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November 24, 1985|ALEX RAKSIN

Soviet Dissidents: Their Struggle for Human Rights, Joshua Rubenstein (Beacon) looks at the ironic fate reserved for activists in the Soviet Union: They are often censured for upholding the ideals that their government claims to represent. By focusing on Moscow, and more specifically on the Kremlin, the author, who directs Amnesty International in the northeastern United States, gives only minimal attention to resistance movements based in rural areas or religious circles. Yet Joshua Rubenstein's limited focus pays off in this updated edition of a 1980 work because it allows him to clearly and comprehensively chart the human rights policies of late Soviet leaders Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. The approach, nevertheless, has left him short on hope. In 1980, Rubenstein's writing was tinged with a glimmer of optimism because he had seen the emergence of dissent despite repression, "like (blades of) grass growing through the cracks in cement." Today, however, Rubenstein is more cynical, convinced that crackdowns by Andropov and Chernenko have demonstrated "significant reductions in . . . the regime's tolerance for dissent."

The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong, Ben J. Wattenberg (Simon & Schuster). The author, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, rails out against social, political and environmental activists who, he believes, are causing needless concern with their battle cry, "Man the lifeboats!" Our ship of state is on an even keel, says Ben Wattenberg, even though the mass media is all-too-fond of making bad news big news. In truth, Wattenberg writes, "We've never had it so good," though TV won't tell us the reasons why--longer life spans, higher salaries, growing patriotism (Americans top the list of citizens willing to defend their nation in a time of war, says Wattenberg). Though well endowed with spunk, the book is short on substance. Most of the book's chapters run between one and five pages, preventing Wattenberg from delving deeply into any one issue. Consequently, some subjects are dismissed with humorous asides ("I have on my desk, so help me, a clipping about dioxin in gefilte fish") or questionable assertions--the Clean Air Act might be a boondoggle, he argues, because "there is still no solid evidence that cleaner air makes us healthier, or that dirty air makes us less healthy."

Sigmund Freud: His Life in Pictures and Words, edited by Ernst Freud, Lucie Freud and Ilse Grubrich-Simitis (Norton). Largely a family effort (Ernst is Freud's youngest son), this book is an affectionate tribute to the doctor, not a critical analysis of his work. In compiling Sigmund Freud's letters, memoirs and photographs, the editors steer clear of such controversies as chemical versus psychoanalytic therapy. Theoretical overviews abound, they feel, while glimpses at the husband, grandfather and comfortable bourgeois citizen are few and far between. Nevertheless, this is not a simple, glowing portrait. Aware that Freud criticized studies in which "biographers tolerate no vestiges of human weakness or imperfection (in their subject)," the editors reveal Freud's uncertainties, as well as his successes at the turn of the 20th Century.

You All Spoken Here, Roy Wilder Jr. (Penguin). Those who believe TV is phasing out dialects should find hope in this compendium. The author, a self-described "yellow-dog" Democrat from North Carolina, collects thousands of evocative words and phrases that show, among other things, a Southerner's impressive proficiency at the put-down: "He hasn't got the spirit to lift a louse off a hot griddle . . . he had a face that would've soured buttermilk . . ."

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