The Monkey Wars

Deborah Blum

“A gritty, in-the-trenches report on the battle over primate use in medical research looking at the experiments that the chimps and monkeys endure.”

Publisher: Oxford University
Hardback: 306 pages

The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770-1868

V.A.C. Gatrell

It’s pretty well known that Britain basically went noose-crazy in the later 18th and early 19th centuries, hanging people for the most trivial offenses before appreciative crowds. There’s plenty of stuff (mainly from capital-punishment abolitionists) on the period, but The Hanging Tree is the first social history of the institution to look at what your average Englishman thought of the whole thing. Gatrell carefully examines the entire milieu, paying special attention to the attitudes of the mob towards these exhibitions they attended so enthusiastically. Gatrell also digs out some interesting material from the condemned’s appeals for mercy on the social conditions of the average Englishman—and it wasn’t as prim and proper as you might think. JM

Publisher: Oxford University
Hardback: 634 pages

The Oxford Book of Villains

Edited by John Mortimer

“Artificial Aim: While they were waiting at a bus stop in Clerimston, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Thirsty were threatened by a Mr. Robert Clear. ‘He demanded that I give him my wife’s purse,’ said Mr. Thirsty. ‘Telling him that her purse was in her basket, I bent down, put my hands up her skirt, detached her artificial leg and hit him over the head with it. It was not my intention to do any more than frighten him off but, unhappily for us all, he died.’”
The British author of Rumpole of the Bailey recounts tales and anecdotes of “the most famous representatives” of the criminal world, both fictional and factual and, in the case of Mr. Thirsty, accidental. GR

Publisher: Oxford University
Hardback: 431 pages

The God of the Witches

Margaret Alice Murray

“The God of the old religion becomes the Devil of the new.” A lucidly written masterpiece of anthropological writing which follows the ritual worship of the “Horned God.” This Dionysiac deity has taken many forms since his early worship in the caves through the Middle Ages. The author goes into great detail concerning the idea of “the dying God,” a sacrifice of a king or leader to encourage fertility of the crops (an idea explored so beautifully in the film, The Wicker Man). Murray posits that Joan of Arc and Gilles de Rais were prominent guiding mystical lights of good and evil whose deaths may both be seen as ritual sacrifices. Most interesting is Murray’s unusual sympathy for the “old religion.” This book helped to dispel the cliché image of frightening, snaggle-toothed medieval witches casting death spells. We learn that the world’s oldest religion has always been very much alive, a religion “as old as humankind itself.” Rich with many an example of the “interesting survival of a primitive rite,” this book is part of the seminal literature which inspired the flowering of modern paganism. CS

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 212 pages

Sati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India

Edited by John Stratton Hawley

The author of this book examines the history and practice of sati (the custom of a Hindu woman willingly being cremated on the funeral pyre of her husband), and presents arguments for and against this bizarre ultimate sacrifice. Needless to add, most rationales in favor are by males, and most opposed are by females—feminists, as the author calls them.
An Italian voyager, Ludovico di Varthema, related his impressions of a widowed Indian woman consigning herself to the flames in an act of self-immolation. He wrote that the women were often drugged into submission by priests clothed like devils, who then coerced them to kill themselves: “If the sati does not die quickly, she is recognized by her family to be a whore.” JB

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 256 pages

Beyond the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan

Nancy K. Maclean

The second Ku Klux Klan lasted from its founding ceremony at Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thanksgiving night in 1915 to around 1930. This was the heyday of Klan activity. During this period the Klan used the issues of morality, immigration and race as recruiting tactics for both the working poor and the small businessman. For example, in Oregon, where the black population was nil, the Klan crusaded against the Catholics. SC

Publisher: Oxford University
Hardback: 308 pages

Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763-3749

I.F. Clarke

Once again, the power of the novel is examined, only this time it is the artist as prophet of doom. Voices Prophesying War examines the hundreds of books that have been written which describe the various phases of the third world war between East and West. The date of 1763 refers to the publication of The Reign of George VI, the first of many tales of future warfare. On September 2, 1871, the British prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, addressed the nation about the dangers of alarmism. This was the result of a short story entitled “The Battle of Dorking.” The story was published in a popular Victorian monthly called Blackwood’s Magazine and was written by Lieutenant Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney. In it, the author, who wrote it anonymously, detailed a fictional account of a German invasion of the British Isles. Without realizing it, he had hit upon a novel method (no pun intended) to voice his concerns and fears for the future of his country.
But this was not the first time that satire was used for propaganda. Many pamphlets and stories had been written describing future wars and battles nearly a hundred years earlier. What made Chesney’s version so different, and as a result much more widespread, was his use of new weapons and technological devices having a decisive effect on the outcome of war. The story captured the imagination of the world. It was copied, re-written and added to. Other countries, including the United States, created their own versions. And a new genre, based on our fear of destruction, was created.
Today, the genre is facing numerous challenges: arms-reduction treaties, the end of the Cold War, and the fact that often-predicted nuclear disaster has never occurred. As a result, these future war books are still written, except the subject matter has changed. It is no longer other countries that we fear. Instead, the books are written about our battles with bacteria, genetic manipulation and the inevitable attack from outer space. The date 3749 refers to Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), in which we learn the age-old adage that history repeats itself, and even after continuous destruction, there will always be survivors who will begin the cycle over again. Unfortunately, future war, be it military, biological, or extraterrestrial, is inevitable and the resulting destruction a natural part of our continuing evolution of death and rebirth. Perhaps future authors of this genre will help slow down the process. AN

Publisher: Oxford University
Hardback: 284 pages

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans

Nechama Tec

As a protest against the prevailing image of the Jews marching like docile lambs into Nazi death chambers, the author of this book relates the exploits of a 1,200-man Jewish partisan group, fighting against the Nazis in the forests of Byelorussia. Relying on accounts supplied by ex-partisans, Tec effectively corrects the image of the Jews complacently resigning themselves to the inevitability of death. JB

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 304 pages

The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists

Philip Furia

Although rock lyrics (especially those by Dylan, Lennon and Morrissey) are subject to endless analysis, second-guessing and assignments of cultural importance, the truly astonishing lyrical craftsmanship of Tin Pan Alley in the early part of this century has been given short shrift. Lyricists such as Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Fields, and especially Johnny Mercer contributed bodies of work that not only influenced but also captured a certain corner of Americana as it has too rarely been explored before or since. While the author occasionally gets a mite technical for the average reader (who cares about how syllables were split in “Too Marvelous for Words”?), books that look seriously into the craft of Tin Pan Alley lyricists are far too few, and books this well-informed always have a place in the music aficionado’s library. SH

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 336 pages

Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film

Erik Barnouw

Barnouw, former chief of the Library of Congress’ Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, covers a lot of celluloid ranging from the earliest cinematic experiments of Muybridge, Lumière and Edison to Shoah, Sherman’s March and Roger and Me. Such towering figures of documentary filmmaking as Dziga Vertov (Man With the Movie Camera), Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North, Moana), Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will, Olympia), the Maysles Brothers (Salesman, Gimme Shelter) and Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, High School) are given their proper due along the way in this densely packed ride through a century of non-narrative film history. SS

Publisher: Oxford University
Paperback: 400 pages