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June 23, 1985

The Homefront: America During World War II, Mark Jonathan Harris, Franklin Mitchell and Steven Schechter (Putnam's). Remaining at home during the war, the Americans profiled here were isolated from military conflict: Their battle was against social fragmentation, loss of community and increasing materialism. Most of them fought on, convinced, as one says, that the enemy was "bad, we were good and God was on our side."

Marie Blythe, Howard Frank Mosher (Penguin). Smuggled by her parents across the border into Vermont--a land of "opportunities," her father says--Marie nurses tuberculosis victims, suffers a miscarriage in a swamp and copes with the uncertainties of love, all before reaching adulthood. Marie, however, is often overshadowed by the land, sky, animals and elements, as the author views humans as part of nature's cyclorama.

Black Life in Corporate America: Swimming in the Mainstream, George Davis, Glegg Watson (Anchor/Doubleday). The authors, both former reporters for the Washington Post, center on the success stories of "swimmers," black leaders who have learned how to "avoid and surmount the turbulent currents and stagnant pools" of corporate life. The book's message, however, is interracial: Money will not motivate executives or dissolve antipathy; corporations must be structured to preserve such "human qualities" as compassion and devotion to people.

Herself Defined, Barbara Guest (Morrow). The author unfolds the mysterious figure of the poet Hilda Doolittle, or H. D., from her early alliance with Ezra Pound to her European journeys with the American expatriate crowd. H. D. emerges from a background of a separatist religious sect into a world-renowned lyric poet, inspired by Freudian analysis, Hellenic purity and Egyptian mysticism.

Children and Money: A Parents' Guide, Grace W. Weinstein (NAL Books). While criticizing the use of money as a reward, a punishment and a way of instilling different values in boys and girls, the author encourages parents to teach children that money is "nothing more--and nothing less--than a highly useful tool." Guidelines for parents follow each chapter.

The Frankfurt School: The Critical Theories of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Zoltan Tar (Schocken). Writing in the shadow of World War II, Horkheimer and Adorno argued the need for "emancipatory reasoning"--measuring the human condition on the basis of justice, peace and happiness--and warned against "instrumental reasoning"--determining, without reflection, effective means for any accepted purpose.

Exuberance: An Affirmative Philosophy of Life, Paul Kurtz (Prometheus). Unlike the author's earlier, weightier philosophical treatises, such as "In Defense of Secular Humanism," this book forwards Kurtz's personal suggestions on how to escape the "pessimism of the present": Learn to live with ambiguity, take responsibility for your own destiny and exalt in the challenges of life. To Kurtz, "fulfillment" is defined as creative achievement; in his eyes, Prometheus triumphs over Christ, the activist over the passivist, the skeptic over the believer.

Budding Prospects, T. Coraghessan Boyle (Viking). This shrewd and funny novel centers on Felix Nasmyth, the narrator, a comfortably drifting San Franciscan who supports himself by teaching a little English and has managed to grow less and less involved with anything. Until, that is, an ex-CIA agent talks Felix into growing 300 acres of marijuana on a remote mountain farm.

The Only Problem, Muriel Spark (Perigee). A modern comedy about a very rich young man who is writing a monograph on the Book of Job: "The only problem worth discussing," he insists, "is the problem of suffering." The link between Spark's characters and the story of Job, however, is tenuous at best.

Vanessa Bell: A Bloomsbury Portrait, Frances Spaulding (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). Supplements the standard portrait of Vanessa--Virginia Woolf's sister--as a serene mainstay of normalcy within the bizarre and talented Bloomsbury group. Bell's marriage to art critic Clive Bell was happy, but ephemeral. And, when it ended, Bell, like the rest of the Bloomsbury group, waivered between freedom and domesticity, at one point trying to rear two children while pursuing a seductive homosexual man.

The West Bank Story, Rafik Halabi (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). The author, an Israeli Arab and broadcaster for Radio Israel, condemns both Israeli policy in the occupied territories (Gaza and the West Bank) and the PLO's "murder and sabotage." Halabi unravels the motivations behind the bloodshed and the obstacles to compromise, concluding that the Israelis "are a fiercer, sadder people now, strong on indignation, but often short, I regret to say, on human sympathy."

A Child of the Century, Ben Hecht (Donald I. Fine). Acrobat, magician, poet, newspaperman, screenwriter--Hecht covers his many careers in this autobiography, 633 pages of vignettes taking readers from Chicago to New York, H. L. Mencken to Dorothy Parker.

The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties, William Wiser (G. K. Hall). And don't we all fantasize that we had been there, too, along with Hemingway, Hadley, Bumby, F. Scott and Zelda, Gerald and Sara Murphy, Josephine Baker, James Joyce, Sylvia Beach, Man Ray, Picasso . . . .

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams by Ellen Gilchrist (Little, Brown). First collection of short stories by the 1984 American Book Award winner who is currently featured as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.

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