Centering on literary London and on events and ideas relevant mostly to writers, this history is too narrowly conceived to be, as the subtitle says, ``cultural.'' But as a literary historian, Beckson (English/Brooklyn College) excels in colorful and detailed narration. Beckson focuses on the major events of the fin de siäcle, starting with the many societies for reforming literature, politics, and society, and ending with a chapter on the decline of imperialism as expressed in the adventure novels of Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, and the ``invasion'' literature of which H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds is an example. He traces the origin of the idea of decadence to the French, and discusses its dissemination in England by the Pre- Raphaelites and the reaction against it during the 1890's—when it supposedly reached its peak. Beckson devotes chapters to the New Woman; prostitutes in the music halls; the quest for a poet laureate; the new drama of Shaw and Ibsen; the Rhymer's Club (made up of great men and minor poets); the trials of Oscar Wilde and Captain Dreyfus; the founding of little magazines as a protest against commercial publishing; and the significance of Whistler, Wagner, occultism, and the Uranians, a kind of elitist homosexual subculture. By enlarging the literary context, Beckson undermines if not disproves many of the clichÇs associated with the last decade of the 19th century, the artificial syntheses other literary historians created out of the chaos of an expanding and diversifying society. But like other men of letters, he leaves out of what he calls a ``cultural'' history that vast range of human beings to whom the literary life is irrelevant. (Photographs—not seen.)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)