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Paperback Originals

November 03, 1985|JONATHAN KIRSCH

Alavish coffee-table volume on the subject of world hunger may seem like a contradiction in terms, but that's what we find in The Hunger Project's Ending Hunger: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Praeger: $19.95; also in hardcover, $35.95). You will find no photographs of starving babies with hollow eyes and bloated bellies. Printed in Italy, richly illustrated with dramatic color photography and exquisite maps and charts, "Ending Hunger" is beautiful to behold. The book is equally abundant in data about world hunger and its implications for population growth, food production, foreign aid, national security and the global economy. But what is truly remarkable about the book is its conviction--derived from The Hunger Project's antecedents in the est movement of Werner Erhard--that "a global context of individual will and commitment" can end world hunger.

While the can-do philosophy of The Hunger Project--a sort of eclectic utopianism--may strike some as simplistic, it is refreshing to come across a book that contemplates a profound and vexing problem but still manages to envision a future beyond it. Its anonymous collective authors write: "Our world possesses sufficient resources, technology, and proven solutions to achieve the end of the persistence of hunger and starvation by the end of the century. What is missing is the commitment."

The historians whose essays are collected in The Vital Past: Writings on the Uses of History (University of Georgia: $12.95), edited by Stephen Vaughn, have produced a brief against "a powerful current of popular thought which is not merely unhistorical but actively anti-historical as well." They argue, eloquently and persuasively, that the knowledge and understanding of history is an essential civilizing quality in virtually every aspect of our lives--as a key to individual and collective identity, as a sharpening stone for the human mind, as a counterweight to propaganda and demagoguery, as a crucial element in public discourse and policy-making. "The past is too important and dangerous to be ignored or taken for granted," writes Vaughn. "We do not have to believe Santayana when he said that those who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Still, those who do not remember are in jeopardy of suffering at the hands of those who say they do."

The Yanomami tribe of South America are among the closely studied "primitives" in the world, but Jacques Lizot's Tales of the Yanomami: Daily Life in the Venezuelan Forest (Cambridge University: $8.95; also available in hardcover, $37.50) succeeds in bringing a new dimension--and a new degree of intimacy--to our understanding of these complex people and their endangered jungle communities. Lizot, a French anthropologist, spent nearly six years among the Yanomami, and he conveys his scientific findings in a narrative of vivid and lyrical prose. Indeed, "Tales of the Yanomami" is an intriguing blend of anthropology and literature--we hear the sexual bantering of the Yanomami, their love stories, their spells and chants; we glimpse not only their daily lives but also their war-making and even their dreams. "The Yanomami are warriors; they can be brutal and cruel, but they can also be delicate, sensitive and loving," writes Lizot. "They are neither good nor evil savages: These Indians are human beings."

NEW AND NOTEWORTHY: Now in its second edition, Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Software Catalog for 1986 (Doubleday/Quantum: $17.50) is a chatty, colorful and practical survey of hardware, software, accessories, magazines, books and other sources of computer paraphernalia. While it lacks some of the charm--and the kinetic, almost improvised graphic design--of the original "Whole Earth Catalog," this latter-day version is a perfectly worthy and appropriate successor to Brand's earlier efforts.

Titles reviewed in Paperback Originals have been published in softcover only or in simultaneous softcover and clothbound editions.

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