Books by James A. Michener

Released: Oct. 14, 1996

In a stirring essay on America's past and future, octogenarian novelist Michener (The World is My Home, 1992, etc.) outlines his native land's strong and weak points, and his hopes and fears for America's future. Drawing on his travels, historical research, and experiences in politics, Michener cites numerous criteria for determining the country's strength: social and monetary stability, a political system that allows for an orderly transfer of power, an adequate health care system and effective schools and free libraries, adequate employment opportunities for the young, the existence of a tax system that balances wealth between rich and poor, the prevalence of churches that provide moral guidance, the existence of recreational and cultural opportunity, and equitable treatment of disparate ethnic groups. While acknowledging America's defects in some of these areas, the author characterizes the US as a country basically noble (that is, generous and courageous) in purpose and qualities, but he argues that several trends threaten to diminish America's nobility as a society. Although his analysis of the characteristics of a noble society may be controversial in some particulars, Michener will encounter little disagreement in his diagnosis of the US's principal problems: rising violence (he blames it on America becoming too much of a "macho" society), deteriorating families, a declining educational system, the shift from a producing to a consuming economy, declining health care, and ominously worsening racial relations. In his analysis of the results of the congressional elections of 1994, Michener rejects facile nostrums of the left and right in arguing that while some Republican ideas should be supported (like tort reform), many others should be opposed as undermining the nation. Among these are proposals to ban deficit spending, return a great deal of federal power to the states, and eliminate affirmative action programs. Not all will agree with the specifics of Michener's arguments; still, the author makes an admirable effort to define what has made our country great and how to preserve what is best about it. Read full book review >
MIRACLE IN SEVILLE by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

The Virgin Mary goes to bat for a Spanish rancher of fighting bulls while a Gypsy fortune-teller summons what dark forces she can on behalf of her cowardly matador brother—in this rather pallid little fable-cum-novella from the many-volumed Michener. There was a time when the Mota family raised fighting bulls among the finest in Spain—and fate, now, has given the aging Don Cayetano Mota a last chance to bring glory back by showing that his ranch can once again fulfill his family's old dream of breeding great "[bulls] of honor who will pull no surprises in the ring." Trouble brews, though, in the form of the bad-charactered matador Lzaro Lopez, whose cowardice often makes even the best of bulls look undistinguished—and who has long held a grudging and suspicious animosity toward Don Cayetano and the Mota bulls. Everything rides on how well the animals will fight in the great Eastertime festival in Seville, and while Don Cayetano does acts of public penance and fervently offers prayers to the Virgin, the erratic and cowardly Lzaro grows only more suspicious—until he accuses Don Cayetano of having "bewitched" his bulls: "'I've discovered your secret, you agent of the devil. You'll not kill me with your witchcraft bulls. Not me!'" And so who, if anyone, will die? And will the bulls be brave? The story is told by an American writer who befriends Don Cayetano; learns much about bullfighting and bulls; hears and sees miracles (the Virgin moves, glows, and speaks); and who even meets the fortune-teller Magdalena Lopez, Lzaro's dark and smolderingly beautiful sister, who reveals that once the Mota bulls enter the ring, what will happen is... But heaven forfend the telling, except that, yes, there will be both life and death, honor and indignity. Slight, short, harmless, effortless, sometimes informative, and bland. Read full book review >
RECESSIONAL by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

In his 41st book, Michener (Creatures of the Kingdom, 1993, etc.) offers a feel-good vision of life in a complex for the elderly, oddly skewed by its young protagonist. Obstetrician Andy Zorn has been chased out of the medical profession by unfair malpractice suits and eagerly accepts a job as director of the Palms, a Florida facility consisting of residential apartments, an infirmary, and a hospice (the center's owner cautions Zorn to avoid the word because "it's ugly, frightening and reeks of death"). On the drive down to Florida from Chicago, Zorn plays good Samaritan and rescues a woman who loses her legs in a car accident, but after getting her to the hospital he scurries away for fear of being the subject of yet another malpractice suit. With his usual verbosity, Michener has Zorn handle with aplomb challenges that range from Alzheimer's to a constantly malfunctioning frozen yogurt machine in the Palms's dining room. Some of these episodes are entertaining (if in a very cozy way), but the focus is on Zorn's work in managing the facility rather than the lives of those who live there, and there is nothing surprising to win new Michener converts here. Although the Palms is described as possessing an idyllic, race-blind atmosphere, Michener occasionally exhibits racial insensitivity, as when he says of an African-American nurse, "If one looked only at her ample face, one might have expected her to speak in a typical black dialect." Often it seems as though characters are being depicted as somewhat thickheaded just to give Michener the opportunity to expound on a subject he has researched heavily; Zorn's ignorance of AIDS is frankly unimaginable. As expected, there is a fair amount of death in this book, but never without an epiphany and a heavy dose of sentimentality. When the beautiful young woman Zorn rescued on the way to Florida tracks Zorn down and insists that she can only recover under his care and he allows her to move into the Palms, an inspirational, happy ending becomes inevitable. Wooden and schematic. Read full book review >
MEXICO by James A. Michener
Released: Dec. 1, 1992

The master of The Big National Treatment (Caribbean, Alaska, Poland, etc.) moves Mexico and Mexican history to the background of a novel about the passions, fine points, and meaning of bullfighting. Readers hoping to bone up on everything there is to know about America's new free-trading partner will find that Michener's Mexican history course ends during the Kennedy Administration when, according to Random House, the author set the uncompleted manuscript aside. Rather than drenching the book in post-Vietnam revisionism, Michener, in resuming the work, has left his story and his characters frozen in the sensibility of 1961 when the peso was cheaper, there was no OPEC, no Cancun, and, since there were no animal activists, metaphors such as bullfighting could still fly. His narrator is Norman Clay, a middle-aged magazine writer, the son of a Mexican mother and a Virginian father. After decades of absence, Clay returns to Toledo, the silver-mining city founded and reshaped by his Indian and Spanish ancestors respectively. He's there to reminisce (at length) and to write a story about an annual festival centered on three days of bullfighting. As a reporter and a relative of the town's leading family, the Palafoxes, breeders of Mexico's finest fighting bulls, Clay has an entre to everything of interest going on in Toledo. Hooked up by his publisher with a party of oil-rich Oklahomans, Clay has scores of opportunities to use that entre—and does, introducing the Yanquis to all the matadors, picadors, and the ghosts of the past. Anything Clay doesn't know about bulls, Leon Ledesma, the country's leading critic of the bullring and a charming, world-class cynic, does. The Oklahomans, staying up for those late Mexican suppers, learn plenty. The youngest of them, a pretty heiress just out of high school, learns just enough but not too much about Love and Nobility from the matadors. Genteel, free of epic overkill, safe for all ages, although kids may ask, "What's a bullfight? Read full book review >
MY LOST MEXICO by James A. Michener
Released: Dec. 1, 1992

Michener's lost Mexico is, of course, Mexico (p. 1148)—his new, congenial epic about our southern neighbor. Here, in a much slimmer work that still manages to exude the typical Michener verbosity, is the author's story of the writing of that novel—which, it turns out, wasn't so much "lost" as deep-sixed when, in 1961 and far into the writing, Michener got some hard criticism from then-Random House chief Bennett Cerf, and crumpled. Three decades later, the manuscript surfaced in an attic, and Michener got back to it, working in "the Texas girls," three bull-fighting groupies whose saga was then excised by Michener's current editors. But not to worry: Michener reprints many of the cut pages here, apparently his way of showing that he's now enough of a pro to know how to accept a cut without crumpling—especially if he can use the cut material elsewhere. In any case, more interesting is the book's earlier material, which deals with Michener's initial outlining and drafting of Mexico. Here, in explaining how he conceived characters and action, and how the novel shaped and reshaped itself, Michener offers solid nuts-and-bolts insight into the writing process—making this of moderate interest to aspiring authors, as well as to Michener fans who just can't get enough. Read full book review >
THE WORLD IS MY HOME by James A. Michener
Released: Jan. 1, 1992

