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At Home with History
A coffee-table tribute to 50 Philadelphia residences turned museums.
By Peter Conn

HISTORIC HOUSES OF PHILADELPHIA: A Tour of the Region's Museum Homes
By Roger W. Moss, Faculty. Photographs by Tom Crane.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. 240 pp., $34.95.
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   In the century between its founding and the Revolution, Philadelphia grew to be the largest and most prosperous city in the English-speaking colonies. The trade that flowed through the city's busy port fueled a thriving cosmopolitan culture; many of the leading figures in the politics and art, literature and science of early America lived and worked in Philadelphia.
   The record of that era is preserved not only in such documents as books and newspapers, paintings and sculpture. It is also written in the buildings that housed the people, commerce, culture, and government of the 18th-century city. Historic Houses of Philadelphia, which focuses on private residences, illuminates an important chapter in the city's story.
   The vast majority of the homes that were built in the Delaware Valley over the past several centuries have, of course, disappeared. In that sense, Historic Houses is an elegy to a vanished past. However, nearly 200 houses survive as museums in the Philadelphia area, ranging from the modest homes of artisans and mechanics to grand country estates. The number itself should be a source of civic pride. Despite its losses, Philadelphia retains a larger collection of accessible, historically-significant houses than any other American city. Perhaps because of a shared self-consciousness about how much history has been made here, Philadelphians have been rescuing buildings of all sorts, houses included, for more than a century.
   In Historic Houses, Roger Moss provides a readable, reliable survey of Philadelphia's residential architecture and furnishings. Moss, who is executive director of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and teaches in Penn's historic preservation program, has selected 50 houses, and describes each of them in a brief essay that combines technical architectural comments with information and anecdotes about the men and women who have lived in each building.
   Most of the houses illustrated in this book share common features of scale and proportion, but each also possesses its particular excellences and eccentricities. Taken together, they comprise an immeasurable regional resource, enriching the city's visual treasury. Tom Crane's companion photographs are pleasantly misleading: it is not always sunny in Philadelphia, and the trees are not always exquisitely autumnal. But Crane's superlative images complement and expand the text, by capturing the drama and vitality that good architecture embodies, and by proving just how beautiful an old building can be.
   Immensely useful as a reference volume, Historic Houses is also intended as a guide book for visitors. So, the text is usefully divided into regions, with separate sections on Center City, Fairmount Park, Germantown, the Delaware River, and the suburbs.
   In combination, Moss's text and Crane's photographs enable readers to take a number of imaginary walking tours, to visit or revisit dozens of extraordinary places. Let me mention just a few of my own favorites. In Center City stands the Todd House, on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, where Dolly Payne Todd lived for several years before she and her second husband, James Madison, moved to Washington. Nearby is the Bishop White House, for 50 years the home of William White, Chaplain of the Continental Congress and a power in the Episcopal Church. Fairmount Park is the setting for a wonderful group of houses, including the Federal-style Sweetbrier and Lemon Hill, the Middle Georgian Mount Pleasant, and the charmingly eclectic Cedar Grove, several of which still command the views and vistas for which they were built. A number of significant houses cluster in Germantown, including Upsala, Wyck, the Johnson House, and Cliveden, which is ranked among the most distinguished house museums in the country.
   Roger Moss is a learned but engaging guide to the building styles and furniture of the period, and readers will quickly learn to recognize the variety of choices that owners and builders made. (A helpful glossary of building terms will be found in the book's back pages.) Beyond that, Moss's commentary anchors the city's physical fabric in its social history. Thus, architectural analysis alternates with discussions of the city's domestic life over several generations. To be sure, the more prosperous classes, whose houses have survived as museums in greater numbers, receive the most attention; but we also catch glimpses of the middling folk, and the poor.
   Aside from teaching us about design and social history, the book raises provocative questions about the complexity and even the paradoxes of preservation itself. To put it bluntly: Houses and museums are utterly different sorts of places. Houses have residents; museums have curators. Houses are built to live in, and their owners alter them willy-nilly as their needs or desires change. Museums, on the contrary, are places to visit rather than occupy, in which the casual sociability of daily life is replaced by a quasi-religious seriousness. Furnishings and tools that were made for familiar household tasks are transformed into objects of art that are not to be touched, much less used.
   More generally, is it oxymoronic to talk about "preserving the past?" Saving a physical structure usually means restoring it, either piecemeal or wholesale, and thus changing it over time. Some old buildings have been renovated and rehabilitated so often, over so many years, that the "original" parts can no longer be identified. Furthermore, even if a house (or another building) survives while everything around it changes -- if fragments of the 18th or 19th century linger into the 20th and 21st -- what exactly remains?
   Questions such as these don't yield easy answers. Nonetheless, most of us share an instinctive conviction that the past nurtures the present, and we acknowledge an obligation to protect what we can of the several legacies we have inherited from our predecessors. From that point of view, Historic Houses does more than survey a collection of buildings; it pays tribute to several generations of good citizenship.
   


