THE MEDICAL DETECTIVES by Berton Roueche...
THE MEDICAL DETECTIVES by Berton Roueche (Plume: $10.95). In this collection of “The Annals of Medicine” columns from the New Yorker, Berton Roueche reports on medical mysteries that range from curious symptoms (men who turned blue or bright orange) to unexpected outbreaks of diseases, including an epidemic of histoplamosis among the children of a small town in northern Arkansas. Roueche reveals the skill of the medical investigators who must find clues in seemingly ordinary circumstances. Contaminated icing on cupcakes proved to be the source of several cases of hepatitis in Michigan; although a parakeet in an elementary school classroom initially seemed to be the source of the histoplasmosis outbreak, the fungus was ultimately traced to a load of coal from a distant strip mine. An intriguing book that may leave the reader suspiciously examining everything he eats or touches.
JOSEPHINE by Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon (Paragon House: $9.95, illustrated). Baker’s last husband, band leader Jo(seph) Bouillon, completed the celebrated music-hall star’s autobiography after her death in 1975. Born in dire poverty in St. Louis in 1906, Baker became the toast of Paris by singing and dancing in a few feathers or bananas in La Revue Negre and the Folies Bergere. In addition to being a consummate entertainer, Baker aided the French Resistance during World War II by smuggling information (written in invisible ink on her sheet music) to the Allies while touring. After the war, she became an outspoken leader in the fight against racism and adopted children of various ethnicities to form what she dubbed “The Rainbow Tribe.” (She raised her family in France, rather than face continuing discrimination in the United States: The Stork Club’s refusal to serve her in 1951 provoked a major scandal.) Josephine Baker was obviously a fascinating and even heroic woman, and it’s unfortunate that this book doesn’t provide a more vivid portrait of her, instead of repeating the self-praise that often characterizes stars’ accounts of their lives.
THE TRICK OF IT by Michael Frayn (Penguin: $8.95). This comic novel by the author of “Noises Off” suggests that Oscar Wilde didn’t get it quite right in “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”: Each man tries to kill the thing he loves. After years of teaching the novels of a noted woman writer, a professor at a minor English university finally meets his idol in the flesh (literally). He clumsily pursues her and, eventually, marries her, only to discover “a new taboo governing mankind, one which must have existed unknown since the dawn of time until I stumbled upon it yesterday evening--a taboo against intercourse with an author on your own reading-list.” The unnamed narrator finds himself in an uncomfortable position: He’s read everything his wife’s ever written; she’s never read a word of his. Things go from bad to worse when he tries to meddle with her new novel to make it conform to his theories. A delightfully sardonic portrait of a literary wanna-be.
A CARTOON HISTORY OF UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY FROM 1946 TO THE PRESENT by the editors of the Foreign Policy Assn. (Pharos: $12.95). The immediacy of visual imagery enables cartoonists to provide some of the most pointed political commentary. This anthology of cartoons suggests that isolationism and interventionism have been the yin and yang of U.S. policy throughout the postwar era. In 1946, Joseph Parrish drew a forlorn Columbia watching congressmen walk off with a hussy labeled “Internationalism” (“Someday they’ll come crawling back to her”), while Cal Alley depicted John Bull as King Canute, asking Uncle Sam for help stemming the “Tide of Communism.” The editors have included the work of the best artists of the era, including Tony Auth, Herb Block, Paul Conrad, Jeff MacNelly, Bill Mauldin, Pat Oliphant, Mike Peters and Tom Toles, although the balance is a bit skewed. The muddy reproductions rob many drawings of vital details: In MacNelly’s hilarious cartoon about U.S. grain sales to the Soviet Union, the reader can’t see that the disgusted peasant is walking past a mock-heroic statue labeled “Heroes of Soviet Agriculture” carrying a loaf of Wonder Bread.
SEASONS AT EAGLE POND by Donald Hall (Ticknor & Fields: $9.95, illustrated). Poet Donald Hall mixes personal anecdotes with family history and his impressions of the shifting patterns of light and weather in rural New Hampshire. These meditative reflections on the cycles of the year lead him to conclude that he is a member of a special tribe that prefers fall to other seasons: “We cherish the gradually increasing dark of November, which we wrap around ourselves in the prosperous warmth of wood stove, oil, electric blanket, storm window and insulation. We are partly tuber, partly bear. Inside our warmth we fold ourselves in the dark and its cold. . . .” Hall’s clean, spare prose evokes the hard granite hills and generous maple trees of his beloved New England.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS by Bill O’Neal (University of Oklahoma Press: $16.95, illustrated). O’Neal’s carefully documented study shatters many of the most cherished myths about the West as portrayed in Hollywood films. Apparently being the fastest gun in the West counted for very little--the trick was to be the most accurate: “The primary concern in a shootout was not hitting the other man first or in the right spot but just hitting him. In gunfight after gunfight . . . men emptied their weapons at their adversaries without wounding them, or inflicting only minor wounds.” Even more disillusioning is the information that Bat Masterson killed only one man in his three documented gunfights, while the Sundance Kid (ne Harry Longabaugh) only participated in four gunfights and didn’t kill anyone. Apparently the Old West wasn’t quite as wild as audiences have been led to believe.
HOW TO LIE WITH MAPS by Mark Monmonier (University of Chicago Press: $12.95, illustrated). This unusual book shows how cartographers distort the information they present--accidentally and deliberately. Monmonier begins by explaining that a certain amount of distortion is the inevitable result of any attempt to represent the three-dimensional forms of the Earth’s curved surface on a flat sheet of paper. The available information and tools (especially low-resolution computer graphics programs) can exacerbate these errors. A few of the deliberate mistakes that the author cites are humorous: An anonymous Michigan State fan added the imaginary town of “Goblu” to a highway map in 1979. More insidious are the distortions that result from carefully calculated choices of scale, symbols, colors, etc. to make proposed developments and other projects seem attractive or threatening. Monmonier states that “a single map is but one of an indefinitely large number of maps that might be produced from the same data”: or, more simply, maps don’t lie but liars make maps.