Altogether engaging if decidedly selective reminiscence from the peripatetic writer (not "author," he stresses) who's one of the world's most successful storytellers. Eschewing traditional autobiography, Michener (who turns 85 next year) looks back on his long, globe-trotting life from more than a dozen vantage points—travel, people, politics, health, wealth, etc. This idiosyncratic format permits him to comment at length on topics of his choosing and to avoid subjects he finds painful or none of a reader's business. Beyond a brief allusion, for example, there's no mention of two matrimonial failures, and little about his enduring marriage to a nisei named Mariko. He does, however, offer intriguing glimpses of his impoverished boyhood in a foster home and the steely resolve that won him scholarships and honors at Swarthmore and graduate schools. Meanwhile, Michener spins a wealth of marvelous yams about his years as a teacher, editor (at Macmillan), WW II naval officer, omnivorous reader, itinerant lecturer, occasional show-biz advisor, and, more recently, member of government commissions. Among many other recitals, his rueful accounts of how the Post Office chooses the subjects of its postage stamps and of the travails of an unreconstructed liberal running for elective office in Bucks County, Pa.—a bastion of rock-ribbed Republicanism—stand out. The author also recalls highs and lows of a writing career that (to the dismay of many critics) saw him win a Pulitzer Prize for his first book (Tales from the South Pacific, 1947) and make frequent appearances on bestseller lists for decades thereafter. While not one to underrate his craft or accomplishments, Michener refuses to employ royalty statements to dispute the typically damning judgments of the literary establishment. Indeed, he seems content to let the reading public have the final word on his work. The guess here is that fans and foes alike will find the discontinuous, digressive, and quite delightful narrative at hand as much to their separate tastes as ever. Read full book review >
THE NOVEL by James A. Michener
Released: March 30, 1991

Michener now shifts his fictionalizing, schoolmasterly talents to the contemporary world of book publishing, offering clear explanations of simple phenomena but grossly oversimplifying complex issues and people. His many fans, however, may well relish the 464-page book's lack of ambiguity and irony, or any disagreeable dissonances, as Michener tells his tale through the points of view in turn of an author, an editor, a critic, and a reader—decent folk all. The author here, an elderly Pennsylvania Dutchman—a steady, workmanlike writer who produces book after book about his native region—resembles Michener in his nose-to-the-grindstone worthiness. Michener also provides him with the opportunity for lectures on the differences between the Amish and the Mennonites and on the makings of scrapple and good German rice pudding. Meanwhile, the editor, through her love for a self-destructive writer who can't finish a book, shows the dangers of unbridled talent. The critic, a closeted gay college professor, despises the plodding author's work and represents an elitist view of the novelist's art. (Here, Michener makes room for a lengthy digression on who should get kudos and who should be cudgeled among English and American writers.) Finally, the reader, a wealthy widow of philanthropic bent, ties the threads together with her benign coda, which includes a neatly solved mystery and the resolution of the other major characters' fates. The chief locale is the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. It rings truer than the characters, who tend to talk alike in measured, overly formal words. As for simplifying issues, a brouhaha at a publishing house focuses on the new ownership being German, skirting the knottier problems of conglomerate control. Michener turns a big chunk of the book world into an easily digested stew only the undemanding will find nourishing or tasty. Read full book review >
PILGRIMAGE by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 1, 1990

A pretentious trifle from a writer whose fiction, whatever its artistic deficiencies, can at least usually be described as substantial. Michener was invited to visit Poland in 1988, ostensibly by the Writers' Union but actually by the government. Years earlier, he had recounted the buffer state's bloody, checkered history in a best-selling novel (Poland, 1983) that, while well received by the populace, had made him persona non grata with the Communist regime. Apparently eager for a reconciliation, Party officials awarded the octogenarian author an unspecified medal and gave him and his entourage the run of the country. Michener provides a cursory, consistently upbeat account of his VIP excursions in Poland during a period when winds of change were beginning to whistle through Eastern Europe, and in a subsequent trip to Rome, where he renewed acquaintances with Pope John Paul II as well as with the US ambassadors to the Vatican and Italy. The author also offers high-sounding asides on the coincidental nature of human life, socioeconomic events, and other weighty matters. Lest anyone miss the point, he appends a postscript entitled "The Deeper Meeting." While Michener clearly aspired to record a journey of the spirit, he has produced a mundane travelogue remarkable more for piety than wit. The brief (128-page), happy-talk text has 39 photographs of notables and lesser lights, which include shots of baseball great Start Musial playing the clown in the Colosseum and elsewhere. Read full book review >
THE EAGLE AND THE RAVEN by James A. Michener
Released: Sept. 1, 1990

First printing of a novella-sized outtake from Michener's behemoth Texas (1985): the story of the revolution of 1836, which severed Texas from Mexico, and of the duel between firebrand Sam Houston's insurgent Texicans and a punitive Mexican army led by glory-mongering scoundrel Santa Anna. In a lengthy introduction, Michener explains the publishing history of this novel and of the sunburst of writing that produced ten books from him between 1986 and 1990. As an adventurous adolescent, the 6'2" Houston would escape from his family's Tennessee farm and go live with the Cherokee Indians, take on their ways and learn their language. Santa Anna meanwhile was born a Creole, soon became idled with dreams of military glory, joined the Mexican infantry, quickly rose to command in the cavalry and led his troops in rapacious attacks against Indians and revolutionaries who questioned the authority of the Spanish army. When rebels arose in the northern province of Tejas, Santa Anna crossed the Rio Grande to slay them. Earlier, Houston had become a teacher, a lawyer, fought beside General Andrew Jackson, represented the Cherokee in Washington for their treaty, and rose to major-general in the Tennessee Militia because of his commanding presence and oratorical gifts. With Mexico breaking away from Spain and crowning its own emperor, Santa Anna went through a sea-change, became an ardent republican and by 1836 had been four times President of Mexico. With Texas seceding, he marched 5,000 troops noah to confront Davy Crockett, Sam Bowie and their 184 Anglo invaders awaiting the Mexicans at the Alamo in San Antonio. After that slaughter, Houston's outnumbered men attacked Santa Anna at San Jacinto, slaying 600 Mexicans in 18 minutes. Exiled four times, Santa Anna went on to be Mexico's president 11 times, ceded incredible areas of Mexico to the States, and died a pauper but no hero. Rapid semifiction done in bold strokes, though not densely imagined. Read full book review >
CARIBBEAN by James A. Michener
Released: Nov. 9, 1989

Is anywhere on earth safe from Michener's roving eye? His latest conquest, the Caribbean Sea and its two dozen major islands, presents a typical clash of cultures—native Caribbean, Spanish, French, British, Rastaferian, American (or norteamericano, as one character admonishes)—that go on clashing for 700 pages. The generational approach of Michener's earliest books doesn't work here because the canvas is too broad and the time-span (1310-1989) too long. What we're given instead is essentially a series of longish short stories about characters who express the contradictions of the region and are usually destroyed by them: Bakmu, the peaceful Arawak whose prowess in games doesn't protect him from Caribe cannibals; real-life explorers Christopher Columbus, John Hawkins, and Francis Drake; Cavalier partisan Isaac Tatum, his Roundhead brother Will, and their privateer nephew Ned Pennyfeather; Paul Lanzerac and Solange Vauclain, guillotined by the Revolution; free-colored Xavier and Julie Premord, caught between Haitian blacks who distrust them and Haitain whites who despise them; Ranjit Banarjee, victim of his attempts to keep US officials from sending him back to Trinidad; and Cuban emigres Steve and Kate Calderon, whose small attempt to open diplomatic lines with Fidel Castro are met with summary justice. As usual in Michener, some family names are repeated, and the cruise in the final chapter brings together descendants of many of the earlier characters; also as usual, sledgehammer foreshadowing and repetitious moralizing take the place of thematic development. Michener is always Michener: this almanac in narrative form will give his huge following a lot of new information painlessly without putting them through any deeply imagined fictional experience. Read full book review >
SIX DAYS IN HAVANA by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 6, 1989

