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Now in Paperback

April 06, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Myths That Cause Crime, Harold E. Pepinsky, Paul Jesilow (Seven Locks Press, Cabin John, Md.: $9.95). "Loving thy neighbor" becomes all the more of a challenge when a burglar swipes the car stereo or when grisly details from a recent murder crowd the front page. At these times, even the most liberal-minded are inclined to brush aside the statistics, lock the dead-bolt, and generalize about "soaring crime rates." Harold E. Pepinsky and Paul Jesilow, both criminology professors at Indiana University, could have tamed our tempers simply by quoting surveys showing that the average American is as safe today as he was 30 years ago, or by pointing to signs that ours is already one of the world's most punitive societies: While fewer than one in 3,000 Americans was locked up in 1850, for instance, one in 270 is incarcerated in some form of punitive institution today.

Instead, the authors take a more controversial tack, questioning the foundations of our legal system. Small-time offenders are incarcerated, write the authors, while the "big fish" go free. Pepinsky and Jesilow succeed in demonstrating the need for such fundamental reforms as creating new jobs, but their definition of just who "the big fish" are is likely to stir controversy: "Indiana law," the authors write, "says that it is a felony--punishable by two years in prison and a $10,000 fine--to take a pen home from work for one's own use. But it is not at all unlawful for a corporate manager to close the only factory in town and take away a thousand workers' livelihoods so that shareholders can earn higher dividends."

Michael Caine's Almanac of Amazing Information (St. Martin's: $7.95) does, in fact, amaze, despite oversimplifications ("Albert Einstein refused the presidency of Israel because he had no head for problems") and statements of the obvious ("Franklin Roosevelt had polio"). Those not already aware that mosquitoes have 6,000 teeth should find the book addicting. Anecdotes about the author's life accompany the rag-tag collection.

Rhapsody; Winter Sonata, Dorothy Edwards (Penguin: $6.95 each). Passion remains far beneath the surface in these 1920s tales of unrequited love and isolation in a world of country houses and afternoon tea--trapped there, if you listen to the critics in Dorothy Edward's day ("We wonder if the author has ever screamed," said one), or masterfully controlled, if you believe the revisionist interpretation provided in the books' introduction. In either case, although the narrative in "Winter Sonata" and the short stories in "Rhapsody" aren't perfectly crafted (Edwards was still experimenting when she committed suicide at age 31), they illuminate a distant time and place in which the prelude to love was more charged with meaning than the experience itself.

The Book of Qualities, J. Ruth Gendler, text and drawings (Turquoise Mountain Publications, Berkeley, Calif.: $6.95). Here's one of the few cases in which an author should be complimented for creating one-dimensional characters. J. Ruth Gendler, a Berkeley artist, has personified 73 moods, emotions and traits in this book, composing stories about "wisdom's long walks in the purple hills" or "panic's reckless driving." The brief, often autobiographical pieces, as well as the accompanying line drawings, bring new immediacy to familiar words. Gendler in effect freezes time, helping us take a closer look at the emotions that most of us pass through only for fleeting moments. While she isn't sympathetic toward all of her characters--"Despair," for instance, "has stopped listening to music"--this book suggests a place and purpose for even such qualities as "loneliness," who walks in the early autumn evening, when "everything looks dark green and purple, and the windows of the little houses shine yellow from the lights inside."

What's Fair: American Beliefs About Distributive Justice, Jennifer L. Hochschild (Harvard: $9.95). Why have the poor in America failed to form a socialist movement? Rather than speculating on class consciousness or boasting about patriotism, Jennifer Hochschild, a politics professor at Princeton, chooses to answer this question with a judicious blend of political theories, oral histories and public-opinion polls. She finds that while some poor people simply don't want socialism, most fail to rally around the notion because "they cannot imagine it or do not believe in its possibility." Thus, by doing away with the term "socialism" in her questionnaires, Hochschild discovers that most Americans agree on a wide range of issues--endorsing a policy of guaranteed jobs, for instance, while opposing extremes of rich and poor. This 1984 book reveals more about typologies and methodologies than most readers will want to know, but its conclusion should have relevance for anyone concerned about policy-making in the United States. Our nation is divided more by rhetoric, Hochschild suggests, than by fundamental disagreements between citizens.

NOTEWORTHY: The Curse of the Giant Hogweed, Charlotte Macleod (Avon: $2.95). Campus criminologist Peter Shandy matches wits with a garden pest about to wipe out the hedgerows of Britain. Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Irving Kristol (Basic: $9.95) collects essays that are brief but seldom evasive. The author asks, "Does NATO exist?," gives "An Obituary for an Idea" (Socialism) and looks at "The Case for Censorship." The Assault, Harry Mulisch (Pantheon: $6.95) takes us through psychological and moral upheaval during the Holocaust before ending as "the shouting dies down, the waves subside, the streets empty, and all is silent once more." The Falconer of Central Park, Donald Knowler (Bantam: $8.95). An English journalist and amateur ornithologist discovers how a delicate ecosystem manages to thrive in the middle of a steel and concrete metropolis.

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