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In This Issue

February 2024
2min read

Michael S. Durham, author of “Mound Country,” recently wrote Guide to Ancient Native American Sites , which catalogues nearly 150 archeological locations (Globe Pequot Press, 260 pages). “The story didn’t come alive for me,” he writes, “until I was able to go and see for myself: to climb the mounds, hike through canyons to cliff dwellings and stand on ledges gazing at images chipped into the rock face by prehistoric artists.” The book maps the sites state by state and provides useful phone numbers and contacts. For another good guide to mound country, try Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Adena and Ohio Hopewell Sites by Susan L. Woodward and Jerry N. McDonald (McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 130 pages). At one time, the authors tell us, eastern North America may have held as many as several hundred thousand mounds and earthworks in various levels of concentration and complexity; only in the last two centuries did most of them give way to modern civilization. This book features forty-one sites, with maps, travelers’ information, and photographs of once-buried treasures.

The Lincoln Highway, subject of Philip Langdon’s affectionate essay, is covered in greater historical detail in The Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America , by Drake Hokanson (University of Iowa Press, 160 pages). To find out more, write the newly reborn Lincoln Highway Association at RR 1, Box 73, Jefferson, IA 50129; its telephone number is 515-386-4521. Its annual June conference will be held this year in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Anyone intrigued by Diana Ketcham’s description of the picturesque garden just outside Paris that so impressed Thomas Jefferson will enjoy her book Le Désert de Retz (MIT Press, 134 pages). With a well-researched text, period illustrations, and recent photographs by the noted landscape photographer Michael Kenna, the book makes the scope and intent of this complex architectural conceit intelligible to modern viewers. Built on the eve of the French Revolution, the hundred-acre garden contained twenty follies recapitulating the history of world architecture. For the past several decades the garden has been neglected, its structures overgrown with weeds, with the result, Ketcham writes, that “what the eighteenth century devised as an artificial ruin became in the twentieth century a literal one.” It has recently been restored and is the only one of France’s late-eighteenth-century picturesque gardens that remain in anything resembling their original forms. Ketcham also recommends Howard C. Rice, Jr.’s classic study Thomas Jefferson’s Paris (Princeton University Press, 156 pages), which shows in words and engravings the city that dazzled the future President from the time of his arrival in 1784.

Jack Kelly, whose story on gangster-era Chicago features the notorious Al Capone, recommends Robert J. Schoenberg’s Mr. Capone (Quill/Morrow, 480 pages) as the finest of all Scarface biographies.

If you want to know more after reading Paul G. Labadie’s account of his visit to the replica Alamo that John Wayne built for his 1960 movie, try Donald Clark and Christopher Andersen’s book John Wayne’s The Alamo: The Making of the Epic Film (Carol Publishing Group, 172 pages). The book should satisfy the Duke’s and Davy Crockett’s fans alike.

Geoffrey C. Ward discusses in his column “The Life and Times” the edition he has prepared of the revealing and heartfelt diaries of Daisy Suckley, Franklin Roosevelt’s confidante and distant cousin. It is out this month, as Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley (Houghton Mifflin, 430 pages).

John Steele Gordon’s April column “The Business of America” grew out of his fondness for Jerome Kern, of whom no biographies but plenty of recordings are currently in print, including one of the “lost” Kern musical Sittin’ Pretty . Although it was a hit in the twenties, Sittin’ Pretty was never recorded until this decade—first because Kern banned its performance anywhere but in a live theater and later because the full score was buried for years with other manuscripts in an old Warner Brothers film studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. In 1990 it was faithfully recorded by John McGlin for New World Records (80387-2, two CDs).

In “American Characters” Gene Smith this month revisits one of his early literary idols, James T. Farrell and finds that the critics were right: He said everything he had to say in Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy Comprising “Young Lonigan,” “The Manhood of Studs Lonigan,” and “Judgment Day” (University of Illinois Press, 912 pages).

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