Over 150 color photos brighten this breezy account by Michener and longtime assistant Kings (who took most of the pictures) of their recent trip to Cuba to research the novelist's latest tome (Caribbean, p. 1192). Michener contributes a long essay about the trip, bookended by short essays by Kings and all laid out so that the myriad photos illustrate their proximate text. That text trades mightily in Michneresque melodrama (a typical subtitle is "My fairy-tale flight to Cuba," leading to a description of the 38-minute flight from Miama to Havana, a brevity of travel that Michener finds "staggering"). Still, steering clear of politics and concentrating on the human-interest aspects of their trip—people met (not Castro, but many working classers plus novelist Pablo Armando Fernandez); buildings admired (including Hemingway's house); and stores and restaurants and concerts patronized—the authors give a fair flavor of Havanan daily life. Even more telling, though, are the excellent photographs, brimming with glorious pastels and sun-bred spirit. Read full book review >
JOURNEY by James A. Michener
Released: July 19, 1989

Cut from the manuscript of Alaska, written in the same flat, fact-filled style, this chapter from the Klondike Gold Rush recounts a disastrous English expedition doggedly intent on reaching the gold fields without straying from Empire soil. Lord Lutton, "aloof. . .with an insufferable patrician manner," believes in the superiority of all things British. Upon hearing of the Rush, Lutton decides to mount an expedition that will reach the Klondike by way of Edmonton, Canada, avoiding the despised America. But, as were some 1500 others, he was misled by unscrupulous residents of that boom town (not one seeker found gold; 70 died en route). With his nephew, Philip Henslow, plucked out of Oxford; Harry Carpenter, an experienced traveler; Trevor Blythe, a poet chum of Philip's; and Tim Fogarty, a practical Irishman and the expedition's servant, he travels by steamer and rail to Edmonton. From this tent-town bedlam the group sails the great Mackenzie River towards the Arctic Ocean, planning to cut across the Rockies and head south to the gold fields. After one winter successfully weathered, nephew Philip drowns, and, due to Lutton's refusal to take sensible routes (which cross American soil), Harry and Trevor die of scurvy. After further misadventures, Fogarty and Lutton reach their goal, only to discover that their two-year trip had been accomplished by the less obstinate in 15 weeks. Padded to an un-Michenerly 245 pp.—with a chapter on how the novel came to be and excerpts from a volume of poetry privately printed by Lutton to commemorate the expedition—this is a mere day-trip through Michener's heavy-handed prose and easy travel, no doubt a best-seller. Read full book review >
ALASKA by James A. Michener
Released: June 27, 1988

Class convenes with plate tectonics and, before the final bell is rung, Michener doles out nearly 900 pages of Alaskan history in candy-coated, bite-sized vignettes. With his trademark brand of pedagogy, Michener steers his characters through: the arrival and development of major native groups, European exploration and Russian and American colonization, the gold rush, industrial exploitation by the Lower Forty-eight and the struggle for statehood, and, in a tightly packed final section, geo-politics, macroeconomics, the legal tangle of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the life it has fostered amongst the thereby wealthy natives. The territory offers inherent drama (the treatment of Aleuts by Russia is a story as ugly as any in the history of colonialism), and Michener has unearthed some fascinating episodes (a 1000-mile midwinter bicycle trip along the frozen surface of the Yukon River; the New Deal resettlement of 900 midwestern farmers in Alaska's Matanuska Valley), but the material never becomes convincing fiction—all the seams show. Michener's characters are no more than puppets, and you can see him pulling the strings. As history, this lacks both rigor and substance: Natives are everywhere sentimentalized, and the bias toward Christianity (missionaries and native converts are "saints"; at one point. Christianity is called "worthier" than indigenous beliefs) is disconcerting. Withal, however, Alaska clops forward at a satisfying pace, the breathtaking landscape is a constant presence, and if the prose doesn't sing, it seldom gets in the way. Whatever its flaws, it's Michener, and the 750,000 first printing leaves no doubt about anything but the cast of the mini-series. Read full book review >
LEGACY by James A. Michener
Released: Sept. 14, 1987

Michener's shortest novel is his timeliest as well, a slick, wide-eyed paean to the Constitution that uses the Iran-contra scandal as a springboard to chronicle one family's historic passion for the American heritage. Michener names his hero Lt. Col. Norman Starr, but we can be sure it's a North Start that shines here; Start (who narrates) has just been called to testify before Congress about shady Nicaraguan contra dealings, and he lets on at once that he's "heard from everyone that [Lt. Col. Ollie North] was a fine dedicated patriot." And so is Starr and so were his ancestors, as we learn from Starr's ruminations on seven generations of patriotic predecessors—captivating historical vignettes forming the meat of the book and woven skillfully within Starr's talks with his loving wife and loyal attorney about whether to plead the Fifth during the upcoming Congressional probe. Starr's thoughts harken back first to distant ancestor Jared Start, Virginian farmer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, whose support of a strong federation propelled his son, Simon, to attend the Constitutional Convention and to sign the new document after meetings with Ben Franklin, James Madison, etc. (detailed in snippets from Simon's diary). Thus the Starrs march through US history—a Supreme Court Judge, suffragette, and war hero among them—all intimately involved with the Constitution as it evolves, is amended and reamended. And so it is that at novel's end Norman Starr, bathed in his family's Constitutional splendor, disregards his attorney's advice to plead the Fifth: for in "a blinding flash" he realizes that his job is to protect the nation, not himself, and that "that superb document will be effective only if each new generation believes in it—and keeps it renewed." Michener packs an impressive amount of historical drama into this slim novel while avoiding his usual textbook pedagogy (although the work is padded out at the end via inclusion of the entire Constitution); and if some readers will find Starr/Michener's flag-waving a tough pill to swallow ("the free world must not sit back and let the Reds run rampant"), many (500,000 first printing) will enjoy Michener's birthday present to the Constitution on its bicentennial. Read full book review >
TEXAS by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 28, 1985

This is a long story, the whole history of Texas, from its very beginnings, as far back as 1540 when the Spanish nobleman Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition from Mexico to search the northern wilds for gold. And while much of the story is interesting, some of it is quite boring. Nevertheless, the story will go on. And on. Never before has Michener been so bold about using his muted blend of fiction/fact to instruct. We are presented from the outset with a (fictional) state Task Force, assigned to determine how best the complex, colorful weave of Texas history can be presented to its schoolchildren of today. As we meet the members of the Task Force, it quickly becomes apparent that each represents a Texas stereotype: e.g., the oilman, the rancher, the Southern lady, the Spanish descendant. And, indeed, as Michener repeatedly interrupts the musings of the Task Force to present fictionalized vignettes from different epochs of Texas history, we meet each member's ancestors as they stumble into, and flourish within, the confines of the Lone Star State's borders. For example, the 21 st-removed ancestor of Task Force member Efrain Garza accompanies the Spanish as a muleteer on that early expedition. Another Garza is at the side of the Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna as he lays siege to the Alamo. We follow the sweep of Texas history through the years of early settlement, the founding of the Republic, the taming of the Wild West, the great Indian wars, the Civil War, the establishment of the cotton, cattle and oil industries. We live the beginnings of the Texas Rangers, even thrill to the revolutionary introduction of barbed wire to ranch life, and delight in the contemporary vagaries of the real-estate boom, that last frontier in which a man can still make his millions if he has the courage of his speculations. Such real-life heroes as Jim Bowie and Sam Houston are tossed into the mix with their fictional counterparts, and credibility is often strained with the run of coincidences (in a state as large as Texas, how is it that the ancestors of Task Force members manage to stumble over each other at every historical turn?). But the generational connections do serve to keep the story moving. While some will be offended by Michener's politics—he takes care to warn, for instance, that the surge of illegal immigration from Mexico could one day overcome the state—most will find he has reduced the sprawl of Texas history to a good read. Overall, Michener tames Texas, and if in doing so he flattens some of its flair, he presents its history as a comprehensive and readable whole. Read full book review >
POLAND by James A. Michener
Released: Sept. 15, 1983

