12 Booklist September 15, 2017 www.booklistreader.com
spotlights the systemic torture of vulnerable
masses by twentieth-century American institutions. Elsewhere, the poet considers such
defunct procedures as bloodletting, trepanation, and lobotomy. His poems are also laced
with desire. In “On Hysteria,” he muses over
surgery’s strange sexuality (“the insertion of
instruments / into the body”), and in “
Satyriasis,” he confronts his own longings (“keep
giving lust / an ugly name, i’ll keep making
it sing”). Throughout, variations on an appendix to the 1952 DSM- 1 (Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) serve
as a haunting, unraveling refrain, with altered excerpts opening the collection’s four
sections. What began as “Nomenclature,”
for example, ends as “Nature”—and fittingly, sax titles his concluding poem “Erasure.”
At once clinically precise and brazenly effusive, vulnerable, and extraordinarily daring,
sax’s poems redefine “madness” altogether.
The poet says it best when he states, “All my
poems are wild birds.” Feral, soaring, and uncommonly beautiful. —Briana Shemroske
A Memory of Manaus.
By Catharine Savage Brosman.
Sept. 2017. 80p. Mercer Univ., paper, $17
Half of Brosman’s (On the Old Plaza, 2014)
major collections have emerged during the past
lation (“For a Friend Whose Grandson Killed a
Classmate”). Most of those subjects are familiar
to her readers, as is the exceptional vividness of
her images, olfactory and tactile as well as visual, and the breadth of her culture that enables
the open-eyed balloon-popping of her observations on fashionable art and writing. But were
we prepared for the astringent religious allusion
concluding that unsentimental consolatory poem—“The Lord spares not the rod, / nor spoils
His child by yielding to its will”—or the pang
of the parting-lovers’ vignette, “Flowers on a
Train”? —Ray Olson
The Accidental President: Harry S.
Truman and the Four Months That
Changed the World.
By A. J. Baime.
Oct. 2017. 464p. HMH, $30 (9780544617346). 973.9.
Harry Truman’s nomination as vice president
and his speedy ascension to the presidency
upon FDR’s death 80 days after the inauguration were unexpected and momentous. The
first four months of this ordinary man’s presidency were, Baime argues, the fullest and most
historically lasting ever. Though purporting
not to be a cradle-to-grave biography, there is
an abundance of background here about Truman’s family and personal life. It takes Baime
until well into the book to get to his core thesis, that busy four-month period, but when he
does, he handles it with aplomb. The most important issues, of course, are the final days of
WWII, the employment of the atomic bomb,
and the beginning of the Cold War. Baime effectively shows how Truman, a president with
little experience in international diplomacy,
approached Russia and its designs on Poland
and Eastern Europe, along with such other
immediate postwar issues as the formation
of the United Nations, the world’s first-hand
exposure to the concentration camps, and
the panning of the Nuremberg trials. A vivid
recounting of a rookie executive’s worst nightmare. —Mark Levine
Angels in the Sky: How a Band of
Volunteer Airmen Saved the New State
By Robert Gandt.
Oct. 2017. 416p. Norton, $26.95 (9780393254778).
On May 14, 1948, Israel formally declared
Defining Moments in Black History:
its existence as an independent state. Mili-
tary conflict between Jewish and Palestinian
Arab militia had been underway for months,
but the following day, the regular armies of
the surrounding Arab states attacked Israel.
On paper, these Arab armies had a huge nu-
merical and material advantage, leading to the
recounting of the “miracle” of Israel’s survival.
Gandt, an author and former airline pilot,
concentrates on the struggle between the Arab
and the nascent Israeli air forces. Here, too,
there was a numerical imbalance of forces,
and, as Gandt’s compelling narrative shows,
the much smaller force of largely volunteer
Jewish pilots held their own, preventing Arab
pilots from gaining full air superiority. The Is-
raelis were a motley group from a variety of
countries with a variety of motivations. Some
were ardent Zionists, some were adventurers,
and some were outright mercenaries. Almost
all were highly trained WWII veterans and
far more experienced than their Arab coun-
terparts.This is both an exciting account of
aerial combat as well as a frequently touching
collection of warrior profiles. —Jay Freeman
Reading between the Lies.
By Dick Gregory.
Sept. 2017. 256p. Amistad, $24.99 (9780062448699).
From his perspective of more than 80 years
of life, much of it as a comedian, activist, and
social critic, the recently deceased Gregory
takes a hard look at American racism, poking fun at absurdities and offering opinions
on everything racial, from the Middle Passage
to the current Black Lives Matter movement.
From civil rights marches to rallies protesting the Vietnam War, Gregory has been on
the front line along with such luminaries as
Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Angela
Davis, Rosa Parks, and Muhammad Ali. With
his inimitable style, Gregory pokes fun at racism, taking a comical look at the impact of
slavery and racism on American culture, from
black hair-styling to white obsession with
tanning. Amid the sarcasm, Gregory argues
for greater self-knowledge and cultural pride
among black people and a deeper understanding of the contributions of African Americans
to the development and culture of the entire
population of the U.S. Gregory’s examination
of American history from a black perspective
is both humorous and inspiring. He will be
missed. —Vanessa Bush
Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political
By Robert Dallek.
Nov. 2017. 704p. Viking, $40 (9780525427902).
Dallek, among our leading presidential
biographers (JFK, LBJ), now takes on the
daunting task of providing a comprehensive
one-volume biography of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. He succeeds in presenting the
abundance of information in a flowing and
highly readable narrative, and he supports
FDR’s story with memorable sketches of the
president’s many associates—Harry Hopkins
and Louis Howe, among them—his varied
opponents, the foreign leaders who served
opposite him (Dallek is particularly good
on Churchill), and many
others. Eleanor, too, is portrayed in full, complete with
a notably honest account of
her marriage to Franklin.
Among this book’s other
strengths are the coverage
of the isolationists who opposed America’s entry into
WWII, the lead-up to the cross-channel invasion, and FDR’s paralysis, especially the
From his perspective of more than 80 years of life, much of it as a
comedian, activist, and social critic, the recently deceased Gregory
takes a hard look at American racism, poking fun at absurdities and
offering opinions on everything racial, from the Middle Passage to
the current Black Lives Matter movement.
—Vanessa Bush, on Defining Moments in Black History
Continued on p. 14