Peter Conn is the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English at Penn and faculty director of Civic House.


THE BOOK OF JOB
Translation, Introduction, and Notes by Raymond P. Scheindlin, C'61.
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. 237 pp., $23.95.
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   With its withering focus on the ordeal of a righteous man tormented by God for no apparent reason, The Book of Job explores the meaning of suffering, adversity, and Divine providence and justice. Ensconced in Kethubim (Writings), the third section of the Hebrew Bible, The Book of Job has the reputation of being a formidably difficult book for both commentators and translators. With more words that occur only once in the Bible than any other biblical book, and dozens of rare and obscure terms, the poetry of Job (chapters 3-42) has been -- from ancient Greek translators through the rabbis in the Talmud and Midrash and into the 20th century -- open to a staggering array of contradictory interpretations.
   In the introduction to his superb translation of The Book of Job, Raymond Scheindlin, professor of medieval Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary, attributes only some of Job's interpretive difficulties to textual errors that occurred as the book was copied over the centuries. Many of Job's linguistic landmines occur, Scheindlin avers, because the meaning of many of its words were simply forgotten when Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language in the first or second century C.E.
   Scheindlin disagrees with scholars who think that The Book of Job's author couched his ideas in difficult language to deliberately obscure his unorthodox message. Ecclesiastes, he points out, "shows that such matters were written about openly. We must not read back into the late biblical period the medieval and early modern notion that Judaism has always had one specific set of officially approved doctines." Rather, he makes a strong case for Job's difficult language being "part and parcel of the poem ... an appropriate vehicle for its subject ... The author of Job may have decided that a difficult texture was the right one for his emotionally wrenching theme -- a tortured language to describe life's torment."
   Scheindlin places Job within the tradition of ancient Near Eastern "wisdom literature," which asked many of the questions that would much later arise in The Book of Job. Yet none of Job's precursors in Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, or Hebrew have its complexity and richness, and none dared to attack the alleged certainties of wisdom literature (such as assuring the sufferer that he must deserve whatever disaster has befallen him), which are refuted by Ecclesiastes and, as Scheindlin puts it, "mocked to extinction" by Job.
   In the excellent introduction, Scheindlin explains that we read ancient, exotic books "not to confirm our own literary habits and imaginations but to expand them." We read The Book of Job, he adds wisely, "not because it provides answers to our questions, consolation for our grief, or redress for our anger, but because it expresses our questions, grief, and anger with such force."
   Relying on philologists as his "disciplinarians," Scheindlin takes a conservative approach towards translating Job, whose Hebrew was "decidedly not colloquial, even for biblical times." He tried, he tells the reader, "to let the text suggest its own translation and to interfere as little as possible. I have avoided imposing arbitrary flights of imagination on The Book of Job's text, for I have a horror of the free-and-easy approach to translation." Instead, he aimed to create a "disciplined translation" that adheres, "above all, to the poetic values that I thought were important to the author. I imagined him reading over my shoulder as I wrote and shaking his head with annoyance when I was about to take too great a liberty."
   The results of his approach are revelatory and often gripping. "Does God distribute pain-portions in His rage? Do such men become straw before the the wind, or storm-snatched chaff?" Job asks Zophar. Job tells Eliphaz:
    As for my friends --
   they failed me like a riverbed,
   wandered off, like water in a wadi.
   Gloomy on an icy day,
   covered up with snow;
   hey flow one moment, then are gone;
   when it is hot, they flicker away.
   Their dry courses twist
   wander into wasteland, vanish ...
   That is how you are to me:
   You see terror, take fright yourselves.

   
Scheindlin sets Job as a series of dramatic monologues, replacing its old chapter divisions with the names of the speakers. In the 60 pages of endnotes, Scheindlin provides summaries of the increasingly accusatory speeches of Job's three "clumsy comforters," who try to pigeonhole him into the category of the wicked, believing he must have done something terribly wrong to have merited his crippling losses, to say nothing of his loathsome skin disease. Scheindlin deftly defends his choices of words (such as the recurring "deathgloom" and "deathdark," for example, which is famously translated as "shadow of death" in Psalm 23), imparting fascinating historical and philological information without resorting to academic jargon.
   While some translators, such as Stephen Mitchell (North Point Press, l987), have omitted the "Meditation on Wisdom" -- the only poetry in the book not attributed to any particular speaker -- Scheindlin includes it, while noting that most scholars feel this poem was not part of the original book, since it interrupts the dialogue and, by anticipating Yahweh's message, renders His speech anticlimatic. Scheindlin objects to the "Meditation on Wisdom' on more literary grounds, deeming it "simply too straightforward to match the subtlety of the book as a whole. On an emotional level, the 'Meditation on Widsom' seems to derive pious satisfaction from the distance between the mind of God and the mind of man; it reflects none of the anxiety that this distance causes Job in the rest of the work. Yahweh's two speeches may boil down to the same abstract idea as the one expounded in the 'Meditation on Wisdom,' but in emotional pitch these passages are completely different. Wisdom preaches; Yahweh crushes."
   Scheindlin believes poetry doesn't merely state Job's message -- it is the book's message, "providing its own vigor as an antidote to its pessimism, by changing the level of the discussion from a meditation of life's injustice to a parade of life's sheer multitudinousness."
   


Susan Miron, CW'72, writes and reviews for a variety of publications, often on Jewish thought and culture.

 

BRIEFLY NOTED
A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.

THE LANGUAGE OF LANDSCAPE
By Anne Whiston Spirn, GLA'74, Faculty.
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. 313 pp., $35.00.
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   Combining poetry and pragmatism to teach the language of landscape, Spirn argues that it exists with its own syntax, grammar, and metaphors, and that we imperil ourselves by failing to learn to read and speak this language. To understand the meanings of landscape, our habitat, is to see the world differently, and to enable ourselves to avoid profound aesthetic and environmental mistakes. Offering examples that range across thousands of years and five continents, Spirn examines urban, rural, and natural landscapes. She discusses the thought of renowned landscape authors, such as Thomas Jefferson and Frank Lloyd Wright, and of less well- known pioneers. Spirn is professor of landscape architecture and regional planning and director of the Urban Studies Program.

UNKNOWN LEGENDS OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More
By Richie Unterberger, C'82.
San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1998. 400 pp., $19.95.
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   In the background and the underground of rock and roll since the beginning, there have been hundreds of visionary musicians with one thing in common: they made great music, but hardly anyone noticed. This book reveals the stories and music of many of these unsung heroes. Written by Unterberger, co-editor of the All Music Guide to Rock and former editor of the alternative music magazine Option, Unknown Legends explores the lives and careers of 60 of the best unrecognized rockers from the 1950s to the 1990s. Their tales are full of artistic triumphs, disastrous business deals, fleeting relationships with global stars, the joys of making music, the weight of public rejection, and more. Largely based on Unterberger's interviews with the musicians themselves (when possible) and with their colleagues, friends, and family, some of these firsthand stories end in personal tragedy; some uncover still-working musicians content with their unknown status; and others find artists who simply have moved on to new endeavors. A CD of 12 rare songs is included with the book.

