Securing the West -- Politics, Public Lands, and the Fate of the Old Republic, 1785-1850 by John R. Van Atta, Johns Hopkins UPress '14, $54.95, 294 pages, ASIN #1421412756. Index, essay on sources, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
"In any culture, the distribution, use, and political significance of the most basic economic resource -- land -- must be a central part of the design," writes author John R. Van Atta in his Introduction. "In the aspirations of the earliest New World settlers and for long thereafter, America represented above all the opportunity for people to their own land.
"Institutions, sanctions, rituals, regulations, social structures -- in short, the foundational elements of a civil society -- all related to who controlled land, the manner in which they controlled it, and for what purposes. From the start, while the land in the New World may have been vacant, to some eyes, it was never empty."
The author elaborates on this point on the front cover:
"Americans expected the country to grow westward, but on the details of that growth they held strongly different opinions. What part should Congress play in this development? How much should public land cost? What of the families and businesses left behind, and how would society's institutions be established in the West? What of the premature settlers, the 'squatters' who challened the rule of law while epitomizing democratic daring?
"Taking a broad approach, Van Atta addresses three interrelated queries: First, how did competing economic beliefs and divergent cultural mandates influence the various outcomes of this broad debate over the means, timing, and purposes of settling the trans-Appalachian West? Second, what alternative visions of western society lay behind the battles among policy makers within the government and the interested parties who would sway them? Third, why did settlement of the West take such a different course in the end from that which the earliest leaders of the republic intended?"
Author John R. Van Atta teaches history and constitutional law at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT. He is the author of The Wolf by the Ears: The Missouri Crisis, 1819--1821, forthcoming from Johns Hopkins.
Jackson Pollock's Mural -- The Transitional Moment, with essays by Yvonne Szafran, Laura Rivers, Alan Phenix, Tom Learner, Ellen G. Landau, and Steve Martin. Getty Publications '14, in oversized format, on glossy stock, $29.95, 124 pages, 78 color and 13 b&w illustrations, many full-page, ASIN #1606063235. Index, bibliography, appendix, notes follow each essay.
Will wonders never cease? Award-winning comedian and actor, accomplished musician, novelist and art collector -- Steve Martin -- seems to have done it all. But he's obviously not finished as he now delivers a serious, though brief, critique on Jackson Pollock's work, Mural.
"A CinemaScope blast of canvas, Mural debuted in Peggy Guggenheim's expansive hallway at a party after Pollock's gallery opening in 1943," Martin writes. "I suppose Guggenheim thought that if she was going to throw an art party, then she might as well do it with one of the strangest paintings 1943 had ever seen. The picture was viewed obliquely as guests carrying heavy coats passed beside it, heading for the cocktails necessary to endure the behavior of Mural's creator, Jackson Pollock.
"While installing the painting, he had wandered into an afternoon party nude and drunk, with what may be called an extreme case of opening night jitters. Mural had the perfect rhythm for a party -- or a nightclub, or a subway station -- with vertical lines that were very nearly human dancing across what Pollack called 'that goddam surface.' Just four years later, those figures in his work would be gone, and he would have found in his drip pictures an expression of artistic emotion equal to opera's high C...."
The authors offer an informative timeline, from 1943, when Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to paint a mural for her townhouse to 1956, when Pollock dies in an auto accident; to interesting asides from Guggenheim along the way, to 2012, when Mural arrived at the Getty Center in Los Angeles for technical study, conservation, and cleaning. And a foldout near the front of the book offers a reduction of the oil painting, the original of which measures 95 5/8" by 237 3/4".
Besides Steve Martin's introductory sketch are essays entitled "Still Learning from Pollock" by Ellen G. Landau; "Jackson Pollock's Mural: Myth and Substance" by Yvonne Szafran, Laura Rivers, Alan Phenix, and Tom Learner; and "Deconstructing Mural: A Guide to Reading Pollock's Paint" by Alan Phenix.
About the authors:
Yvonne Szafran is senior conservator of paintings and Laura Rivers an associate conservator of painting at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Alan Phenix is a scientist and Tom Learner a senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute. Ellen G. Landau is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emerita of the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University. And Steve Martin is Steve Martin.
On Love -- A Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century by Luc Ferry, Polity Press '13, 180 pages, ASIN #0745670172. Index, footnotes, unillustrated.
From the dust cover:
"All the great ideals that gave life meaning in earlier societies -- God, the nation, revolution, freedom, democracy -- are in disarray today, widely questioned, and rejected outright by the many people who have lost faith in them.
"But there is another value, rooted in the birth of the modern family and in the passage from traditional to modern marriage, which has transformed our lives in profound and often unrecognized ways: love. It affects not only our personal lives but many aspects of our social and collective life, too, from art and education to politics.
"In this book, Luc Ferry shows how the quiet rise of love as the central value in modern societies has created a new principle of meaning and a new definition of the good life that requires a completely different kind of philosophical thinking. It forms the basis for a new philosophy for the 21st century and a new kind of humanism for the modern world -- not a humanism of reason and rights, but a humanism of solidarity and sympathy."
Luc Ferry is a French philosopher who served as Minister for Youth, National Education and Research in France from 2002 to 2004. He has written many books in English.