Book Blurbs

In the Stream of History: Shaping Foreign Policy for a New Era, Warren Christopher, JD ’49, Stanford University Press, 1998; $60 (political science).

The former secretary of state surveys U.S. foreign policy during the first Clinton administration by analyzing 37 of his own speeches. Those public addresses -- delivered in such venues as the U.S. Senate, the Royal Palace in Casablanca and Shanghai’s Fudan University -- focus on key international issues: post-Cold War relations with Russia, Middle East peace efforts, engagement with China, and concerns about human rights and nuclear proliferation. But the book is not just a collection of transcripts. Christopher shows how diplomats use speeches as political, strategic and bureaucratic tools. His review of the process of speech-making spotlights what he calls “one of the most overlooked aspects of foreign policy decision-making.”

The Great War’s Forgotten Front: A Soldier’s Diary and a Son’s Reflections, Jan F. Triska, professor emeritus of political science, Columbia University Press, 1998; $35 (history).

Nearly 3 million men were killed or wounded in the conflict between Italy and Austria during World War I. Triska does not dwell on numbers but crafts a soldier’s tale that is alternately picaresque and horror-filled. Using his father’s wartime diaries, he constructs a third-person narrative that follows Triska senior from 1916, when he was drafted into an Austrian artillery regiment, through battles against Italy and, ultimately, to his time as a prisoner of war in 1918. His father kept a daily account of the carnage in the trenches. “They wept, wet their pants, cried for their mothers,” he wrote about the raw recruits during the battle of the Piave in June 1918. When Triska concludes that “the war had no meaning other than as a brutal interruption in their lives,” the reader understands why.

Caucasia, Danzy Senna, ’92, Riverhead Books, 1998; $24.95 (fiction).

The central characters in this first novel are two sisters, Birdie and Cole, the daughters of a black father and a white mother. The girls are close -- so close they have developed a private language they call Elemeno, after their favorite letters in the alphabet -- but to the outside world they couldn’t be more different. Cole looks black; Birdie, the book’s first-person narrator, is always taken for white. There’s an element of autobiography in this coming-of-age story -- the author’s parents also were a mixed-race couple. And like Senna, Birdie grows up in racially troubled 1970s Boston attempting to sort out a confusing mix of race, family and identity. After Birdie’s parents divorce, the 12-year-old flees with her mother into an all-white world -- the Caucasia of the book’s title. Only when the 18-year-old Birdie returns to find her father and sister does she rediscover herself.

The Political University: Policy, Politics, and Presidential Leadership in the American Research University, Robert M. Rosenzweig, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998; $31.95 (higher education).

Universities today are buffeted by complex issues: shifting federal policies, budget pressures, increased partnerships with business and industry. Rosenzweig is well-positioned to assess how these issues affect higher education -- he worked as a Stanford administrator for two decades before serving as president of the Association of American Universities from 1983 to 1993. The book benefits from his lengthy conversations with 12 high-profile university presidents who stepped down from their posts around 1990. Rosenzweig concludes that university heads need to be more involved in the national debate on education policy: “Presidents have become so preoccupied with the demands and stresses of managing their own institutions that larger issues tend to be left for ceremonial occasions when bromides are the expected order of the day.”