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November 06, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

A POLITICAL EDUCATION

A Washington Memoir

by Harry McPherson (Houghton Mifflin: $11.95) This memoir begins in 1956 when "the young and liberal" McPherson, a recent graduate of law school, was hired by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson to counsel the "Senate Democratic Policy Committee," and concludes in 1968 as McPherson, now counsel to the President, watches Johnson board Air Force One, headed for his ranch in Stonewall, Tex.

First published in 1972, "A Political Education" is re-released with a new foreword by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a postscript by the author.

Though Moynihan asserts that "only Johnson could have brought off those civil rights bills," McPherson's postscript acknowledges the harsh judgment that current opinion has dealt Johnson: "The Great Society became identified with impracticality and waste, with catering to, and thereby spoiling, the improvident poor."

SCOTT FITZGERALD

by Andrew Turnbull (Collier Books/Macmillan: $10.95) First published in 1962, Andrew Turnbull's "Scott Fitzgerald" is not a work of literary criticism but an intimate portrait of Fitzgerald "as he had been in life," whose rendering as a man "remained elusive."

Drawing on his own childhood memories when Fitzgerald lived in the guest house on his family's property, as well as the memories of others who had known him, Turnbull has written an insightful biography-cum-memoir of the extraordinary novelist and playwright--from Fitzgerald's decision as a youth to attend Princeton ("based on a Princeton Glee Club . . . song about Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup") through the tragedy of his wife, Zelda's schizophrenia and institutionalization, to his final days in Hollywood attempting to write movie scripts.

But what makes Turnbull's biography charming and different from such other biographies as Arthur Mizener's "The Far Side of Paradise" are the author's childhood memories. "One day (Fitzgerald) came over to our house to tell (Turnbull's mother) how he had passed (his daughter) Scottie perched high in a tree, with me seated beneath her, . . . both of us reading, completely at peace. He said it was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen."

BONES OF CONTENTION

Controversies in the Search for Human Origins

by Roger Lewin (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster: $9.95) Roger Lewin focuses on paleoanthropology and the controversy intrinsic to the question of human origin: "Who was our ancestor? . . . When did we break away from the rest of the animal world? And, why did it happen?"

Lewin's intent is not to praise the progress of science but "to show how and why (paleoanthropology) has erred" because of "subjective interpretations and personal interests." The result is a lively expose of rivalrous scientists unwilling to cooperate and eager to discover a fossil solely so as to name its species and have his own name associated with it.

In his review, Lee Dembart wrote: " 'Bones of Contention' is about how we know what we know. . . . The result is a portrayal of science as it is really done, warts and all."

LETTERS FROM THE COUNTRY

by Carol Bly (Perennial Library/Harper & Row: $6.95) Provocative and direct, Carol Bly's essays awaken the political awareness of the rural countryside, where a news photo showing a South African police officer hitting someone with his club evokes the response: "Frankly, what we need is law and order." And Bly writes: "On the surface such a response to national events is pathetic. Under the surface it is dangerous."

She recognizes that in 1973, "in the beauty shops, the TV news was turned off because of 'that Watergate.' But who tried sincerely to show the lady in rollers that it is strengthening, not weakening, to feel what's happening" in the United States?

In "Letters From the Country," Bly herself instructs and encourages a responsible involvement in the world outside Madison, Minn.

PICTURE BRIDE

A Novel

by Yoshiko Uchida (Fireside/Simon & Schuster: $6.95) In the early 1900s, young Japanese men who had come to the United States frequently chose their brides from photos of young women willing to risk the hazardous voyage across the Pacific.

"Picture Bride" is a simple, moving fictional account of one of the several hundred brides who agreed to take that trip and to marry men they'd never met.

"Finding a proper husband for (Hana Omiya) had taken on an urgency that produced an embarrassing secretive air over the entire matter." When Hana's uncle tells her mother that he'd like to find "a nice young bride" for a friend's son "who had gone to America to make his fortune in Oakland," Hana volunteers to go to the States.

Holding only an old family photo of Taro Takeda, Hana boards the ship destined for San Francisco.

Well educated, intelligent, Hana is profoundly disappointed with the life that is in store for her: "She had never once thought that she would go to the home of a white woman and do her housework for her . . . she had come to America to be a lady, not a servant." And she had not expected that the Japanese would not be welcome in this new land of opportunity.

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