A witty and erudite study of early American explorers and their sensibilities, by Greenblatt (English Lit./Univ. of Cal. at Berkeley; Sir Walter Raleigh, 1973). The capacity for simple wonder (and whether we have lost it) is the author's stated concern, but there is a strong subtheme here, reminiscent of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle—the inevitable corruption of observation by cultural predisposition: ``We can be certain only that European representations of the New World tell us something about...European representation.'' In looking closely at these explorers' perceptions of foreign lands, Greenblatt time and again tweaks us with wry precision: ``The authors...were liars—few of them steady liars, but frequent and cunning liars.'' Any generalization about a monolithic European sensibility is subjected to common-sense scrutiny. The Calvinist who compares his Roman Catholic expedition leader to local cannibals because ``he wanted to eat the flesh of Jesus Christ raw'' is clearly going to see things very differently from his boss. Readable throughout, Greenblatt never strays from the human basics: ``Marco Polo [is] constantly weighing the possibilities for trade...Columbus imagines he is acquiring for his Sovereigns an outlying corner of the Great Khan's empire, Mandeville acquires nothing.'' The narrative is rich with humanity. In particular, it is difficult to forget the diplomatic gifts of the Indian woman, known as Dona Marina to the Spaniards, who swiftly learns Spanish, transcends her cultural perspective, and becomes not just the translator between Montezuma and CortÇs but ``the figure in whom all communication between the opposing cultures was concentrated.'' Greenblatt's deft handling of intellectual baggage is a special gift, but his clear, quick, pungent re-creation of specific people and events in this context is remarkable. (Sixteen halftones—not seen.)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-226-30651-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1991


This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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