The dullest, if timeliest, history lesson yet from Michener Junior College—following three Polish clans (noble, petty-noble, peasant) from 1204 A.D. to the present, but with little of the uplifting, dynastic sweep of this mechanical Michener-format at his best. The saga begins with a talky 1981 confrontation, in the village of Bukowo on the Vistula, between farm-union leader Janko Buk and Communist agriculture minister Szymon Bukowski. . . who turn out to be related. Then it's back, back, to the 13th century—when Buk's ancestors are downtrodden peasants, Bukowski's are the local feudal lords, and above them are the fully noble Counts Lubonski. In the 1200s these Poles are ravaged by Tatar raids, with the Polish "abhorrence of central power" one cause of the region's vulnerability. A century-and-a-half later, the current count sends a Bukowski/Buk duo to spy on the Teutonic Knights who threaten po. land from the west (ostensibly because the Poles are still "pagans"); in the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, the Poles join the Tatars and others—in serviceable battle scenes—to trounce the Germans. In the 1600s the land is devastated again, by Swedes ("they went totally berserk") and slaughtering Transylvanians; yet by 1683, despite the "insane" governing system of the Polish barons, the country has pulled itself together—thanks in part to charismatic King Jan Sobieski, who leads triumphant Polish forces (including a Buk and a Bukowski, of course) against Vienna-invading Turks. Next, however, come the disastrous 1790s: Poland's reformers fail to dislodge the barons ("Symbolically, Feliks and Jan, master and serf, walked together up the gentle hill" to join freedom-fighter Kosciuszko); Poland's neighbors exploit its internal weakness, annexing and obliterating the nation. Then, jump to 1895 Vienna—with Count Andrzej Lubonski row Austria's minister of Minorities and Wiktor Bukowski (with servant Buk) a minor official: Bukowski's Polish consciousness is raised by a beauteous pianist's Chopin, he marries a cultured American and returns to Bukowo. . . while Buk at last gets his own swatch of land (in return for marrying Bukowski's pregnant mistress). So, when Poland comes back into existence in 1918, Count L. labors at achieving multi-ethnic nationalism, Mrs. Bukowski entertains Paderewski, Bukowski helps fight the Communists—all in vain: the Nazis will invade, with underground/concentration-camp bravery ahead for the clans. (One Bukowski does "slither" off to Paris with his art collection.) And the finale is 1981 again. . . as Bukowski and Buk finally come together in anti-Communist solidarity. Simplistic yet inconsistent, Michener's trio-of-families approach offers a spotty, confusing overview of complex history; while emphasizing lapses in Polish leadership, he idealizes and glosses over elsewhere—with, for example, a near-total whitewash of Polish anti-Semitism. And, despite a few courtships and weddings, the parade of characters here is flat, utterly humorless, un-involving. Look elsewhere, then, either for strong historical fiction or a coherent introduction to Polish history. But look to the bestseller lists nonetheless: the facts are piled high, the title is in the headlines, the byline is inescapable. Read full book review >
SPACE by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 12, 1982

America's space program, from WW II roots to the 1980s, is the subject of Michener's new mega-faction—so those readers who relished the dynasty/historical-romance aspects of his multi-century epics (Chesapeake, The Covenant, etc.) are likely to be disappointed by the smaller scope and quieter action here. Others, however, may appreciate the close-up focus—the same handful of central characters for 640 pp.—or the relatively in-depth treatment of the science/issues involved. And those put off by Tom Wolfe's jivey, semi-hostile approach in The Right Stuff will certainly prefer Michener's more positive (though not uncritical) view of the astronaut program. In 1944 US engineer Stanley Mott is the man responsible for locating and secretly rescuing Germany's top rocket scientists: the real-life von Braun (a background figure here) as well as the fictional Dieter Kolff, who manages to sneak out of Germany with formulas for long-range rocketry. So Mott, with wife Rachel, oversees the research program once the Germans are resettled in Alabama. And, meanwhile, we also meet future astronaut John Pope, a brainy, "straight arrow" Navy test pilot (with raunchy Korea buddy, Marine Randy Claggett) whose lawyer-wife Penny is a vital aide to stolid Sen. Norman Grant, a WW II hero on the Senate's space committee. In the early '50s, however, Mott is removed from the program (he switches to the embryonic NASA, studies celestial mechanics and ablation); the three major military branches feud about space-program control; and Ike's Defense Secretary virtually calls off all rocketry plans. Then . . . Sputnik—and everything changes. Ike revises his tune. After debate, space-program control is given to NASA. Mott and Kolff violently argue about goals and methods. (Manned vs. unmanned flights? Flashy moon-shots vs. wide exploration? Earth-orbit rendezvous vs. lunar?) And John and Randy are in one of the first astronaut batches: their Gemini mission, with flight-walks, is detailed; career-woman Penny is harassed for not conforming to the chosen astronaut PR-style; the raunchy goings-on at Cocoa Beach are touched on (a beautiful muckraking Korean journalist sleeps around); and, on a fictional Apollo 18 mission to the moon's "dark side," Randy and another pilot die from sun radiation. In an apparent attempt to provide relief from the dense, unvaried material here, Michener supplies a few limp subplots—e.g., Mott's worry over his sons (one homosexual, one drug-dealer). And one subplot—the doings of a con-man UFO guru who switches to anti-Darwinism in the '80s—becomes increasingly important, with a wind-up debate on Faith vs. Science. Finally, however, this is Michener's customary education-in-an-epic package: less romantic/exotic than usual, typically stiff in dialogue and narration, inferior to many non-fiction sources of popularized astro-science—yet sure to draw a vast Big-Book readership. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1981

The American Dream is alive and well in Michener's USA—witness the "new optimism" in New England, the prevalence of "racial cooperation" in the Old South, the one-generation ascent of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Why, homeowners are even planting trees, now, in transient L.A.! This is the script for a forthcoming TV series, and nothing but: some spiel about each of the touchstone places Michener visits, plus some interviews with exemplary citizens. In the Northeast, he looks in on a youth-training program in a reclaimed Kenne-bunkport, Me., boatyard; quizzes Boston mayor Kevin White about the Faneuil Hall redevelopment (and, more pregnantly, the city's ethnicity/racism); draws out Columbia, Md., developer James Rouse on the merits of planned communities. In the South, he corrals Atlanta luminaries Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young; the folks behind Savannah's restoration; a contented Miami Cuban emigre; Arkansas' progressive ex-governor Bill Clinton—with intermediate stops at Monticello, Cape Canaveral/Disney World, Cajun country, etc. And so it goes from sea to shining sea. Very few of the interviewees say anything memorable (New York Shakespeare Festival impresario Joe Papp is a rare exception) or even anything of substance (Iowa farmer Bill Judge is a standout here); most simply follow Michener's lead and plug local efforts. (He also, quite patently, feeds them lines.) On occasion, too, he's Michener-the-Writer—telling a Russian Jewish emigre student at Yale (after a mere two years in the US) that Soviet writers "enjoy a higher position than we do" and informing some Iowa undergrads that he wrote "large books like Hawaii and The Source as an antidote to some of the really dreadful television shows." Mostly canned constructiveness and blatant boosterism—but with the pictures here and on TV, it won't displease the multitudes who, understandably, want no truck with talk of "malaise. Read full book review >
THE COVENANT by James A. Michener
Released: Nov. 24, 1980