THE CLINTON SYNDROME: The President and the Self-Destructive Nature of Sexual Addiction
By Jerome D. Levin, CGS'61.
Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1998.
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   Why would the most powerful person in the world risk engaging in illicit sexual behavior throughout his political career? Levin, a psychotherapist, addictions specialist, and professor, takes a clinical look at the life and behavior of President Bill Clinton, putting together a psychological portrait of a man out of control -- so driven by a sexual addiction that he would risk his presidency to fulfill a desperate need for reassurance and validation of his worth. In The Clinton Syndrome, Levin argues that Clinton's background as a child of addiction predisposed him biologically and socially to an addiction of his own. Levin is founder and director of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor Training Program at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. He has written nine books, eight of which deal with the understanding and treatment of addiction.

VICTORY FROM DEFEAT: Learn How & Why Winners Win From History's Greatest Success Stories
By Andrew Mason, W'91.
Pittsburgh: Sterling House, 1998. 178 pp., $19.95.
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   Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney: This book uses true stories about these and other famous individuals who, despite misfortune, heartache, and despair, overcame obstacles and took control of their lives. By sharing their tales of failures and successes, and his own, Mason, a financial consultant, identifies the key components of success that readers can learn from and emulate.

AMERICAN MEDICINE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST: A History of Specialization
By Rosemary Stevens, Faculty.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 613 pp., $18.95.
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   The reissue of Stevens's 1971 book on the growth of medical specialties -- updated with an extensive new introduction and a new bibliography -- offers an opportunity to take stock of our health-care system. Chronicling the development of the medical profession, Stevens shows how the increasing emphasis on specialization influenced medical education and public policy as well as the costs of health care and the organizations providing it -- all of which have profound implications for the nation's health. Stevens is the Stanley I. Scheerr Professor of History and Sociology of Science. Among her books are In Sickness and in Wealth and Medical Practice in Modern England.

SECURITY ANALYSIS ON WALL STREET: A Comprehensive Guide to Today's Valuation Methods

By Jeffrey C. Hooke, W'76, WG'77.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 434 pp., $69.95.
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   The principles of investing have always been simple: buy low, sell high. The investor who can find the right stocks to buy at the right time will reap the rewards, but the information needed to make these potentially lucrative decisions is often difficult to come by, then hard to decipher and rely on. This book shows that rational, rigorous analysis is still the most successful way to evaluate securities. Security analysis dictates that the selection of specific stocks for purchase or sale should be based on a rational analysis of investment values. Hooke, a corporate financial consultant based in Chevy Chase, Md., and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Business, takes a revealing look at the security evaluation process and its complex inner workings, as well as the major valuation techniques currently being used by Wall Street professionals. He is also author of M&A: A Practical Guide to Doing the Deal.

INSIDE THERAPY: Illuminating Writings About Therapists, Patients, and Psychotherapy
Edited by Ilana Rabinowitz, WEv'79. Foreword by Irvin D. Yalom.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 291 pp., $24.95.
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   The mysterious process of psychotherapy is, for both patient and practitioner, a minefield of buried emotions and experiences. Every new session of analysis can conjure up any number of harrowing yet deeply fascinating questions, not only about the patient and his or her neurosis, but also about the nature of therapy in general and about the intricacies of the relationship between patient and doctor: How does this process work? What is my therapist really thinking during our sessions? What can be done to make these sessions more productive? In response to these and many other widely shared ruminations about the art and science of psychotherapy comes Inside Therapy, a collection of essays and fiction by 17 contemporary writers and psychologists, each of whom attempts to shine some light into the dark corners of the profession. Rabinowitz has written on topics in psychotherapy and psychiatry for The Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications. Yalom is a psychiatrist and the author of the best-seller Love's Executioner.

WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE SEA: Coastal Landscapes, 1980-1998
By Jacques Levy, W'59.
Occidental, Calif.: Riversea Press, 1998. 56 pp., $24.95.
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   The oil paintings, watercolors, and pen and ink drawings presented in this book are distilled from 30 years of painterly exploration by Paris-born artist Jacques Levy. Inspired by the coastal beauty of northern California, they are the evolutionary outcome of Levy's exposure to a wide range of influences and experiments, including the beat and abstract expressionist movements that held sway in San Francisco during the 1960s. Shaped largely by memory, imagination, and the tactile suggestion of the paint itself, the works begin simply as expostulatory gestures and build up through layers of pigment. Thus, says Levy, the paintings figuratively "create themselves."

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