From our eighty-five issues on-line, we offer a list and brief summary of the twenty most popular book reviews, essays and readings --- being those that receive, constantly, and regularly, the most hits.

  • Amphibians, The World of Frogs, Toads, Salamanders and Newts, Richard Hofrichter, Editor (Firefly Books). Amphibians is divided into five parts, with chapters from such experts as Doris Gutser, Ulrich Sinsch, Alois Lametschwandtner, Rudolf Malkmus, and Josef Schmuck and I didn't make up a one of these names. We are never ones to fault the cool scientific perspective, with whole pages devoted to "Pædomorphosis" or "Thermoregulation" or "The Ecology of Cæcilians," but we have to assert that the true worth of this volume, what one might assert to be The Jewel in the Forehead of the Toad, aren't the words, the maps, the evolutionary charts, the graphs, the complete list of species diversity and distribution --- but rather, the skin shots, some two hundred colorful photographs that are almost good enough to eat, if you are into eating toads and frogs. (Some people are: one of the more intriguing charts lists fifty-one species that are on the menus of the cafés in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Africa, New Guinea, and Europe and America.)

  • Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women, Alexa Albert, MD (Random House). There is here a direct style of writing, and it makes Brothel impressive: a clear-eyed view of life in a whore-house, with all that implies: the pettiness, the competition, the contradictions --- a straightforward business intermixed with some powerful needs --- all seen through the eyes of a research professional. We have the happy opportunity of seeing Albert becoming pals with the 'ho's' (that's what they call each other), becoming involved in their histories, their lives, their conflicts, their pain, their pleasures, and --- of course --- the agony that comes to them when they make rare forays into the real world."

  • The Øresund Fixed Link, Dr. Phage. "It is part of a program to expand the international sales of Danish beer, which heretofore had to be carried eastward to Sweden by boat. The search for beer has obsessed the Swedes for millennia, and is what brought Beowulf, prince of the Geats, across the Øresund to the court of the Danish king Hrothgar. Nowadays, he and his fellow Geats would have only to jump into their sporty Saab and drive across the Fixed Link in the morning, leaving plenty of time to polish off Grendel and his mother in between cases of Tuborg, before driving back in the evening."

  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee, Walker Evans (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner). "It's the work of a young man (twenty-seven) who knows words and knows how to use them and wants us to see and hear and smell and feel what it is like to be intimately involved with three families who are certainly not famous but certainly are poor --- "dirt poor" as we used to say. Agee has set out to bring us into this world, and he does it with a vengeance. It is apparent that he is trying to do with words what companion Walker Evans did with the sixty-four pages of photographs that appear in this volume."

  • Under the Skin, Michael Faber (Harcourt). "Isserley drives around the highways of Scotland, not far from Loch Ness, picking up hitchhikers. If they have nice muscles and few real world attachments, she has a button that will stab them in the ass and inject a potion to knock them out so she can drive them back to "the farm" where they will be unloaded, de-tongued, castrated, then put in fattening pens. When they have reached their full pinkness, they are slaughtered and sent back to her planet as special delicacies for the upperclass. Now, to take a story-line like that, and make it work, and make us want to turn the page, and not throw up, is going to take some doing. And author Michael Faber has what it takes."

  • Nude Sculpture: 5,000 Years, David Finn, Photographer (Harry N. Abrams). "This one comes up all the time on our hit-list. Perhaps they are looking for something lurid, but you'd have to be stretching somewhat to find anything overly lust-making in any of these pictures. Nude Sculpture is just that: hard, smooth marble. But gorgeous, and gorgeously organized and laid out."

  • Song to Onan's Complaining Hand (La Mano de Onan Se Queja), Manuel del Cabral.
    "I am the passion of the condemned.
    Not the bedroom game that makes lives.
    I am the lover of those who don't love.
    I am the wife of les miserables.
    I am the moment before suicide.
    Only of love, but never alone;
    limited by skin, I pull out people...
    My fingers fill me with angels,
    fill me with untouched passion."

  • Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture, John Conroy (Knopf). "Milgram observed his subjects deploying a variety of mechanisms to deal with the strain of what they were doing. Some withdrew their attention from the victim, becoming immersed in the procedures, reading the word pairs with exquisite articulation and pressing the switches with great care. Some raised their voices to drown out the victim's protests. Some turned away into awkward positions in order to avoid seeing the learner suffer. Some administered only the briefest of shocks, depressing the levers for 50 milliseconds, thereby "asserting their humanity." Others engaged in subtle subterfuge, trying to tip the learner off to the right answer by emphasizing it as they read. The learner, however, never picked up on the cue. The subject is unable to act openly on his humane feelings, deflecting them into a trivial subterfuge of no real consequence, Milgram observed. Yet 'doing something,' even if of only token significance, helps preserve his self-image as a benign man."

  • Moko Maori Tattoo, Hans Neleman, Photographer (Edition Stemmle). "There is no going back with the facial tattoo of the Maori. It is a painful process of design which states publicly one's passionate belief in one's people, and their ways, and their religion and history. These photographs, almost a hundred in number, are a wonderful peek at a culture of artful difference. Some of the tattoos are delicate, understated. But some are a poke in the face, so to speak, at the world. Sinn Dog's decoration, running across the lower half of his face --- like a mask --- including nose, lips, cheeks and chin, proclaims MONGREL FOR LIFE. He is an ominous-looking dude, with or without tattoo. Meeting him in a bar, I would suspect most of us would speak to him with caution and some care. His life-time sign, right there before your eyes, says it all."

  • Art as Politics in the Third Reich, Jonathan Petropoulos (University of North Carolina). "It was the lust of thievery pure and simple and, according to Petropoulos, in this closely worked (and excellently researched) book, was put in place not only to humiliate the conquered, but to show that the Nazis were men of culture. It was their way to prove that they were more than street brawlers and bierstube fighters. Indeed, it was a means of competing with, and humiliating, the nobility of Germany, the princes and counts and viscounts --- most of all, the Prussians --- who they loathed."

  • Sam Goody Then and Now, Matthew Lasar. "I worked at the first store, the one located at 49th Street, off Broadway, in Manhattan. It had a sacred reputation within the network, being Sam's first operation. In it you could find many of the salesmen (and they were all men) who had started with Goody shortly after the Second World War. By the mid-1970s, some of these individuals had worked in the same locale for a quarter of a century...And yes, they were characters."

  • "When I Was Mortal, Javier Marías, (New Directions). "She tells Lorenzo that she is nervous, and he opines that there are other jobs that are worse. Before, he says, he worked as a guardian for a very rich Madrid family, to keep the one twenty year old daughter, a depressive, from killing herself... Marías takes a wonderful, albeit kinky, plot line, and quickly sticks us right in the middle of it, sucks us into this shaggy-dog story, making it totally believable, making us want to go on with it, get to the end of it, or even better, us not wanting it to end. He spins his characters and us in a perfect tale, as perfect as most --- if not all --- of the twelve tales he conjures up in When I Was Mortal."

  • The Year They Tried to Block "The Deputy," Warren Hinckle. "We drew a blank on Catholic clerics. I talked to one auxiliary bishop, highly regarded for his liberalism, who told me he would rather endorse a company that put the picture of Jesus Christ on packages of contraceptives than get involved on the side of the, author of 'The Deputy.' We could not find a priest who would even answer the doorbell if he knew we were coming to ask him to put his name to such an infidel committee. In desperation I threw some Catholic laymen in the pot --- Gordon Zahn, the sociologist, and John Howard Griffin, the novelist, agreed to serve as Catholic window dressing in lieu of the priests who had their heads stuck in the sand up to their ordained rumps."

  • The Voice of the Poet: Wallace Stevens, J. D. McClatchy, Editor (Random House Audio). I have to confess to you that in listening to Stevens perhaps I am listening to one of the great unsung masters of American verse --- but maybe I am listening to nonsense. Am I dense or is he putting us on? --- this well-dressed man who spent all his life head of the claims department for Hartford Accident and Indemnity. I can see him now, in his Brooks Brothers suit, striding up the streets of Hartford --- or was it New Haven? --- full up in his brown study, thinking, mouthing the words so when he gets to his neat office on the 19th Floor he can hitch up, sit down, and dictate his poems to his secretary and then after a few months, he has her collect them together and he labels them and sends them out to his publisher. He did this patiently, regularly --- for twenty-five years."

    Wind & Sand, by Lyanne Wescott (Eastern Acorn Press). "When the Wright Brothers weren't repairing bicycles and flying around the dunes, they were sleeping with each other --- and we ain't talking about keeping cold bodies warm on a winter's eve on Kitty Hawk. Outside of that juicy fact, they were drudges of the old school --- painfully, oh so painfully reworking plans, planes, and parts. The parts and the plans and the worry are all presented here, in detail. Their nighttime carryings-on --- nowhere to be found."

