Wordtrade.com LogoWordtrade.com/ American History


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Tramp in America by Tim Cresswell (Reaktion) provides the first account of the invention of the tramp as a social type in the United States from the i 870s through the 193os. Tim Cresswell considers the ways in which the figure of the tramp was imagined and described and how, by the Second World War, it was being reclassified, renamed and rendered invisible. He describes the `tramp scare' of the late nineteenth century in terms of the major factors that influenced the tramp's existence: the political and economic climate, the technology of the railroad and the after-effects of the Civil War. He then explores various stereotypes associated with tramps - for example, the assumption that they were invariably male and therefore a threat to women in domestic environments. Another stereotype prevalent in medical discourse saw tramps as untrustworthy, diseased and of unsound heredity, thus suggesting reasons for their exclusion from democratic processes. Cresswell also examines tramps as comic figures and looks at the work of a number of prominent American photographers, among them Dorothea Lange, which signaled a sympathetic portrayal of this often-despised group. Perhaps most significantly, Tramp in America calls into question the common assumption that mobility played a central role in the production of American identity.

Birth of the Cool
: Beat, Bebop, and the American Avant-Garde by Lewis MacAdams (Free Press) Miles Davis and Juliette Greco, Jackson Pollock and Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan and William Burroughs. What do all these people have in common? Fame, of course, and undeniable talent. But most of all, they were cool.

Birth of the Cool is a stunningly illustrated, brilliantly written cultural history of the American avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s -- the decades in which cool was born. From intimate interviews with cool icons like poet Allen Ginsberg, bop saxophonist Jackie McLean, and Living Theatre cofounder Judith Malina, award-winning journalist and poet Lewis MacAdams extracts the essence of cool. Taking us inside the most influential and experimental art movements of the twentieth century -- from the Harlem jazz joints where Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker invented bebop to the back room at Max's Kansas City when Andy Warhol was holding court to backstage at the Newport Folk Festival the night Bob Dylan went electric, from Surrealism to the Black Mountain School to Zen -- MacAdams traces the evolution of cool from the very fringes of society to the mainstream.

Born of World War II, raised on atomic-age paranoia, cast out of the culture by the realities of racism and the insanity of the Cold War, cool is now, perversely, as conventional as you can get. Allen Ginsberg suited up for Gap ads. Volvo appropriated a phrase from Jack Kerouac's On the Road for its TV commercials. How one became the other is a terrific story, and it is presented here in a gorgeous package, rich with the coolest photographs of the black-and-white era from Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and many others.

Drawing a direct line between Lester Young wearing his pork-pie hat and his crepe-sole shoes staring out his hotel window at Birdland to the author's three-year-old daughter saying "cool" while watching a Scooby-Doo cartoon at the cusp of a new millennium, Birth of the Cool is a cool book about a hot subject...maybe even the coolest book ever.

Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts by Elizabeth Wilson (Rutgers) A British professor of cultural studies weaves a heavily footnoted but clearly developed history of the idea and culture of the bohemian. Lord Byron was perhaps the first to embody the myths of art becoming life, of transgressive sexuality, and of opposition to bourgeois mentality. Wilson moves easily from London to Paris to New York's Greenwich Village and the Weimar Republic, from the nineteenth century to the 1960s, as she tells mesmerizing stories of Augustus John and Baudelaire, of Jackson Pollock and Neal Cassady, of Kiki and Caitlin Thomas. She illuminates the paradoxes inherent in the bohemian ideal, such as the view of drink as both enhancing the creative process and dulling the oversharp senses. She traces with particular skill the place of women, who almost universally end up in the role of support and mop-up. She even traces the "been there, done that" phrase to the early nineteenth-century Parisians, whose habitual response was a blasé "Seen it!" Bohemian themes of dress, eroticism, and excess are thoroughly explored. Fascinating.

 Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years by Diane di Prima (Viking) In a man's world, this woman reigned supreme. Diane di Prima is perhaps the most important and most recognizable woman to come out of the Beat Generation of writers that emerged on the East and West coasts in the late 1950s. In  Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Yearsdi Prima uses the first three decades of her extraordinary life as a lens to explore her internal development and how she came to define herself as a woman.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 193os and 40s wasn't easy. For di Prima, growing up in a strict and conservative Italian American family was even harder. Told never to expect too much in her life because she was a woman and because she was Italian, di Prima's early years were filled with turmoil as she struggled to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. Feeling caught in a lie, she dropped out of college against her parent's wishes`in 1953 and moved to New York

What she found there was a cauldron of creativity, where poetry, painting, dance and theatre flowed into one another. Well‑known figures from all those worlds‑including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Merce Cunningham, Frank O'Hara, Martin Landau and many more‑were a part of the burgeoning Bohemian counterculture. The period up to 1965 (when the book ends) was one of chaos and frenzied work, as di Prima raised her children, founded The Floating Bear, The Poet's Press and the New York Poet's Theatre, and made several exploratory visits to California (where she eventually settled). Not bad for a Brooklyn kid who was told not to expect too much.

