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Now in Paperback

November 03, 1985|ALEX RAKSIN

Death at an Early Age, Jonathan Kozol (New American Library). Convinced that murders, robberies and urban decay are all compounded by inadequate education, Jonathan Kozol is cynical about our reluctance to improve public schools. Even busing, one of the changes encouraged by the 1964 publication of this book, has turned against the poor, he writes in a new preface: Now "poor whites, poor blacks, and poor Hispanics (can) become illiterate together." Unlike many political leaders, though, Kozol hasn't let his cynicism silence his indignation. While despairing that "life remains quite hopeless in the ghetto neighborhoods of Boston," Kozol remains confident that the reforms proposed in "Death at an Early Age" can have an appeal in the 1980s. Ineffective education not only costs the United States in terms of GNP, Kozol argues; apathy and illiteracy are insults to democracy because they do not allow the people to have full participation in their government.

American Place Names, George R. Stewart (Oxford). Neary every one of the 12,000 place names indexed here has a small story to tell about our national heritage. The author, a historian, novelist and Berkeley Fellow at the University of California, looks at how a little town named "Onionplace" in Algonquian ("Chigagou") grew to become today's "Chicago," for example, and how white settlers in California found a name for a city by asking an Indian missionary to find a word meaning "Crown of the Valley." The Indians could only come up with four long words, so Dr. T. B. Elliot, one of the settlers, used the ends of each word-- Pa sa de na --to name the new city. This dictionary, first published in 1970, is one of the more unusual books in the newly reissued Oxford Paperback Reference series. The series also includes dictionaries of proverbs, music, opera, quotations and French and English literature, as well as books on "The King's English" and "The Decorative Arts."

A Home for the Heart, Bruno Bettelheim (University of Chicago). From the dormitories, with brightly colored murals adorning the walls, to the courtyard fountains, Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School for the mentally ill defied traditional images of mental homes when it came on the scene in the 1940s. In a series of books in the 1950s and '60s, Bettelheim explained the reasons for his new approach to therapy: "Love Is Not Enough" forwarded a philosophical method for treating the mentally ill. "Truants From Life" looked at case histories, while "The Empty Forest" documented the therapeutic effects of the school. In this 1974 work, Bettelheim speculates on future possibilities, looks at his own motives for becoming a child psychologist and offers a theory about why we are troubled by even the idea of discussing mental institutions: "Our anxious attitude is a modern counterpart to the ancient paradoxical belief that the insane are possessed by, and at the same time sacred to, the gods, but that for the well-being or society they must be cast out."

Working From Home, Paul and Sarah Edwards (Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin). After nearly a century of battling smog, traffic and other hazards of Industrial Age commuting, it appears that many Americans are eager, once again, to earn their living at home. A recent Yankelovich, Skelly and White poll estimates that a third of Americans would like to work at home, and another survey, by the Southern California Assn. of Governments, predicts that more than 12% of Southern Californians will be doing just that by the year 2000. Sensing the dawn of a trend--especially with the recent proliferation of home computers--Paul and Sarah Edwards offer this clear and comprehensive guide to everything from "assessing your potential for working happily at home" to "what to look for in evaluating software."

The Apocalyptics: How Environmental Politics Controls What We Know About Cancer, Edith Efron (Simon & Schuster). It's hard to grow comfortable with our daily habits, with everything from gum chewing to cigarette smoking to coffee and even water drinking labeled "cancerous." In this 1984 "expose," Edith Efron, a conservative social critic, decided that the environmentalists had gone too far. She argues compellingly that some chemicals were labeled "hazardous" more because of "alarmist" politics than scientific evidence. However, her own arguments are often founded more on polemics than empiricism. Despite extensive documentation on many substances, the word "asbestos" occurs only several times in the book. Moreover, the statistics she provides sometimes work against her. She includes a chart that shows that the United States doesn't top worldwide cancer mortality rates (our nation ranks ninth for blacks and 25th for whites, according to the chart). But she leaves out another fact--industrialized nations do have significantly higher cancer mortality rates than Third World nations--calling into question her contention that "nature pollutes more than man."

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