Books

Now We Know

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev (Yale University Press, 637 pp., $35) If one were trying to define the lowest point in the long and venerable tradition of American anti-communism, surely it came in 2003, with the publication of Ann Coulter's Treason.

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First, brace yourself. The romantic is back, feet propped, convalescing from the fiction of an interventionist god. Tough journey. Long. Oxymoronic lovechild of nature and art, tell it slant on that red guitar: that nightingale is not a bird. It's a folio of Homer, a cashcow on fire.

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C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems Translated, with introduction and commentary, by Daniel Mendelsohn (Alfred A. Knopf, 624 pp., $35) C.P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems Translated, with introduction and commentary, by Daniel Mendelsohn (Alfred A. Knopf, 144 pp., $30) I. Greece, as a nation-state, has only existed since 1832. The Greece that most of us have at the back of our minds, that of archaic and classical antiquity, consisted of a collection of quarrelsomely independent city-states, united only by language, cult, and a contempt for the Barbarian Other.

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Kazan on Directing Edited and with commentary by Robert Cornfield (Knopf, 368 pp., $32.50) If anyone wants to make the case for Elia Kazan as one of the outstanding twentieth-century Americans, there is a famous text to call in support. I refer to A Life, Kazan's autobiography, published in 1988 at 848 pages (it was cut to make it a reasonable length), and one of the most forceful and engrossing books ever written about a life in the arts or show business.

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Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'ConnorBy Brad Gooch(Little, Brown, 416 pp., $30)'I am one of those people who could die for his religion sooner than take a bath for it," Flannery O'Connor wrote during the spring of 1958, after her rich Savannah cousin Katie Semmes had paid for a pilgrimage to the healing waters of Lourdes for O'Connor, who was suffering from lupus, and for her mother, Regina.

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Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding FathersBy Richard S. Newman(New York University Press, 359 pp., $34.95)Few Americans know the extraordinary story of Richard Allen, who rose from slavery in colonial America to become a prosperous entrepreneur and inspirational preacher in the early republic. In this bold biography, Richard Newman rescues Allen from obscurity to achieve a larger goal: to recognize African Americans as active makers of the American republic.

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Hard not to wake at least somewhat cheerfulwhen you can listen to Angela Hewitt playing Couperinin the morning and the dogwood's bloomingand you have a lover--not a perfect one,mind you, but it's hardly a world meantfor perfection anyway--and, yes, back painof course, high cholesterol, very little socked awayfor retirement, but so what?

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  The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 By Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press, 394 pp., $27.95) I. FROM CENTRALITY TO banality: perhaps no other event in modern American history has gone from being contentious to being forgotten as quickly as the war in Iraq. Remember the war? It consumed a trillion American dollars, devoured a hundred thousand Iraqi lives, squandered a country’s reputation, and destroyed an American presidency.

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A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and Their Remarkable Families By Michael Holroyd (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 620 pp., $40) Ben and Sarah Terry, parents of the more famous Ellen, were jobbing actors. Six of their nine children had stage careers. Ellen Terry was to become the most celebrated of Victorian actresses, but her sister Kate was also considerably admired, and at least two more siblings had something of a name in their time. Ellen lived for some years with E.W. Godwin, an architect of originality, who also turned his hand to stage design.

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The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 Edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge University Press, 782 pp., $50)   I. If Samuel Beckett was a recluse, as most of the world liked to think, then he was surely the most garrulous recluse ever. He had a wide circle of friends, many of them close, and a very much wider circle of acquaintances, especially after he began to work in the theater, which he did partly, as he said, to escape the tyranny of prose, but also, as he did not say, for company.

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