particularly in view of the fact that most of the time he was obliged to make bricks without straw. Under his regime the Confederacy built formidable iron-clad ships, made very effective use of mines, and brought forth the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in action. If the famous commerce raiders failed to win the war, they did represent a gambit worth accepting, and the ultimate Confederate naval failure was due to the force of circumstances rather than to any failure on Mallory’s part.

Black Cotton Stockings , by Ron Ryder and Jim Fynmore, foreword by Walter D. Edmonds. Country Books.