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Now in Paperback

February 16, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

The Parable of the Tribes, the Problem of Power in Social Evolution, Andrew Bard Schmookler (Houghton Mifflin: $9.95). Human history, as Andrew Schmookler sees it, can be defined by the grimly inevitable spread of power and the ways of power in human society--from the first conflicts between prehistoric human tribes to the nuclear arms race. Schmookler's "parable of the tribes" points to the origins of the multimillennial story: "Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? What can happen to the others when confronted by an ambitious and potent neighbor?" There can be only four possible responses, Schmookler says: destruction, absorption and transformation, withdrawal, and imitation. "In every one of these outcomes," he stresses, "the ways of power are spread throughout the system." The parable is plausible. Is it true? As evidence, the author enters his own reading of history, a sweeping essay in social evolution of a sort that scarcely any professional historian would now attempt. But Schmookler, recently the subject of an Esquire feature, is not a historian but a postulant public philosopher who wants nothing less than that the superpowers should understand their dilemma in the context he has provided and address it accordingly. A bold ambition, but this is anything but a timid book.

The Johns Hopkins Atlas of Human Functional Anatomy, Leon Schlossberg, illustrations and descriptive legends; George D. Zuidema, text editor (Johns Hopkins: $14.95). Originally composed for medical students, this thorough reference guide, translated into nine languages and now in its third edition, is basic enough to help lay readers understand how human organs work and what happens when they don't. Unlocking vertebra and cutting off layers of skin, the numerous color illustrations are anything but pretty, but they capture, with detail rare in introductory works, the interconnecting functions that help the human body survive.

Spinster; Teacher, Sylvia Ashton-Warner (Simon & Schuster: $7.95 each). Idealistic and ambitious, the author's approach to teaching seems that of a theorist or novice instructor who has yet to grapple with low pay, large classrooms and behemoth bureaucracies: Make children hunger for learning so they "want to possess it," Sylvia Ashton-Warner tells us in "Teacher," stay away from orthodox textbooks, help youngsters draw on their own ideas and feelings. Easier said than done, of course, but, after graduating from a teacher's college in Auckland, New Zealand, Ashton-Warner practiced what she preached--not in a comfortable position in a suburban school but in a remote area of the nation's North Island, where she and her husband set up a school for native Maori children. While New Zealand's suburban kids were struggling with phonetics, Ashton-Warner's "backward" 7-year-olds were writing pagelong essays each day. The secret, writes Ashton-Warner in "Teacher," first published in 1963, is to encourage "organic learning" in a variety of ways: engaging one student at a time in conversation, playing the first eight notes of Beethoven's Fifth to capture students' attention, giving each student his own private vocabulary words (Phyllis gets "pudding," "kiss" and "ghost," while Phillip gets "train," "pea" and "boxing"). In contrast, "Spinster," a 1958 novel based on Ashton-Warner's experiences in New Zealand, is more sober and moody. When Anna Vorontosov, a New Zealand teacher and the book's protagonist, mechanically repeats the words "look at my pretty boy" to each new bawling schoolchild, we can feel her weariness. Loneliness also is a problem, and, often, Anna is forced to "sigh and take a child. I need something else like the rain, like the sun: You need two for inspiration and I am only one." Children, however, do help raise Anna's spirits, even if it's only little Mohi with a question: "Miss Vorontosov," she asks, "How old do you weigh?" Ashton-Warner died in 1984 at age 76.

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