Book Blurbs

January/February 1998

Reading time min

Book Blurbs

In the Garden of Desire: The Intimate World of Women's Sexual Fantasies, Wendy Maltz and Suzie Boss, '75, Broadway Books, 1997; $25 (sexuality).

Drawing on interviews with more than 100 women, the authors set out to catalog and demystify female sexual fantasies. The subjects interviewed range in age from 19 to 66, but their "scripted fantasies" cast them in one of six consistent roles: pretty maiden, victim, wild woman, dominatrix, beloved or voyeur. Within the basic plots, though, there's plenty of room for improvisation. While unblushingly frank, Maltz, a psychotherapist, and Boss, a journalist, have more than titillation on their minds. Like dreams, sexual fantasies offer a way into the subconscious and even a path to healing. "By daring to explore the meaning of our erotic thoughts," they write, "we can gain incredible insights about ourselves."

Whitman and the Romance of Medicine, Robert Leigh Davis, '78, MA '81, University of California Press, 1997; $35 (literature).

Walt Whitman was by turns a carpenter, printer, teacher, newspaper editor and one of America's greatest poets. He was also a nurse in the military hospitals in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. In this book of criticism, Davis, an assistant professor of English at Ohio's Wittenberg University, examines hospital memoranda, personal letters and the Drum-Taps poems, all penned by Whitman between 1862 and 1865. Davis re-evaluates these lesser-known writings, laying bare Whitman's contradictory feelings about the war. "The work grows upon me and fascinates me," Whitman wrote of his wound-dressing duties in May 1863. "It is the most magnetic as well as terrible sight." Davis's scrutiny of Whitman's conflicted feelings, both as a closeted gay tending dying young men and as a democrat working within a hierarchical military, sheds new light on these neglected texts.

Painting the Heavens: Art and Science in the Age of Galileo, Eileen Reeves, PhD '87, Princeton University Press, 1997; $45 (art history).

Galileo is best known for demonstrating that the earth revolves around the sun, a finding the early 17th-century Catholic Church viewed as heresy. But, as this study reveals, his scientific observations of the moon were equally controversial. In his days, works of art were integral to religious instruction. Artists had long used the moon -- a perfect crystal sphere, or so they thought -- to symbolize the Virgin Mary's purity. Then came Galileo with telescopic evidence of the moon's real properties. Painters began adjusting their canvases accordingly. To many in the religious establishment, depicting an "imperfect" moon was tantamount to denying the Immaculate Conception. Reeves, who teaches comparative literature at Princeton, explores this tension between theology and art.

The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements, George M. Fredrickson, Edgar E. Robinson Professor of United States History, University of California Press, 1997; $27.50 (U.S. history).

In this collection of 11 essays, Fredrickson compares post-World War II race relations in the United States and South Africa. Despite similarities in the debates and objectives among blacks in both countries, the author focuses on important differences. For one, nonviolent resistance, which helped bring about the end of Jim Crow in the United States, proved unsuccessful in South Africa. That failure, writes Fredrickson, pushed the African National Congress to violent forms of protest. The author also devotes a few of the essays to comparative history, the technique in which scholars approach new material by examining how it resembles -- and differs from -- more familiar events. Fredrickson admits that "in my case, the urge to compare things may be especially intense and possibly a bit obsessive."


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