Current Books In Brief


This unpretentious book is made up of pictures and text depicting the good old days (and a certain number of more modern ones) in the upstate town of Boonville, N. Y., and it turns out to be a very pleasing job. If the authors slightly overwork the “cotton stockings” motif occasionally, they keep their attention fixed for the most part on the attempt to evoke the feeling and the flavor of the American small town in the pre-automobile age, and by and large their attempt is successful.

Grierson’s Raid , by D. Alexander Brown. The University of Illinois Press. 261 pp.

On April 17, 1863, Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson led 1,700 Federal cavalrymen out of the Federal base at La Grange, Tennessee, on a raid that ended more than a fortnight later in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 600 miles to the south. The raid was a spectacular affair, with Colonel Grierson consistently outsmarting the Confederate columns that set out to catch him, and it had considerable strategic importance in that it diverted the Confederates’ attention from Grant just at the moment when that officer was launching his eminently successful final thrust against Vicksburg. Mr. Brown has gone to unpublished diaries and letters for material from which he has written a graphic and entertaining story.

A Long Line of Ships: Mare Island’s Century of Naval Activity in California , by Arnold S. Lott, Lieutenant Commander, U.S.N. United States Naval Institute. 268 pp.

In the fall of 1854 Commander David Glasgow Farragut (who was a decade away from his “damn the torpedoes” fame) strolled across the windy wastes of Mare Island at the upper end of San Francisco Bay and set about the business of creating the U.S. Navy’s first permanent base on the Pacific Ocean. It was a long job, and there were years when it looked as if the project would die of sheer inanition, but in the end the yard was established—and became one of the world’s great naval bases. Commander Lott has told the story entertainingly, and there is a wealth of pictures.

The Self-Made Man in America: the Myth of Rags to Riches , by Irvin G. Wyllie. Rutgers University Press. 210 pp.

At the heart of the American creed there has always been the faith that the able and ambitious young man could rise to the very top of the business world even if he had to start at the very bottom. In this book Professor Wyllie examines this cherished article of belief, traces its ups and downs over the years, and concludes that in spite of many changes it still has wide acceptance. The changes, to be sure, have been curious. A century ago “the top” meant ownership of one’s own business; by the 1920’s it had come to mean occupancy of a high place in someone else’s business. In the 1860’s and 1870’s college training was held nonessential if not actually detrimental; half a century later the ambitious youth was urged to get educated as fast as possible and at any cost. The era of the muckrakers dimmed the credo somewhat, and the 1929 depression dimmed it even more, but it survives to this day—perhaps because, as the author concludes, “faith is simply the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

The Face of New York: The City as it Was and Is . Photographs by Andreas Feininger, text by Susan E. Lyman. Crown Publishers, Inc.

Combining the resources of an excellent picture collection at the Museum of the City of New York and the translation of many of the same scenes of the city by photographer Andreas Feininger, this book is bound to interest both the “native” and those who find New York a nice place to visit but nothing they would care for permanently. Feininger is a very special interpreter of New York. He likes to photograph it from miles away on a hill in New Jersey, through the cables of bridges spanning its rivers, out of skyscrapers’ windows—giving a breathless sense of the city’s immensity—and then to shoot it from behind a broad-beamed window-shopper’s back, from under a theater marquee, in the aisle of a department store—which forces an awareness of the stifling closeness of its polyglot peoples.

To those who undertook the massive Columbia Historical Portrait of New York , this book may be a little late and a little thin. But its price is more modest and its format concise; and the talent of the photographer fairly leaps from its pages.

Pictorial History of the Wild West , by James D. Horan and Paul Sann. Crown Publishers, Inc. 254 pp.

The word to be emphasized in describing this book is wild , for it is less a history of the West than of the outlaws, desperadoes, cattle rustlers and bank robbers, and of the men who fought them to bring order out of lawlessness. The subject matter is pretty sure-fire. All the bad old familiar faces are here—Jesse James, Billy the Kid, the Dalton Brothers—and a large group of lesser-known charmers who notched their guns with equal regularity. There is a wealth of pictorial material, including a fine old rogues’ gallery from the archives of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which is printed here for the first time. Unfortunately, the reproduction of the pictures is uniformly wretched.

American Science and Invention: A Pictorial History , by Mitchell Wilson. Simon and Schuster. 437 pp.