Joan of Arc, Stalin, medical annals; NOVELS


Religion, feminism, nationalism: Many and large are the forces behind the continuing glorification of Joan of Arc. People tend to forget, Loyola College professor Kelly DeVries writes in his book, "Joan of Arc, A Military Leader" (Sutton, 242 pages, $27.95), that the young 15th century woman from Lorraine who called herself Jehanne was "a soldier, plain and simple." She didn't mull over issues and strategy, from rear-area safety; she was in the forefront of battle, sword in hand and recognizable by her banner and doublet.

To some people today, this brief participant in the Hundred Years War between France and England may be the most memorable figure of the Middle Ages. Crying attack! attack! attack!, she did revive courage and self-confidence among fellow-soldiers. (Beside the voices Jeanne d'Arc heard, comrades are likely to have imparted siege tactics and combat skills.) But then her triumphs ceased, and hostile schemers emerged.

Joan was captured, tried, immolated. Today her likeness, her very age are unknown.

DeVries provides illustrations and maps and a level-headed overview of the documentary sources. His excellent "Joan of Arc" will much enlighten anyone whose awareness extends only to plays and films.

Throughout, from the October Revolution to Glasnost, the government imposed upon the people of the U.S.S.R. a uniform public culture. Independent reporting, questioning, commenting were punitively banned. Nor was it just a matter of conforming to guidelines in literature, art, music, science, politics; the obligations of the Soviet citizen also included periodic displays of gratitude to the party, the state and the supreme leader.

Outsiders scoffed: of what value is propaganda? But to Johns Hopkins University professor Jeffrey Brooks, this "performative" culture is, in many ways, what undid the Soviet Union. For his book, "Thank you, Comrade Stalin!" (Princeton University Press, 319 pages, $35), Brooks read thousands of articles in Pravda, Izvestia, Trud, Krasnaya Zvezda.

The pattern worked, until a global world undermined isolation. The Soviet system, used to hiding its defects and overstating its gains, could not supply the true numbers and cold facts needed for the Information Age. Could be a lesson here for any subsequent nation in which government, business or the military think to solve their difficulties by imposing the discipline of a uniform public culture.

This year is the bicentennial of Franklin Buchanan, who was the Naval Academy's first superintendent, the president of what is now the University of Maryland, and in between twice an admiral. Moreover, he was born in Baltimore and died (at 74) on the Eastern Shore. Yet even the old hands who do place him generally mispronounce the name.

If the anniversary be recognized, major credit should go to Naval Academy professor Craig L. Symonds, the author of "Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan" (Naval Institute Press, 277 pages, $32.95), the first modern biography.

Old Buck was Old Navy by 1861, when he made the navigational blunder of a lifetime: He resigned his commission. Almost overnight, he tried to unresign, but the Navy Department was aware of his slaveholder outlook . (Buchanan had married into the Lloyds of Wye House, that Deep South-model "private kingdom" in Talbot County.) The Navy Department refused to unaccept the resignation. So Buchanan steered south, eventually to be given his old rank and to see action in a futile cause.

Symonds is that rarity, a biographer whose empathy with his subject does not affect the book's judgments upon him. Buchanan (you hit the first syllable: Buck-'n-'n) is fortunate now to be stationed on a bridge so well-documented, so uninterruptedly readable.

When George Washington fell ill, two centuries ago last month, the attending physicians included Gustavus Brown of Port Tobacco. The patient did not rally, but Maryland medicine nonetheless remembers 1799 pleasantly -- that January, Brown and 104 colleagues had founded the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland. Our statewide medical society, spoken of nowadays as Med Chi, still has great vital signs.

For its bicentennial, the society commissioned Jane Elliot Sewell, a medical historian and the wife of a Johns Hopkins professor, to dig through its records and to write "Medicine in Maryland: The Practice and the Profession, 1799-1999" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 238 pages, $39.95).

Sewell records not just the juggernauts, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, but also the diversity beyond -- the county medical societies, the regional hospitals, the homeopathic and other 19th century hospitals and medical colleges. Latterly, she honors Roland T. Smoot of Provident Hospital, in 1983 Med Chi's first African-American president; and acupuncture, and the Complementary Medicine Program, and the National Institutes in Bethesda.

As an undergraduate, Towson University professor Karl Larew went to the University of Connnecticut; later he became a historian. Logical enough for the two threads later to intertwine; but Larew as author now adds another strand, fiction. His latest book is "Candles in the Window: A Novel of College Life in the 1950s" (American Literary Press, 276 pages, $14.95, paperback).

UConn (pronounced Yukon) has its buildings, courses, classes -- all factual -- but serving only as a realistic backdrop. Larew, a lively and entertaining stylist, cuts at once to the hormones, the guy-girl, girl-guy chase and stays there. Meet Silky, a standout for her hair, her magnetism, her gift for drama, her serial boyfriends. The drama plays out as tragedy.

The standard disclaimer appears: "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is unintentional." But the author may need to ward off comments that the candles of his book title suggest, back at alma mater, somebody's old flame.

James H. Bready writes a monthly column on regional books. Previously he worked as a reporter, editorial writer and book editor for The Evening Sun.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad