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An elegant encyclopedic treatise on anxiety and its various manifestations, down through the ages. Tuan, professor of geography at the Univ. of Minnesota, is an interdisciplinary virtuoso, ranging effortlessly over history, psychology, and anthropology. He discusses fear of fire in 1st-century Rome and colonial Boston: ghosts in Yorkshire and Madagascar; how the Kenyans and the Balinese frighten their children; drought in China and West Bengal; leprosy and public executions in medieval Europe; horror of death among !Kung Bushmen and the Navaho; centuries of urban violence in London and Paris; terror-stricken humans all over the world fleeing from or grimly enduring poverty, starvation, disease; and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. And all this in vivid, graceful prose that binds disparate strands of data into clear, coherent patterns. Still, where is this remarkable survey taking us? Tuan has no striking interpretive vision, no ""deep structures"" to organize his material with. All he can offer is his own rational stoicism in the face of the traumatic uncertainties of life, past and present: ""We know the rewards of seeing clearly and well. The cost is the possibility of despair."" This is fine, even noble perhaps, but it doesn't probe deeply enough into the reality of fear itself. Tuan shows us splendid aerial photographs of the landscapes of fear, but he might well have done some soil analysis too. On its own terms, however, an arresting and beautifully documented study.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1979
Publisher: Pantheon