Posted: July 14, 2014
BOOKS AT A GLANCE
The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong
Ben J. Wattenberg
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984
431 pp., $17.95
Demography is, if possible, an even more dismal science than economics, and demographers tend to be an especially insipid lot. Ben Wattenberg is not strictly speaking a demographer, but he examines demographic and other data with the care of a monk studying a sacred text in a medieval monastery. Wattenberg is a congenital optimist, though not of the soapy Norman Vincent Peale type. His basic thesis, backed up by piles of clearly presented numbers, is that America is every day and in every way getting better and better. Wattenberg made essentially the same point in his previous books,The Real Majority and The Real America: The doomsayers are belied by the facts. Our environment is getting cleaner, not more polluted, and the general (material) well-being of the people is improving. More importantly, Wattenberg understands that this is not the automatic result of "inevitable progress," or something similarly historicist, but is the result of hard work and conscious effort by many parts of society. But the number crunching that is Wattenberg's strength is also his fatal weakness. For example, Wattenberg celebrates the fact that more and more Americans, especially women and minorities, are availing themselves of higher-education opportunities. But what are they learning? Wattenberg cannot assess the quality and character of many of America's "improvements" because numbers cannot tell you these things.
The Grenada Papers
Edited by Paul Seabury and Walter A. McDougall
Foreword by Sidney Hook
San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 1984
346 pp. + xvii, $16.95 (cloth), $8.95 (paper)
The official documents and communiques seized by U.S. forces in the aftermath of last year's invasion of Grenada are less important for what they reveal (after all, we knew what was going on there) than for the inside view they give us of justhow totalitarian control is organized and consolidated, and how thoroughly involved were the eastern bloc
Communist nations in the effort. Seldom have the official archives of a Communist country been open to the West, and as Grenada was the first English-speaking country to come under Communist rule, the documents required no translation. The editors have selected the most revealing of the documents released earlier by the U.S. Information Agency and organized them according to various categories; i.e., propaganda in the U.S., military agreements, the New Jewel Movement and the churches, and so forth. These documents make plain that the "New Jewel Movement" leaders regarded Leninist principles not as mere rhetoric but as a serious political program, which included "reeducating" the populace of the island and subverting the church so as to avoid a "Poland situation."
Kandinsky at the Guggenheim
Vivian Endicott Barnett
New York: Abbeville Press, 1983
336 pp., $45.00
Forget the pedestrian introduction, and go to the plates, which reproduce every work by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum and The Hilla von Rebay Foundation. What we see in his paintings is the evolution of nihilism-the denial of any moral, physical, or metaphysical truth. Impressionism is the start, for impressionist painting, so pleasing to the eye, makes reality a matter of perspective; one cannot enjoy an impressionist painting unless one views it from the proper distance. Next, expressionism reveals a world that can be understood, if at all, only in terms of color, nondescript form, and, perhaps, motion. The broken circles and other incomplete or distorted geometric figures indicate that the scientific optimism of the 19th century (neo-Kantianism) is absurd. The later Kandinsky becomes the model for the caricaturist's notion of "abstract art." Instructed by his vision, we are nonetheless thankful that we can close the book.