The Essential

John Kenneth Galbraith
Andrea D. Williams,

There is this Galbraith, who pretends to be an economist, but who is, in truth, an astute political commentator, a wag, a self-effacing yet effective on-again off-again member of various administrations and, above all, a brilliant stylist.

In fact, if I had the misfortune to be teaching Bonehead English again, I would promptly assign several chapters of Galbraith so that my dullard students could learn, for a change, to treasure balance, vocabulary, sly witticisms, studied insight, and the magical exposition available to those who know and love the English language.

Twenty-one essays are included here, excerpted from several previous works: The Affluent Society, The New Industrial State, Annals of an Abiding Liberal, and The Great Crash, 1929.

Galbraith will be remembered for his economic theories --- some original (such as the powerful effect of advertising on patterns of consumerism) --- as well as others shaped from the works of Keynes and Veblen and Marx. Indeed, three of the most notable chapters here include brief studies of each of these economists.

Having just waded through Wheen's newest study of Karl Marx, I wish I had prepared by visiting Galbraith's "Massive Dissent of Karl Marx" so that I could have brought along with me some critical balance. Both take the same view of the magical importance of Marx and his epic mental powers. But in contrast to Wheen, Galbraith has a fine turn of phrase which can delight and please the reader while being most instructive. He says of The Communist Manifesto:

    Its assertive, uncompromising, thrusting mood has become part of the consciousness of all politicians, including those for whom the name of Marx is anathema and those who identify it only with Hart, Schaffner and men's suits.

Or this,

    The Prussian police maintained their interest in Marx. In 1852, a police spy infiltrated Marx's rooms and sent back a lucid account of the Marx menage. It is a valuable contribution to history from the files and holds forth hope as to what, one day, the CIA may offer...

Or this delightful aside on the Canadians who came from Scotland, and lived in the vicinity of Lake Erie, as reported in "Who Was Thorstein Veblen?"

    The Scotch...inhabited the farms. The people of the towns were English. They were the favored race. In Upper Canada in earlier times, Englishmen, in conjunction with the Church of England as a kind of holding company for political and economic interest, dominated the economic, political, religious and social life to their own unquestioned pecuniary and social advantage.

I could go on. Indeed I am tempted to do so. But, instead, let me suggest that you lend yourself to the kind ministrations of Galbraith's language --- either with this title, or four of the others which we can recommend:

  • The Great Crash, 1929;
  • A Life in Our Times;
  • The Scotch;
  • The Affluent Society.

--- R. A. Rawson, PhD

Maverick in

Mark Eveleigh
(Lonely Planet)
Eveleigh starts out his tale of his journey with a quote from a Malagasy storyteller:

    This is not my own lie.
    This is a lie that the ancestors told me.

We assume, of course, that he isn't lying: that he actually tried to walk all the way from Diego Bay in the north of Madagascar to the south part of the island --- some 1,500 km --- in the company of a zebu pack bull named Jobi.

Despite the pleasures to be found on the trail --- openhearted people, beautiful lemurs, flying foxes --- there is also a certain something that would probably preclude you and me from making such an insane trek. Large, feasting mosquitoes, the fevers, the slipping and sliding in the rain, being pushed around by a crazed zebu, and worst of all --- a highway in name more than in reality. That's why we read these books, right? So we'll never have to do it ourselves.

Mind you, there are some sights we would like to have seen, if we could have done it without the mud and the bugs. There is, too, just enough history given here that we would like to know more about it: like Andrianampoinimerina --- Madagascar's greatest king, or the schizophrenic Queen Ranavalona, who's workings made her not unlike some 20th century officials (she had her prisoners boiled to death). There too is the coming of the French and English who, by agreement --- things were so much easier 150 years ago --- agreed that Zanzibar would become a British colony, Madagascar French.

