The Museum of Clear Ideas

This is Donald Hall’s most advanced work, extending his poetic reach even beyond his recent volumes. Conflict dominates this book, and conflict unites it. Hall takes poetry as an instrument for revelation, whether in an elegy for a (fictional) contemporary poet, or in the title series of poems, whose form imitates the first book of the Odes of Horace. The book’s final section, “Extra Innings,” moves with poignancy to questions about the end of the game.

The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices

Margaret Gibson is a writer who extends the scope of poetry beyond its accustomed boundaries. Her previous work has ranged from lyric celebrations of natural world to poems that speak out against political injustice and violence. She can turn from a creative reimagining of the life of the photographer and revolutionary Tina Modotti in Mexico to write sensuous meditations influenced by Buddhist and Christian thought. In her newest book, The Vigil, Gibson adroitly interweaves the voices of four women, mothers and daughters of three generations, who, during the course of a single day, reveal the depths of the legacy of alcoholism in their family.

“There’s nothing wrong here: don’t tell anyone”—that has been the guiding principle of these women’s lives, enmeshed in patterns of silence and denial, secrecy and lies. But on this one day of startling revelations, the full extent of the family’s secrets, kept still in the sweep of years, begins to emerge. As the history of loss and regret unfolds, the women begin to sense those have passed down from mother to daughter. In the end, we see the four women poised, however precariously, on the thresholds of trust, candor, forgiveness, and love.

In The Vigil, the lyric and meditative qualities that readers have long since come to expect from the work of Margaret Gibson combine with an unexpected dramatic and narrative unity. The result is a work that is daring and accomplished, a remarkable tour de force of imagination and technical skill, a ringing affirmation of Philip Booth’s earlier assessment that Gibson is “a poet profoundly empowered.”

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Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America

Gunfighter Nation completes Richard Slotkin’s trilogy, begun in Regeneration Through Violence and continued in Fatal Environment, on the myth of the American frontier. Slotkin examines an impressive array of sources – fiction, Hollywood westerns, and the writings of Hollywood figures and Washington leaders – to show how the racialist theory of Anglo-Saxon ascendance and superiority (embodied in Theodore Roosevelt’s The Winning of the West), rather than Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis of the closing of the frontier, exerted the most influence in popular culture and government policy making in the twentieth century. He argues that Roosevelt’s view of the frontier myth provided the justification for most of America’s expansionist policies, from Roosevelt’s own Rough Riders to Kennedy’s counterinsurgency and Johnson’s war in Vietnam.

W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919

This monumental biography–eight years in the research and writing–treats the early and middle phases of a long and intense career: a crucial fifty-year period that demonstrates how Du Bois changed forever the way Americans think about themselves.