Is this 900-page South Africa saga much more spotty and ill-shaped than Chesapeake and Centennial—or does it just seem so because we can't automatically fill in the gaps of history ourselves this time? In any case, Michener is using his familiar approach here: tracing a region's history through a few families, with a not-always-congenial mix of soap opera, celebrity cameos, and textbook lessons. He begins with a glimpse of prehistoric Bushmen crossing the desert (going south) in search of water, but then he quickly introduces the first of his central dynasties: in the 1450s, black youth Nxumalo is inspired by white gold-traders, treks north to the rich city of Zimbabwe, and witnesses its tragic abandonment; 350 years (and 300 pages) later, his descendant plays Brutus to the Caesar of mad, mother-obsessed Zulu king Shaka (who unifies the tribes via constant bloody warfare); and in the 1970s, Prof. Daniel Nxumalo, non-violent black activist, will be tried for high treason. Overall, however, the varied non-whites—Hottentots, Xhosa, Zulu, Coloured—get relatively little space here, with the prime focus on the Europeans. The Dutch Van Doorns are the key clan, beginning when young Willem is among a group of castaways forced to settle on the Cape in the 1640s: he impregnantes a beloved Malay slave (the start of the "Coloured" population) but marries an imported Dutch bride and, after founding a top winemaking farm (with crucial help from a Huguenot refugee), proudly coins the term "Afrikaner"; his grandson becomes one of the "trekboers" who move east with herds, battling blacks for land; and when English rule comes in the early 1800s, this hinterlands branch of the fiercely Calvinistic Van Doorns will be at the center of Boer resistance-taking part in the Great Trek north to escape Anglo laws, suffering Zulu massacre, reaffirming their supposed land "covenant" with God in the 1838 Battle of Blood River, rebelling against English language and regulation with full-scale (or guerrilla) war, dying in Kitchener's concentration camps, supporting Germany in both world wars, but finally establishing Afrikaner control through slow acquisition of administrative positions. (In the 1950s Detleef Van Doom, seemingly singlehanded, institutes detailed apartheid.) And the English are represented by the Saltwoods: 1820s missionary Hilary incurs Boer wrath by opposing slavery and wedding rescued slave Emma ("his marvelous little assistant with the laughing eyes"); knighted brother Richard organizes relief for starving Xhosa; Richard's grandson Frank is one of Cecil Rhodes' "young men" (soon disillusioned) and performs ugly Boer War duties before standing up to Kitchener; and the 1970s Saltwoods will defend civil rights while a distant American relation digs for diamonds, befriends Prof. Nxumalo, and loves a Van Doorn. A wealth of fascinating material—and Michener does his best to balance Boer intransigence (with its religious base) against imperious English mistakes, to find shreds of decency among patterns of cruelty and obtuseness. But, despite a chapter devoted to apartheid horrors (So. Africa has banned the book), the non-white side of things never becomes humanly specific. And one somehow ends this huge volume with little feel for historical continuity or for the physical setting (a surprising lapse from Michener). . . and none at all for contemporary South Africa. (You'll get far more real sense of the people and place in fiction by Nadine Gordimer or James McClure.) Still, despite these flaws and the more usual ones—B-movie dialogue, preachy digressions, corny coincidences. clichÉs and stereotypes galore—Michener's flocks of fans will certainly get the bulk and variety and epic events they expect; and, when all is said and done, how many surefire bestsellers are as clean-hearted, well-meaning, and undeniably educational as a Michener mammoth? Easy to put down, then (in both senses of the word), but worthy and welcome. Read full book review >
CHESAPEAKE by James A. Michener
Released: July 24, 1978

Without the frame or the focus that loosely held Centennial together, this massive but arbitrarily fragmented East-Coast community history—a Maryland island, 1583-1978—is almost devoid of traditional novelistic pleasure. The hundred or so characters are firmly presented as types (e.g., "Bartley Paxmore, at thirty-one, was the new-style Quaker"), most of them members of three representative families: the Catholic, landowning, upper-class progeny of Edmund Steed, who explored the Chesapeake with John Smith in 1608; the dumb but spirited lower-class progeny of Timothy Turlock, who came to Maryland as an indentured servant; and the steady, middle-class, shipbuilding progeny of Quaker Edmund Paxmore, who was dumped in Maryland in 1661 after extensive Massachusetts whippings. Over the years, these clans must deal with pirates, storms, incest, sexism (yes, many of the women here are unlikely feminists), bastards born of philandering, the Revolution (all three broods eventually join in, even the royalist Steeds), and—about half the book—the slavery question. The Turlocks are slimy slave traders, the Steeds are gentle slave owners, the Paxmores are fierce abolitionists, and—in a rather shameless lift from Roots—the Caters are slaves who are seen under the whip and under the covers, in Mandingo-style triangles ("You want to stay longer, honey?"). On to the Civil War (eight pages), the oyster-dredging business, and the 20th Century—which is reduced to three bizarrely selective vignettes: a Paxmore rescuing 40,000 Jews from Hitler, the desegregation struggle, and. . . Watergate, with another Paxmore committing suicide over his White House involvement. As fiction, then—shallow and sketchy throughout, with no theme (except "It's gone. It's all gone") to link or enrich the melodramatic episodes. Nor does all of Michener's digested research produce painless fact feasts: much reads like a junior-high text ("Three reasons accounted for this"); the guest appearances by such as Henry Clay and Geo. Washington ("Your deal, General") seem silly; and the dialectic debates on religion and slavery are dull. But on such matters as shipbuilding, oystering, duck-hunting, Jimmy the blue crab ("that delicious crustacean"), and Onk-or the goose, Michener is a grand popularizer of craft and science. That considerable gift, together with the immense Michener clout, is sure to send millions of readers plunging into what seems like a million blandly readable pages of humdrum history and formula fiction. Read full book review >
SPORTS IN AMERICA by James A. Michener
Released: June 29, 1976

Michener's encyclopedic overview of today's sports scene is prompted by his gratitude for the lifelong enjoyment he's derived from competitive games and by the pained recognition that sports have changed—for the worse. The wholesome luster is gone: big money wars, cynical franchise peddling, the growing awareness of the unequal status of women, the "flesh market" in athletes lured by promises of beefy scholarships, the exposes of Little. League horrors—all have altered the popular image of athletics. None of this will be news to the informed fan. But Michener writes for those who remember the unsullied joys of sandlot baseball and dedicated coaches. He scores with a chapter on the exploitation of black athletes "bought" by business tycoons, used up and discarded when their legs or pitching arms give way. They are property—America's "gladiators." Consider the disgraceful story of Artemius Crandall, quasi-literate, a stranger to multiplication tables; 87 colleges "bid" for him offering millions in football scholarships. Or the outrage of importing 14 black players into all-white Laramie, Wyoming. Michener has combed the sports press and mined the fiction of Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, Philip Roth, and Jason Miller (That Championship Season) to press home the point that today's superstars are tomorrow's big losers. The sedentary prose misses the grace, drive, and glamour of athletic meets but Michener, earnest and reform-minded, is sincerely sorry that the honest competition of times past has become a money-grubbing jungle. Read full book review >
CENTENNIAL by James A. Michener
Released: Sept. 18, 1974