More than anything else, though,  Recollections of My Life as a Woman is the story of a young woman's search for her own human center in a world that was not yet ready to understand her. From the choices she made‑being a single parent at a time when that was unheard of‑to her relationships and her sexuality, Diane di Prima was as revolutionary as her writing.

 Recollections of My Life as a Woman is a moving and gritty account of a tough and independent woman coming of age sensually and artistically, and is destined to become a classic woman's memoir. Fans of di Prima, as well as those who are not familiar with her, will relish this fascinating narrative about the courage and triumph of the imagination, and about the struggles of a single mother to balance family, work and art.


My earliest sense of what it means to be a woman was learned from my grandmother, Antoinette Mallozzi, and at her knee. It was a house of dark and mellow light, almost as if there were fire and kerosene lamps, but to my recollection there was electric light, the same as everywhere else. It is just that the rooms were so very dark, light filtering as it did through paper shades and lace curtains, and falling then on dark heavy furniture (mahogany and walnut) and onto floors and surfaces yellowed with many layers of wax, layers of lemon oil. The light fell as if on old oil paintings, those glazes, that veneer. Sepia portraits: Dante, Emma Goldman. There was a subtle air of mystery. The light fell on my grandmother's hands as she sat rocking, saying her rosary. She smelled of lemons and olive oil, garlic and waxes and mysterious herbs. I loved to touch her skin.

There was this mystery: she sat, saying her beads, but the beads and her hand never completely left her apron pocket. My grandfather was an atheist, and if she heard his step on the stair she would slip the beads out of sight and take up some work. They had lived thus for forty years, and the mystery was how much they loved each other. To`my child's senses, already sharpened to conflict, there was no conflict in that house. He was an atheist, she a devout Catholic, and for all intents and purposes they were one. It would never do to argue with him about God, and so when he came into the room she slipped the beads away.

As for him, he never seemed to inquire. Though those clear blue eyes saw everywhere. The I Ching has the phrase: "He let many things pass without being duped".

My grandmother's Catholicism was of the distinctive Mediterranean variety: tolerant and full of humor. When I was a little older, I would frequently hear her remark, at some tale of transgression, sins of the flesh reported by a neighbor in hushed Neapolitan-"Eh"! (an exclamation whose inflection communicated humor and seriousness, and a peculiar, almost French, irony)-"Eh"! my grandmother would say, "The Virgin Mary is a woman, she'll explain it to God".

This response to the vagaries of human existence, the weakness of the flesh, especially female flesh, gave me pause for thought. It indicated on the one hand, that the Virgin Mary knew much better than God the ins and outs so to speak of human nature, what we were up to, and that she had a tolerance and intelligence and humor that was perhaps missing from the male godhead.

It was at my grandmother's side, in that scrubbed and waxed apartment, that I received my first communications about the specialness and the relative uselessness of men, in this case my grandfather. There was no doubt that he was the excitement of our days, the fire and light of our lives, and that one of his most endearing qualities was that we had no idea what he was going to do next. But it was the women, and there were many of them, who attended on all the practical aspects of life. In the view that Antoinette Mallozzi transmitted, there was nothing wrong or strange about this. We women had the babies, after all, and it was enormously more interesting to us than to any man to know that there would be food on the table.

Not that I wish in any way to denigrate my grandfather: he worked enormously hard for his family-but he would at any time throw everything over for an ideal. There were many stories of his`quitting an otherwise okay job to protest some injustice to a`fellow worker. At which point he would arrive home with the fellow worker and his entire family, at the very least for dinner. Often they stayed for weeks. My grandmother would set the table for that many more, and if a solution was not rapidly forthcoming she and the six girls would take in crochet beadwork to keep cash coming in until my grandfather found another, less unjust employer.

Now, this sort of thing was not still going on when I was little-by then my grandfather was no longer working for others as a custom tailor-but the stories and the memory of it were in the air. My grandfather was regarded somewhat as the family treasure: a powerful and erratic kind of lightning generator, a kind of Tesla experiment, we for some reason kept in the house.

It was clear to me that he was as`good as it got. My father, a sullen man with a smoldering temper, was easily as demanding as Grandpa, but did not bring these endearing qualities of excitement and idealism, this demand for something more than we already had or knew, into our lives.`It was like tending a furnace in which the fire had gone out.

Antoinette was always busy, but there was a way in which she communicated the basic all-rightness of things. I loved to watch her hands. As I think about it now, I realize that as a little person I was not separated from the old: the sight and feel of soft, dry wrinkled skin was associated with the sight and feel of love. Of those who had the time to listen, to tell a story. I learned to love the smells and feel of old flesh-I loved to put my round child's cheek up against her wrinkled one.

Her hands always smelled of garlic and onions, beeswax and lemons and a thousand herbs. There was that sense of cleanness and the good smells of the world. A sense of the things that went on. In the turbulent 1930s into which I was born, my grandmother taught me that the things of woman go on: that they are the very basis and ground of human life. Babies are born and raised, the food is cooked. The world is cleaned and mended and kept in order. Kept sane. That one could live with dignity and joy even in poverty. That even tragedy and shock and loss require this basis of loving attendance.

Headline 3

insert content here