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The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity,...

The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity, Kim Chernin (Harper & Row: $6.95); The Philosopher’s Diet: How to Lose Weight and Change the World, Richard Watson (Atlantic Monthly: $7.95). Most authors offering tips on taking off pounds either advocate artificially flavored eclairs and other forms of self-deception or call for an all-out battle against one’s base desires through greater self-awareness and discipline. “The Philosopher’s Diet” would seem to take the latter tack, but, in fact, Richard Watson, a philosophy professor at Washington University in St. Louis, attempts to undermine the very notion of dieting through tongue-in-cheek prose. Watson dismisses self-help in the book’s first few sentences (“Fat. I presume you want to get rid of it. Then quit eating so much”), leaving himself free to attack every aspect of “thin culture,” from Frank Lloyd Wright (“He designed kitchens like the galleys in small boats. . . . I wonder if he didn’t hate women, cooking and perhaps even food”) to Vogue models. The tone in “The Hungry Self” is, by necessity, far more sober. In examining compulsive dieting and eating among women, the author, a therapist living in Berkeley, came to realize the overpowering pressure society can place on women. Women are expected to separate themselves from their mothers at an early age, perhaps even to grow beyond their mothers, Kim Chernin points out; eating disorders represent an increasingly popular way of fleeing this struggle for self-identity.

The Essential Montessori, Elizabeth Hainstock (Plume: $6.95). It’s ironic but fortunate that Maria Montessori’s philosophy of teaching aimed at the individual experienced a renaissance during the 1950s and ‘60s, a period when assembly line education seemed most efficient. Baby boomers were flooding the schools and stricter classroom discipline seemed necessary to keep the new masses in check. Montessori’s message--critical of situations in which an active teacher would instruct a passive class--caught on nevertheless. Most of the “alternative schools” of the 1960s and ‘70s, based largely on her ideas, have, of course, become obsolete, a fact this book ignores. Still, Elizabeth Hainstock offers a clear introduction to the work of a woman convinced that society benefits when individuals are allowed to fully cultivate their inner potential.

Comeback: Building the Resurgence of American Business, Ezra Vogel (Simon & Schuster: $8.95); Trade War, Steven Schlossstein (Congdon & Weed: $8.95). Maverick Career Strategies: The Way of the Ronin, Beverly A. Potter (American Management: $8.95). Neither cheering about Iacocca nor optimistic appraisals of industrial efficiency in the United States has managed to drown out the latest news about another Japanese trade advantage or another recall of American automobiles. The appearance of these books demonstrates that we’re still glancing Westward with curiosity and even a degree of envy. While acknowledging that “we cannot and should not attempt to copy the Japanese,” Ezra Vogel, a sociology professor at Harvard, forwards a plan for following Japan’s lead in industrial revitalization. Like the Japanese, Vogel writes, Americans need to realize that as industry becomes more technologically advanced, cooperation between government and private enterprise becomes more vital. Vogel’s upbeat approach in the book, emphasizing the necessity for change as well as the importance of home-grown management practices, is unique, though the examples he offers of American successes--particularly NASA and urban renewal projects--will be questioned. “Trade War” also stresses the need for protectionism, though Steven Schlossstein makes his case by studying American business since the 19th Century. “Maverick Career Strategies,” on the other hand, at first seems to spurn the very notion of business-government cooperation, setting forth the example of the lordless samurai, or “ronin,” in Japan. When feudal rule came to an end, writes Beverly A. Potter, it was these free-thinking warriors who took most readily to new ideas. Even so, Potter recognizes that entrepreneurs today, however independent, won’t prosper unless socioeconomic conditions are conducive to growth.

Millenium Hall, Sarah Scott (Penguin: $6.95). “A gentleman on his travels” discovers a Utopian community run by women who manage to cultivate artistic passion while preserving a sense of piety and charity. Unfortunately, we never discover how the women manage this impressive feat, for Sarah Scott envelopes her community in a shroud of ambiguity. First published in 1762, “Millenium Hall” remains fascinating, however, as a study of the novel when the genre itself was novel and as a reflection of social tensions between the sexes (Scott’s story, for instance, attempts to take the social stigma away from being single, a significant concern among women during the era). Also recently reprinted in the publisher’s Virago fiction series is Elsa Triolet’s “A Fine of Two Hundred Francs” ($6.95), a collection of loosely autobiographical short stories about love, alienation and idealism among members of the French Resistance during World War II.

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Charged Bodies: People, Power and Paradox in Silicon Valley, Thomas Mahon (New American Library: $4.95). Books and articles about Silicon Valley have been proliferating in recent years, no doubt in part because of the area’s metaphorical significance: While California’s gold rush was based on toughness, tenacity and luck, the Silicon rush has spurned secrecy and self-initiative in favor of shared information and technological planning, important features of the Information Age. Profiling efforts in the valley to build “a microculture that promotes creativity in others,” science writer Thomas Mahon focuses on the doubts, drives and obsessions of individuals. He paints entertaining and colorful portraits, though not to the exclusion of weightier issues.

NOTEWORTHY: Plausible Prejudices: Essays on American Writing, Joseph Epstein (Norton: $8.95). Irreverent musings on the merits and (mostly) imperfections of American writing by the editor of The American Scholar. Some essays venture back to such writers as Edmund Wilson and James Gould Cozzens, but the majority scrutinize contemporaries--Norman Mailer, Ann Beattie and John Updike, among others. Breaking Points, Jack and Jo Ann Hinckley (Berkley: $3.95). The authors forward tips for parents of disturbed children and recount how their comfortable suburban life was thrown into turmoil after their son attempted to kill the President. Bell Labs in the Information Age, Jeremy Bernstein (New American Library: $4.50). The noted science writer traces the evolution of telephone technology, explaining how today’s super-computers came to replace older methods of coordinating long distance calls: Technicians once used, for example, a large map with strings winding around pegs that represented major cities. The Waterfall, Margaret Drabble (Plume: $6.95). Deserted by her husband, Jane Gray falls in love with the wrong man. Will she make a choice based on rationality or on emotion, or will she abandon herself to fate? asks the author, whose novels have often been compared to those of Doris Lessing.


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