Highly respected scholar-historian Dr. Lewis Vernor is hired by US to re-research a story on Centennial, Colorado. The big thoughtpiece has already been written by the staff, but the magazine wants to add Dr. Vernor's special feel for the past. Vernor's a likable, no nonsense writer, but his research suddenly carries him off as if he'd fallen into a time machine. This small spot of American earth (pop. 2618), on the useless, disgusting, "nothing" South Platte river, is studied from its beginnings as liquid rock, through the hardening of the earth's crust, the 130,000,000 years of the great Saurians, early man, first animal migrations over the vast land bridge to Asia, the coming of ground hogs and beavers and rattlesnakes—this takes over a hundred pages and for the most part is made surprisingly interesting. Much, much later Indians arrive; much, much, much later the first trappers, traders, mountain men. Then the settlers, cavalry, massacres, cowboys, hunters, range wars of the cattlemen versus the sheep herders. Nearing modern times, Centennial becomes a beet-processing town where cattle are fattened on beet pulp and sent straight to market. Through all this the South Platte is sheer mud or raging flood, the weather hits a smelting 109° or -30° below, and at last both the cattle and beet industries fade away so that Centennial's only a November elegy on a Chicano's sad guitar. An amazing amount of history, effortlessly digestible, the source of The Source's great attraction for many of those home historians, since Michener, with his seven league clodhoppers, does cover a lot of ground. Read full book review >
A MICHENER MISCELLANY, 1950-1970 by James A. Michener
Released: April 18, 1973

To stomach James Michener you've got to have a brain made of cast-iron kitsch. These 25 "essays" — all published during the last twenty years in The Reader's Digest, most in shortened form — include such sappy little items as "This I Believe" (all men are brothers), "The Christmas Present" (carbon paper — the best gifts cost almost nothing?), "The Weapons We Need to Fight Pornography" (Michener "loathes" censorship but would censor "unfettered squalor" — some logic), "Don't Knock the Rock" (a square gets half-hip), and some longer pieces on various places like Malaya, Afghanistan, and naturally Hawaii, all of which use the same geosociopoliticohistorical clutter approach found in the big Michener novels. Actually these are "compositions" — "Why I Collect Art"; "My First Article" — and although they have received good marks at Pleasantville, we say D-. Read full book review >
KENT STATE by James A. Michener
Released: April 30, 1971

Michener and staff have produced a collage, now appearing in the Reader's Digest, of graphic second-hand accounts, reconstructions of student life and town sentiment, interpretations and misinterpretations of the Kent State events of May 1970. About the shooting itself, the book says the Guard was not surrounded; no order to shoot was given; there is no evidence of a sniper and much evidence that the Guards were not all afraid for their lives. It was, however, "not murder," but "a tragic accident": a "riotous condition," if not a real riot, prevailed, and Michener insists that hard-core revolutionaries were out to force a confrontation, as if their intent proves their responsibility. This claim is backed up chiefly by testimony that people with NLF flags were standing on the sidelines and yelling revenge slogans afterward. Coeds' profanity, which receives countless repetitive references, assumes the proportions of a second major cause; Cambodia itself and the national pattern of uprisings are given infinitely less weight. On the one and foremost hand, Michener stresses campus visits by SDS leaders over the years, and at psychologically key points he interpolates nonsense about Cuban funding of SDS (his most highly praised source is Eugene Methvin, ultraconservative author of The Riot Makers) and about radical plans to make Kent a regional focus of their efforts. In other spots he acknowledges that the campus "straights" were passionately anti-war and anti-draft, that many moderates were glad to see the ROTC building burn, and that "disorders" were "much, much worse" on other Ohio campuses. There are long pontifications about how the "new life style" touches the most apolitical students, along with an equation between life-style and "Marxist-based" worldwide student revolt. In his descriptions of the teaching assistants, so inflammatory as to invite further witch-hunts, as in his imputation of uncanny powers to the activists, Michener is making mischief; but especially in the epilogue he covers himself with a plea to spare peaceable radicals and junior faculty for the sake of free-flowing ideas. As a work of interpretive journalism, it is far less scrupulous than I. F. Stone's Killings At Kent State (1970). Read full book review >
QUALITY OF LIFE by James A. Michener
Released: Sept. 21, 1970

Mr. Michener is modest about his ability to turn out this kind of book, which is a series of reflections on "where we are and where we are likely to go" as we approach the American bicentennial. And with good reason. For what he has produced is a banal restatement of the problems confronting America: urban congestion; racial tension; educational crises; proper use of communications media; environmental erosion: and over-population. And to these he proposes solutions redolent of the editorial pages of every, maior publication in the country for the past year: we must get out of Vietnam; we must evolve a new spiritual agreement; we must distribute the benefits of our society more equitably; we must re-establish and maintain control. And all this in sixteen thousand words, each one of which is uttered with the solemnity of a pope pontificating on a matter of faith. Whatever happened, one wonders, to the storytelling enterprise that fired Tales of the South Pacific? To the sense of historical continuity that produced Iberia? Whatever happened, in fact, to editors who had the courage to say "no" even to best-selling authors? Read full book review >
Released: April 12, 1968

Michener contributes a gigantic guidebook and, via some 500 pages in relatively small print, has seen and reviewed Spain. The book is a staggering paiella of information culled from history, conversations, literature and Michener's stays there for over thirty years. There is no plan, no itinerary per se, just wanderings, retracings and musings. He moves through a cathedral, defines a few Spanish words, discusses Toledo ware. He recommends books and instructs the reader on how to make a gaspacho. He talks about the Inquisition, the Don Juan literature, the Civil War (he is glad now that he didn't join up since he realizes that the Communists took over the Republican side very early), the effect Swedish girls have had on sexual mores, Carlos V, flan, bullfighting (the one long and comprehensive section—Michener has observed about 251 bullfights), the change of seasons in a great swamp, Compostela. And many cities, many towns. There is even a long conversation with friends of Hemingway about Papa. There are times, though, when Michener's reportage is just too intrusive and cloying. And once again he is bland, and his opinions are ordinary. But he does give good information about Spain and hopefully there will be an index and perhaps the book could be shrunk to the size of a tourist's pocket. In any case, it will travel—and the Book-of-the-Month Club selection is just another assurance of its predictable popularity. Read full book review >
THE SOURCE by James A. Michener
Released: May 24, 1965

This endless diorama of gods, graves and a scholar begins at the archaeological site of an American, Cullinan, at Makor (in old Hebrew- The Source). Michener, whose globe-trotting (Hawaii, Afghanistan, etc.) makes him a sort of Lowell Thomas of the novel, extends his reach and his grasp this time to include not only the country of Israel, but 11,800 years of its history and religion in sequences relating to some artifact at the site (a flint, a phial, a Menorah, a coin, etc.). These intervals are also opened up by prefatory scenes in the present called "The Tell" which deal with Cullinan, who is at Makor on a five year dig, and Vered Bar-El, and Israeli expert in dating pottery, "a dark haired lovely Jewess from Bible times." (He falls in love with her; she will not go against her faith to marry a non-Jew.) However 95% of the book turns from the excavation to a reconstruction affording a synoptic view of Judaism, its religion, history and culture. The various periods are subdivided into "Levels" which proceed from cave to kibbutz; from Ur, the hunter, down through the centuries; from the earliest gods— the trinity of El Shaddai, Baal and Astarte— to one god, Yahweh, and all the ritual and the laws coincident with what was to prove as indestructible a faith as a people; from prehistory through the Old and New Testaments, into medieval Europe, past the Inquisition and finally down to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Jews' moral rights to Israel, that "meeting place of dynamisms." Michener's Source prompts many basic questions: will his assiduous spadework and unquestionable sympathy meet an equivalent fortitude in a reader who is expecting a novel, which this is not? is dubbed in dialogue for the greatest story ever told a replacement for the Good Book which certainly said it better? how much of this can be assimilated in what is essentially a digest documentary presentation? Someone carped that Caravans was an "eighth grade geography lesson" and if so, this should take you through your achievement tests in religion, history and archaeology..... June Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Read full book review >
Released: April 18, 1964

