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THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE 1986

On Nov. 7, The Times will award its annual Book Prizes in five categories--biography, history, fiction, poetry and current interest--along with the Robert Kirsch Award for a body of work by a writer living in or writing on the West. This week we publish excerpts from some of the books nominated in history. Not excerpted, but also nominated, are: “The First Liberty: Religion and the American Republic” (Knopf) by William Lee Miller, “Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings” (Simon & Schuster), translated by Dennis Tedlock, and “The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism” (Simon & Schuster) by Conor Cruise O’Brien.

“The Mountain of Names: A History ofthe Human Family” (Simon & Schuster) by Alex Shoumatoff.

Shoumatoff first became curious about his own Slavic roots, which he traced in a 1982 study, “Russian Blood: A Family Chronicle.” Here, he considers “the family tree of the human race,” looking at how kinship defines our sense of self and visiting the Mormon archives in Utah, a “mountain” of more than a billion and a half names that underscores “our multiple interrelatedness” and suggests broad political implications.

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Everybody belongs to one enormous pyramid of descendants that fans down from the first humans, and at the same time, everybody has a separate, personal pedigree diamond. History can be seen as a mosaic of billions of overlapping pedigree diamonds. The kinship group to which we all belong--"the family of man,” which anthropologists would describe as a kindred--extends indefinitely in every direction. Some genealogists have started to play with this notion, so that a new vogue in genealogy is horizontal genealogy.

By charting the overlap in the pedigrees of recent American political figures, for instance, the genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner has discovered that Hamilton Jordan, former President Jimmy Carter’s top aide, and former Florida Gov. Ruben Askew are eighth cousins once removed; that Carter and former President Richard Nixon are sixth cousins (both descended from a New Jersey Quaker named Richard Morris, who lived before the American Revolution); that Nixon and Vice President Bush are 10th cousins once removed; that Bush is a seventh cousin of Elliot Richardson, attorney general in the Nixon Administration, as well as being a kinsman of Ernest Hemingway and of the 19th-Century plutocrat Jay Gould; and that California’s Sen. Alan Cranston has in his constellation of known kin, through common descent from a man named Robert Bullard, who lived in Watertown, Mass., in the early 1600s: Queen Geraldine of Albania, Richard Henry Dana, Emily Dickinson, George Plimpton, the Dow chemical family, Julie Harris and Margaret Mead. “The more you dig, the smaller the world becomes,” the New York Times reporter who interviewed Reitwiesner observed. . . .

The political implications of this great kindred to which we all belong are exciting. If everybody became aware of this multiple interrelatedness; if the same sort of “generalized altruism” (that prevails) in small communities . . . could prevail over the entire human population; if this vision of ourselves could somehow catch on--then many of the differences that have polarized various subpopulations from the beginning of our history, the result of adaptation to disparate climates and of genetic drift within geographically or culturally segregated populations (differences that are, for the most part, literally only skin-deep), would seem secondary. The problems we have with each other would become internal.

“The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union From Within"(Harvard) by Geoffrey Hosking.

Hosking combines a sympathetic study of the impact of the Soviet system on the Soviet people (they are “highly educated and much better informed about the world than Westerners tend to assume”) with an analysis of how Soviet leaders used totalitarianism to reconcile contradictions between Marxism and Leninism, thereby preserving the Great Power status the nation won during World War II.

Stagnation in the Soviet Union itself, repeated deadlock in the Soviet’s orbit, these are the direct results of the political system instituted by Lenin and consolidated by Stalin. If we return to the origins of the system, we can still see why it should have become one where the technique of exercising power, expertly practiced, has come to replace every other aim, including those for which the Bolsheviks originally seized that power.

Lenin, to a greater extent than is usually realized, was a divided personality. He shared with previous Russian revolutionaries belief in a democratic and humane future society. Where he differed from them was in hard-headed realism. With the image of his brother before him, he was determined not to repeat their romantic and futile self-sacrifice. He preferred practical politics to the attractive gesture. He also craved a historical theory which would provide absolute certainty, and, in Marxism, he thought he had found this.

“Marxism is all-powerful because it is true ,” as he was fond of repeating. The unacknowledged and ultimately incongruous mixture of science and prophecy in Marxism was exactly what appealed to Lenin, and to solve the mismatch between them, he invented the party, not in the traditional sense of that word, but as a hierarchical and disciplined organization capable of creating and sustaining a “proletarian” ideology which the actual proletariat itself was incapable of generating. . . .

It was only when illness relieved him of continuous political responsibility that Lenin had the leisure and detachment to reflect on the results of his own improvisations. He had the perspicacity to see some of the difficulties they had thrown up, but not enough insight to suggest really constructive solutions. It was his great weakness as a statesman that he was unable to discern the full implications of the yawning gap between ideal and reality, between ends and means, which his revolution had opened up. Into this gap moved Stalin, with his “secretarial regime” and his security police, two institutions created by Lenin, but rounded out and exploited to their full potential by Stalin. Reality was plastered over with rhetoric, backed by a police regime and a media monopoly of unprecedented thoroughness and brutality.

The result was a regime of a type previously unknown to history and justly characterized as “totalitarian.”

“The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud,” Volume Two, “The Tender Passion"(Oxford) by Peter Gay.

“Experience of the Senses,” the first volume in the author’s ongoing “history informed by psychoanalysis,” surveyed the sexual attitudes of the American and European middle class, challenging the popular image of the Victorians as smug, hypocritical and repressed. This work looks at their notions of love. They were able not only to enjoy their sexuality, Gay writes, but to know love in its most exalted sense.

The 19th-Century bourgeois experience of love was both stylized and spontaneous. Efficient middle-class institutions all the way from the adroitly orchestrated dinner party to the cool treaty between mercantile clans fostered suitable unions. They could not keep the impressionable from falling in love, but they could make sure that young men and women encountered few except eligible partners. If one refused to marry for money or good family, it became proverbial that one might be persuaded to go where money or good family could be predicted. Acceptable paths to love were plainly marked and heavily guarded; the penalties annexed to misalliances threatened or consummated--social ostracism, transfer to remote posts, legacies withheld--were extremely harsh.

But their very severity speaks to the urgency of the temptations. The clashes of social styles, pressures of temperament, neurotic inhibitions or proclivities, the anarchic charm of infatuation, made for variety in patterns of respectable love, sometimes for surprises. They provided generous space for amorous motives less calculating than material advantage or social ascent. Impulse increasingly won out over defense.

The eternal, interminable contest between freedom and control is the critical issue in all civilization, not least in love. In the age of Victoria perhaps more than any other, the boundaries between erotic expressiveness and reserve were shifting, problematic, almost impossible to map with any sense of finality. The old paternalistic order was crumbling, most visibly among the middling classes in Western Europe and the United States, while the reign of the young had not yet dawned.

In this increasingly opaque, anxiety-provoking situation, it was only rational for the bourgeoisie to develop an almost desperate commitment to privacy and to mount a largely sincere, only partly conscious search for refined variants of earthy desires.


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