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ENGROSSING AND IMPORTANT END OF SUMMER READING from Abrams, Princeton University Press, Doubleday , HarperCollins, Random House

Book Review

Creole Houses:  Traditional Homes of Old Louisiana, Photographs by Steve Gross and Sue Daley, Commentary by John L. Lawrence, Foreword by James Conway (Abrams, $35.00, 192 pages)

With Katrina's devastation, the richly connotated word "Creole" has taken on dimensions of fragility. As a result, Creole Houses: Traditional Homes of Old Louisiana, beyond being a lavishly illustrated book of houses and gardens, is an important record of a distinctive and severely threatened piece of Americana. Exterior and interior photographs of twenty-one historic buildings and their surroundings with accompanying commentary set the properties in their historical, environmental, and architectural  contexts. Evoking the lyric beauty and, at the same time, the humid decadence of Louisiana, this work is as much a story of the unique combination of cultures: French, Spanish, West Indian, African and Native American that make up Creole as it is a collection of stunning visuals.

LOG HOUSES OF THE WORLD by Richard Olson, photographs by Radek Kurza

(Abrams, $45.00, 239 pages)

 

            Far from the primitive one-room hut conjured up by pioneer lore, the

log cabin is a serious architectural form embraced by such as Alvar Aalto, Eliel Saarinenn,  Stanislaw Witkiewicz and Le Corbusier. A range of their visions, executed by gifted artisan builders in settings of scenic splendor in such diverse locales as Bozeman, Montana and Santa Monica, California in the United States,  and Brixlegg, Austria and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France in Europe are surveyed in this work. Rustic but hardly crude, they are organized chronologically beginning in the 1890s and coming up to the present. In each case, magnificent photographs are accompanied by a mini -essay detailing the architect's vision, the builder's challenges, and the cabin's place in the stream of residential possibilities.

 

VENICE, CA: ART + ARCHITECTURE IN A MAVERICK COMMUNITY

By Michael Webb, Photographs by Juergen Nogai (Abrams, $40.00, 192 pages

 

            Venice, CA brings the reader into the singular Californian coastal community, home to a collection of well-known and often iconoclastic artists, architects and designers. Two hundred photographs of artists' studios, famed architects' buildings, and houses decorated by renowned interior designers fill this work. They combine into creating a sense of the playful, colorful, often offbeat and always imaginative town that, beyond its winding canals, bears little resemblance to the Italian city for which it is named.

EINSTEIN ON POLITICS: HIS PRIVATE THOUGHTS AND PUBLIC STANDS ON NATIONALISM, ZIONISM, WAR , PEACE, AND THE BOMB 

Edited by David E. Rowe and Robert Schulman (Princeton University Press, $29.95,

524 pages)

That one of the greatest scientists in the history of this planet was also an outspoken humanitarian and tireless advocate of justice who thrust himself into the fray, on issues ranging from developing the atom bomb to the establishment of the State of Israel, is well known. For this eminently worthwhile book, the editors have assembled the scientist's  letters, speeches, and papers, some of which are published here for the first time, that articulate his positions and reflections. Organized into a rough chronology, they permit the reader to understand Einstein's positions from deep within the perspective of time and place and to come away with added insight into the mind and character of this most extraordinary of human beings.

LEGACY OF ASHES: THIS HISTORY OF THE CIA By Tim Weiner (Doubleday,

$27.95, 702 pages)

This definitive, detailed history of the first sixty years of the CIA is a sad story of the missteps, blunders and blindness that have prevented the organization charged with protecting the nation's security through intelligence from achieving its mission. A work based largely on primary research -- over 50,000 documents and hundreds of "on-the-record" interviews -- it is fast-paced, compelling, and terrifying, an outstanding journalistic product that brings the reader face-to-face with failures that have repeatedly brought us to the brink and cost us dearly. One can only agree with Tim Weiner in his hope that this  book will "serve as a warning."

THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION: NAZI GERMANY AND THE JEWS,

1939-1945, by Saul Friedlander (HarperCollins, $39.95, 870 pages)

It is the enormity of detail, the range of perspectives, the month-by-month account of the horrors through the terrible years, and the emphasis on primary research: letters, diaries, oral history, and official pronouncements that distinguish this massive, significant, ground-breaking work that is as enlightening as it is painful to read. Disputed accounts can be put to rest: Pope Pius XII was callously indifferent to the fate of doomed Jews. Interesting tidbits can be found: after the notorious anti-Semitic film "Jud Sus" received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival of 1940, the late and greatly lamented film director Michelangelo Antonioni said "We have no hesitation in saying that if this propaganda, then we welcome propaganda." But overwhelmingly, the story of the Holocaust, set in motion in a Europe whose liberal democratic ethos is disintegrating, unravels with relentless demonic and heart-breaking fervor. If you are wondering with all the volumes written about the Holocaust, what is there left to say, read this book.

THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE BUILT: WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM IRVING, COLE, AND A CREW OF ABOUT FIFTY by Wilfrid Sheed (Random House, $29.95, 335 pages)

This joy of a book, written in a delightful colloquial voice, takes one through the first half of the twentieth century on a journey of America's great gift to the world: popular song. Reading it, we were reminded of Ian Gomez, the long-time piano player at the London Ritz, who knew every one of them, could play them for the asking, and when asked about non-American composers, said "But there are none." Okay, so he forgot Noel Coward. Still, we knew what he meant.

At turns witty, poignant, heart-breaking and heart-rousing, Wilfrid Sheed triumphs in this beautifully-written paean to the wonderful composers and lyricists that captured the soul of America in a creative explosion that began when jazz came up from the South to meet new Americans on the Lower East Side of New York. Biography, musicology, social history, memoir, The House That George Built . . .  captures, with no small amount of style and grace, the essential essences of what he calls "far and away our greatest contribution to the world's art supply in the so-called American Century."

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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