In August of 1968 Michener was asked to become a Presidential elector in his home state of Pennsylvania by the Democratic Chairman of his County. A loyal Democrat, he accepted. 'As the campaign wore on it became a real possibility that the election would prove inconclusive and that Wallace would be able to engineer a deal in the Electoral College whereby either Nixon or Humphrey would have been in his debt if the election were not to be sent to the House of Representatives. To prevent this, Michener and some other Democrats he knew were willing to vote Republican in the Electoral College. He relates this strategem to dramatize the utterly irrational processes of the Electoral College and the very real dangers he fears the country faces if the present system of electing the President is not abolished. He discusses the developments of the Electoral College and he analyzes the proposals set forth to change it. He is in favor of The Automatic Plan which is essentially what we have now minus the College though he would support, as a second choice, the direct popular vote. He thinks it is possible to accomplish the necessary changes before 1972 and his book is an urgent appeal to do so. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1961

How many people are interested now in a meticulous rehash of the late presidential campaign as reported at the county level? Don't be misled — a great many people will be interested. Democrats primarily, to be sure (though maybe some open-minded Republicans will want to see what makes them tick). Michener was first deeply involved in local politics in Hawaii. When he and his wife came back to live near Doylestown- his boyhood home- he found himself caught up in the local organization of the minority-Democratic party. Rucks County was overwhelmingly Republican. With Michener we relive the campaign- going back to the primaries —forward to the difficulties, with relatively little to call on in the way of man power and money, in organizing the campaign. It makes fascinating- surprisingly so- reading, in a cross sectioning of a rural county operation. Michener was working on a volunteer basis, learning how it was done as he went along. Some of the personalities are vividly and vigorously sketched — the workers, the volunteers, the hatchet men, the pros and in the final chapters, some of the key figures on the barnstorming tour. One sees some of the low levels of filth used in the religious attacks — one is aghast at the intolerance and gullibility of the general public. Some of the closely reasoned arguments the steps by which Michener — personally- became a dedicated Kennedy man — may even win some waverers at this late date. This is a new approach- after the event- to the kind of thinking we used as citizens. Read full book review >
HAWAII by James A. Michener
Released: Nov. 20, 1959

This is Michener's most ambitious book, but at times it almost falls of its own weight in the immense scope of time and place and people projected. For here is the story of Hawaii, told in terms of the peoples who made it- and the forces of nature which held it in thrall. While each of the major sections seems at first almost complete in itself, tracing the elements that together brought the islands to fulfillment, actually the people who wove the texture became themselves a major part of it. First- the story of the millions of years before man, as the volcanic islands rose from the sea, fell again, were rebuilt by the coral, by beds of lava, and slowly populated by vegetation, and life, and a passionate, courageous, adventurous people from the lovely Bora Bora. Then- the missionaries- a thousand years later- Calvinists with humorless intent to save these feckless natives from eternal damnation. The Hales, the Whipples, the Janderses, the Haxworths, the Hewlitts —who became the hierarchy. Some remained in the mission field, but many deserted it — disillusioned, embittered, wearied by the thanklessness of the impossible task of conversion. But they stayed on- as merchants, land owners, progenitors of the Five Families that for generations held the power- socially, politically, economically, though kings came and went, and a people disintegrated. New national groups came- the Chinese first as laborers, then as vital factors in the islands' economy; then the Japanese and the Filipinos. Little by little, through intermarriage, through education, through business endeavors, a new people were formed. The Hawaiians proved a mellow core; but it took a virtual social revolution, two wars, labor upsets, plague, disaster and intrigue at high level and low, to blend a strong people who could prove themselves Americans. It's an enormously interesting story of human beings — at many levels of struggle —and rewards the very considerable contribution the reader must bring to its reading. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1959

A prodigious collector of the Japanese woodblock, James Michener, popular author of Sayonara and other books on the Far East, offers the reader a panoramic view of the acomplishments of the ukiyo-e (pictures of the fleeting world) masters over a period of two centuries. Illustrated with 257 plates, many of which are in color, this book reveals the meticulous artistry, the fluency of line, the force and the ingenious use of color with which the artists, on a flat surface, depicted the life of the Samurai, the pleasure houses, the Kabuki. To a great extent, mere exposure to this lavish display of prints should initiate enthusiasm in the reader. James Michener, who writes with the zeal of a veteran collector, with the clarity of a popular author, adds a further inducement by lucidly and knowledgeably reviewing his preferences. For the devotee of this medium his collection offers, at the least, a visual feast. For the novice, the text, the scholarly notes by Richard Lane, and the abundance of plates provide a stimulating introduction to a veritable treasure house of oriental artistry. Luxuriously bound, an ideal gift selection. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1958

In 1814, when the great Japanese artist Hokusai ("The Old Man Mad About Drawing" as he called himself) was fifty-four, there appeared the first volume of his miscellaneous sketches and drawings called Manga. From then until his death at eighty-nine and for many years afterwards more volumes appeared, fifteen in all, comprising thousands of sketches of various sizes to upon almost every aspect of Japanese daily life, history, and landscape. Mr. Mi has selected 197 plates which are here reproduced full-size with an attempt, quite successful, to convey the original color and give the feel of the original binding. He provides an enthusiastic introduction. The facts he gives are valuable, but his appreciations of the plates, like his earlier book on Ukiyoe art, will misguide the unwary. The fact that the Manga, a minor work by a master of the second rank (so his contemporaries thought) can inspire such heady enthusiasm in a Western connoisseur, with bold comparisons to Rembrandt and da Vinci, is another testimony to the compelling power of the Ukiyoe print. This is a nice book to pore over at leisure. Read full book review >
BRIDGE AT ANDAU by James A. Michener
Released: March 1, 1957

A superb reporter gives his readers — in human terms- the story of the Hungarian revolution, as he learned through the refugees he helped to safety across the bridge at Andau — a bridge "across whose unsteady planks fled the soul of a nation". Here he- and the world- discovered the bankruptcy of communism. These were no riffraff who escaped; they were the finest flower of a nation. Austria has estimated that about 200 thousand refugees escaped, some of them active participants in the revolution (and these are the stories he has told so graphically and movingly); most of them lovers of freedom who could no longer stomach what communism meant. He sees in this poignant refutation of communism Russia's greatest defeat — and a psychological shock to the rest of the world, particularly America, whose role has not been an enviable one.... What Michener, who was on the spot, learned he has shared through the stories rebuilt from interviews, carefully checked and counterchecked, changed and pyramided to insure safety to those he interviewed and their families still in Hungary. Each story gives one facet:- student, soldier, worker, young couples, ex-Communist disillusioned with what he had been taught, and so on. The bitter, courageous days come back to living reality — and their lesson should prepare us for the future. Read full book review >
RASCALS IN PARADISE by James A. Michener
Released: June 1, 1956

Ten adventurers whose stage was the Pacific, and who played their parts over four hundred years (1595 to 1953) have been chosen by the authors as examples of men (and one woman) whose choice for a way of escape lay in the Pacific. Sometimes greed was behind their choice; sometimes a lust for power; sometimes the lure of the unknown, of adventure, of remoteness. There are pirates and buccaneers among them, explorers, a writer, an artist, a politician, a whaleman obsessed with the idea of mutiny. They are Spanish, Chinese, French, English, Americans. They range from off the China coast to Peru, through the islands better known to us since the war than ever before (the Hawaiian Islands, the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti, the Solomons, Formosa, etc.) Most of the names are unknown to the average American reader- only Captain Bligh is a familiar figure- and he is drawn in quite different colors. Here is a book for very special tastes, but —combining as it does, research and scholarship (A. Grove Day was a professor at the University of Hawaii) with a gift for spinning a yarn and depicting character (Michener, journalist and novelist, needs no introduction)- those tastes will have a far reach. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 7, 1954

This bids fair to be an exciting gift book for a highly specialized market- and an important addition to the art reference shelves of large public libraries. Unfortunately, only the text is available, a substantial text in which Michener conveys his own sense of the rich intellectual experience this study gave him, and the joy and fun of growing understanding of Japanese prints. There will be 20 reproductions in black and white, 40 in full color. The text is more than descriptive captions. It recaptures the backgrounds and influences of 200 years- 1660-1860- that encompassed the life and death of an art, singularly close in spirit to the modern mind. With the world's finest collections housed in Boston, Chicago and New York, this should stimulate interest. Read full book review >
THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI by James A. Michener
Released: July 9, 1953