Eveleigh's leisurely walk alongside his beloved Jobi is not without merit: the villages, the flowers and trees and danga grass and the animals not to be seen anywhere in this part of the world except in an exotic zoo:

    Two phantom-like silhouettes, backlit through their wings by the last of the dying sun, sailed towards us out of that smoky sky. More followed and within minutes there was a stream of hundreds of flying foxes, flapping steadily on mighty metre-long wingspans...They swarmed out of the bruising sky of the west, heading in a nightmarish horde towards their night feeding grounds in the mountain forests. Some almost skimmed the traveller's palms and I was struck by their cute, puppyish faces, clashing so bizarrely with the awful bony "fingers" on the front of the wings and their vampire image.

We suggest this book for those who might one day plan a visit to Madagascar. At worst, it will advise you where not to go --- like the oft-touted "Hell-ville" (name not fabricated) on the adjoining island of "Nosy Be" (ditto) where it is

    so busy celebrating its reputation that few seem to notice that the warm, friendly attitude with which Malagasy people meet you on the mainland has been replaced here with children begging for sweets and young girls selling themselves for the price of a bottle of rum.

§     §     §

This latter will indicate that Eveleigh is a strait-laced type, so anglo sin is the one and only world standard. He's also a stickler for gringo rules. He insists on getting "passports" not only for himself but for his beloved zebu. His descriptions of his ups and downs on the road are workmanlike but, if you will pardon the expression, sometimes the last ylang-ylang or the next fady might not be all that worth writing home about.

Travel writing is an art --- and the author should interject enough of himself so that we are interested in not only the countryside and the people but in the writer as well. For instance, Gordon MacCreagh in his masterful White Waters and Black turns us into traveling companions in a riotous journey with nutty scientists through the Amazon headwaters. There's little such fun in being on the road with Eveleigh.

Still, if I were aching to go to Nosy Komba, or slosh along the country's one highway, Maverick in Madagascar would be the travel book I would choose to take along with me.

--- Lolita Lark

The Big Lie
Hale Boggs,
Lucille May Grace,
And Leander Perez in 1951

Garry Boulard
For those of you who aren't yet into geezerhood, Hale Boggs was a popular and powerful congressman from fifty years back. He was from Louisiana, and this book tells us of his abortive attempt to run for governor of that state in 1951. His candidacy was shot down by Leander Perez, one of those rich and terrible southern redneck caciques who, who owned his own parish, lock stock and barrel. Because of Boggs personality and reputation as a liberal --- especially in matters of race --- Perez tried to destroy him by digging up articles from his college days which, he claimed, made it obvious that Boggs was a communist.

All this sounds a bit weird nowadays and, indeed, this communist-baiting business was weird. According to some contemporary citizens --- most notably, members of the American Legion and heads of the HUAC and FBI, Russia and China were taking over the world. These super-Americans believed that the communist system was of such magical power that it could destroy us.

Now international problems have a way of reflecting themselves in some of the more reprehensible national public policies. The technique of destroying ones' political opponent by saying the magic word "communist" is not unlike the traditional fairy-tale where one says "abracadabra" --- and suddenly, woosh, a man is changed into a frog. In 1951, you waved your arms about and said "communist" and suddenly your opponent found himself turned into cornmeal mush. Such was the attempt against Hale Boggs.

Boulard has read all the papers and interviewed many of the people who took part in this one small footnote in a very destructive period in American political life. However, he is a plodding writer, so the madness of the times may well be lost on the reader. We learn more than we want about off-the-wall Louisiana politics from those days.

First there is Perez' vulgar ways --- during the beginnings of the integration of New Orleans, he would chant, Don't wait for your daughters to be raped by these Congolese...Don't wait until these burrheads are forced into your schools. Then there was Earl Long --- Huey's somewhat demented brother --- proclaiming that Boggs wasn't a Communist, he was a Catholic (in parts of Louisana this was considered anathema). Finally, we learn how Hale Boggs turned into a full-fledged alcoholic, and was lost, mysteriously, in a 1972 flight in Alaska that just disappeared into the blue .

Further, author Garry Boulard's style has a touch of imperfection when it comes to self-editing, leaving us stranded on the shores of the bayous with garish phrases like,

    In hamlets deep inside the state, places where visitors extolled the country music or Creole tomatoes, men were obscured by the white sheets they wore, warning of a coming mongrel nation as flames from nearly burning crosses cast shadows on their words.

How flames can cast shadows on words is beyond us.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

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