    In Search of Deep Throat, The Greatest Political Mystery of Our Time, Leonard Garment (Basic). The very name, Deep Throat, is a fine and ironic one. Linda Lovelace was the star in a blue movie of the same title, famous for her ability to accomplish penetrating acts of laryngectomy to satisfy her needy clients. To name a mysterious Republican mole Deep Throat says much about the character of politics in those days. However, based on the structure of this book, if Garment is still practicing law, god help the hapless clients. This document stretches on (and on) for some 270 pages, and is chockablock full of repetitions, backtracking, noisy personal asides, wheezy theories on the nature of politics --- all excessive verbiage of the highest order."

    Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Fatal Bullet, Rick Geary (Nantier Beall/Minoustchine). "Of course, Guiteau radicalized the operations of the United States government far more than Garfield did. One man with one gun and two bullets created, single-handedly, the dratted Civil Service System which presents us with all those 8 am - 4 pm G-11 Civil Servants who will do anything to keep from answering our questions. He also started us on the path of separating our elected officials from the common folk. Which, if you doubt, just you try to get an appointment with your Senator or Representative --- much less your President --- to tell him what you think of his government. Geary brings the whole era --- and the two main characters --- to life, and its great comic book reading, and why didn't they have history books like this when you and I were going to school?"

    In the South Bronx of America, Mel Rosenthal (Curbstone Press). It had originally begun with photographs of Vietnamese refugees and then graduated with pictures of the destruction of what had once been a stable community of apartments, homes, churches, schools, factories and stores. He began to show the citizens living in the midst of this wreckage, and became known in the area as "the picture man." He dedicated himself to showing people surviving in what he now thinks of as another Third World country (in fact, some of the denizens had asked that Russia post a diplomat there, so they could ask for foreign aid). In the South Bronx of America consists of over a hundred black-and-white photographs of people working to survive in the rubble of what is essentially a dust-bin, with commentary by the author and pertinent quotes from others who lived there, still live there, or are familiar with the area."

    The Happy Years, L. W. Milam. "The Wrestling Room was a long, low-ceilinged room on the third floor of the gym. It was heavy with the aroma of sweat and jockstraps. During the winter months, it was also filled with the grunts and groans of the school wrestlers in competition with each other, or with the nearby schools that were supposed to be our enemies --- Hill School, George School, and my favorite (in name if not in reality) The Hun School. At Prom Time, the Wrestling Room was, however, transmogrified into another kind of wrestle. The school fathers knew that unleashing several hundred co-eds on our campus for forty-eight hours could lead to a series of fire bombs from the students' explosive, pent-up libidos. Rather than fight it, they set the weekend up in such a way as to let us get our rocks off in acceptable fashion."

  • Exposed: The Victorian Nude, Alison Smith (Watson-Guptill). "With such heavy penalties being doled out to those who possess such suggestive art, it gave this reviewer sufficient pause and, thus, immediately after completing this review, and in the interest of personal freedom, we mailed off our copy of Exposed (I swear to you Judge, it was our only copy) to the Curators at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum with a brief note stating that it was a gift from 'A Friend.' We did this in the hopes that the gentle librarians there in Simi Valley would not be shipped off to the pokey by the contemporary Victorian thought police because of what some might consider dangerous paintings and photographs hiding at the back of an otherwise worthy book of Art of the late 19th Century."

  • We're All Doing Time, Bo Lozoff (Human Kindness). "Bo Lozoff has written a book for prisoners, and it is a good one indeed. The writing is simple, wise, direct; it overflows with honesty. The book came out of the Prison-Ashram Project started by Ram Dass --- and it is subtitled (correctly) 'A Guide for Getting Free,' and the freedom described can be within or without. It is in no way preachy, or arrogant, or 'we're-up-here-and-we're-gonna-help-you-down-there.' It is an honest recounting of the methods that one can use to get free while one is in the most unfree place in American society. It makes no excuses for the specific methodology it offers to those who are, after all, in a violent war zone:

      Going to prison is one more opportunity to come closer to Truth, God, Self, Freedom --- whatever we want to call it. Prison life is so negative and intense, prisoners sometimes get the chance to work out karma and build strength in a period of months that might have taken fifty years on the streets, if they could have done it at all. What a blessing!"

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