The complex operations of a task force in February Korean waters range from sea to land and air as the vulnerable but elusive bridges of Toko-Ri, over which pass Communist supplies for the central and eastern fronts and which are guarded by concentrated mountains, narrow passes and gun emplacements, are the targets for destruction. Admiral Tarrant is the genius of the combat command of Task Force 77; Beer Barrel is the miracle man who brings the planes and jets aboard the carrier Savo; Mike Forney and Nestor Gamidge are the 'copter boys who rescue the ditched pilots; Harry Brubaker is the jet pilot, recalled from civilian life, who is bitterly resentful of the part he must play. Rescued by Forney and Gamidge, he has a short reunion with his wife and children on liberty where Tarrant tries to pass on some of his philosophy of voluntary man, the unfair weight of war, resolute spirits and a sense of human life beyond personal feelings. Brubaker saves Forney and Gamidge when they pull the town apart and, returned for a successful photographing of the bridges, he is offered a chance by Tarrant to beg off. On his next flight he is shot down and the 'copter boys die with him as the Communists close in. The interlocking of timing, men and machines, the stupendous quality of jet flight and warfare, the human element — in emergency, danger and personal lives — are here in a sharp, short, telling tribute. Full Life production and big guns from the publisher may make this happy-talk for the bookseller. Read full book review >
SAYONARA by James A. Michener
Released: Jan. 25, 1953

Along the "Butterfly" theme is this story of the incorruptible young officer, Major Lloyd Gruver, West Point '44 and Korean war ace, whose smug belief that he will follow the career laid out by his Father is taken to pieces and put together again by , number one girl of a Takarazuka troup, who gives him the love and tenderness that makes him a whole man. General Webster's high rank brings Lloyd to Kobe to marry his daughter, Eileen, as well as to rest. And the little cracks come when Lloyd is best man for Joe Kelly's marriage to Katsumi in the face of strict penalties, when Mrs. Webster forces the general to harsher and harsher non-fraternization orders, when Eileen recognizes Lloyd's dedication to the military life, so that Hana-ogi's beauty, inaccessibility, and bare politeness spur him to pursuit. Her capitulation, her enormous devotion and the emollient quality of Japanese domestic life and love give enchanted evenings and an enhanced understanding of her land and people. Joe and his Katsumi suicide when Joe is recalled and Katsumi is to be left behind; and Hana-ogi walks out, also under orders, from the theater, when communist-inspired rioting against Americans adds to their troubles. Lloyd is left with Eileen, proud and very aware of Lloyd's new-found courage, and his father's respect. A lashing out at officialdom and its adamant and antagonizing regulations; a romance of a "small house of great love"; the allure and seduction of Japan and its women — this for a far more feminine (but maybe it too could be antagonized?) audience than The Bridges of Toko-Ri, which might be more practical in its understanding and tolerance. Read full book review >
THE VOICE OF ASIA by James A. Michener
Released: Oct. 29, 1951

While some of this material appeared in the Herald Tribune and in Life, the presentation here is so integrated, so focussed to the central theme, that one feels only a sense of use of the same sources, methods of interviewing, and coverage. It is an exciting and a courageous book- an important book for anyone who is concerned (and aren't we all?) with the pattern of what Robert Payne calls "Red Storm Over Asia" in his book of that title (see P. 83 for report). It is a heartening book, too, for it disabuses the reader of some illusions, catch phrases, assumptions about Asia and Asiatics, and leaves a sense of intelligence at work, of aspirations, faith, integrity, determination. Michener has covered all major trouble areas, with the exception of China, and in most of the places visited, he talked- and listened- to people, not to officials, not to voices of authority, but largely to the natives who feel that the future is in their hands. The white man is through. For the time being. What we do before pulling out determines when and how we can come back. The enmity towards the white man is much of it our own fault. Michener does not feel that it is so deeply integrated that it can permanently offset the earlier contributions we had made. England has proved that in the way she withdrew from India, in the way she is handling her one remaining bit of colonial empire, Malaya, and in the crown colony of Hongkong; France and the Netherlands quite the reverse. Korea has perhaps not saved but postponed the swalowing up of southeast Asia- and though the devastation is being counted against us today, the basic principle is not wholly ignored. In variety of viewpoints, in coordination and commentary and summation, Michener shares a rich and challenging experience, and makes of each episode a gem of narration and characterization. Creative journalism, which goes to the heart of the matter. Read full book review >
RETURN TO PARADISE by James A. Michener
Released: April 23, 1951

Michener can write and he has a flair for selection of material that fits his pen. Book-of-the-Month Selection for May plus his established popularity insures a tremendous start. The quality of the writing will do the rest. Read full book review >
THE FIRES OF SPRING by James A. Michener
Released: Jan. 1, 1949

The Pulitzer Prize winner- with his memorable Tales of the South Pacific — is not an author to be passed over lightly. Nor does his new book belie his claim to a rare gift of yarn spinning and writing vigorous, unhackneyed prose. But- and it is a big but- the enthusiasts of the earlier book will find little that captures that appeal in this new book. He has done, what so many young authors seem to need to do, analyzed the painful growing pains of adolescence almost ad nauseam. To be sure, Michener is a gifted story teller, and his new book has the pace and drama only too often absent. But basically, it is a long-spun story of youth growing up. David Harper has a unique background. He was brought up in a Poor Farm, where his aunt, who grudgingly supported him, held a job, and pinched pennies for her own future security. David had no self-consciousness or shame about his domestic background. In fact, he loved the old men whose idol he was; for them, he lived the potential futures they had missed. And for most readers this will be the memorable part of the book. One is taken into the life stream of the poorhouse- and, extraordinarily enough, Michener has succeeded in doing this without descending to maudlin sentimentality. Then David gets another chance, a step up, which leads to a second escape, and the lure of the stage, although only the itinerant stage of the Chautauqua. He's had two summers schooling in the hard school of an amusement park, where it is assumed that the operators will make their lagniappe on the side, by some crookedness or other. Then he has a glimpse of a cleaner, straighter world, before he is caught in the abortive passion of his thwarted love for Mona, and the intricacies of the Chautauqua life. Schooling- college- an urge to make his own road to literary success- provide a thread of purpose through the often sordid by-paths of his summer money-making ventures, and his explorations into sultry passion. There are unpalatable bits- and others in clearcut drama that balance them off. But the book seems overlong in its exploration of the intricacies of adolescence and growing up, a singularly devious route to maturity. A book to assess for a particular market, rather than to accept on the author's earlier achievement. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 28, 1946

Strictly popular story telling, good stuff for men, this is well handled material on the ways and means by which a war was fought, and the men who fought, not always with guns, and the carefree moments that broke the tension and monotony. These stories from the critical days of early war to the advance against the Japs, in the Pacific, have an authentic feeling of place and character, a real effect of the emotional atmosphere of that time. Certain characters appear in more than one tale, and the teller is a "paper work sailor" who knew and saw the results of sitting it out on the rock, who felt the American quality of men in every service branch, as they celebrated in victory or grew more determined in defeat. There's romance, for a nurse, for a happy-go-lucky flier; there's mysterious aid from the jungles that suddenly disappears; the milk run and its cost; Bloody Mary, a Tokinese, and her defiance of military and civilian government, her ambition to find an American husband for her daughter; a doctor's desire to express his love for his wife; a Christmas that was successful in spite of disastrous threats; the building of an air strip; a marriage with a half Javanese girl; the payoff of an officious officer at a Naval Supply Depot; a big strike and the payment it demands.... Don't well as war stuff, in the ordinary sense, but as stories rooted in the experiences of the last few years. Read full book review >