Between soft covers: a nuclear warning, Tom Wolfe, private eyes
Never read a book that is not a year old. - Ralph Waldo EmersonSkip to next paragraph
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When David Bradley's No Place to Hide (University of New England Press, $8.95 ) was first published in 1948, not enough people paid attention to what he said. After 35 years of arms-race-watching, after ''The Day After,'' we now know how right he was.
Dr. Bradley, a physician, was one of the scientific, military, and technical multitude assembled to study the aftereffects of atomic weapons tested at Bikini Atoll in July 1946, less than a year after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ''No Place to Hide'' is the journal he kept.
This new edition contains an epilogue written last year, as well as an appendix on the dangers of radioactivity. Bradley's book is prophetic, humane, instructive, and distressingly timely; those who want to know how we arrived at our present state of concern about nuclear devices need to read this book.
''It is the most supremely interesting moment in life,'' wrote Alice James to her brother William a year before her death, ''the only one in fact, when living seems life, and I count it as the greatest good fortune to have these few months so full of interest and instruction in the knowledge of my approaching death.''
Morbid? At times. But for Alice James, a younger sister of novelist Henry and philosopher William, death was the main preoccupation of life, something Ruth Bernard Yeazell's very fine biographical essay makes clear in The Death and Letters of Alice James (University of California Press, $7.95).
Like her famous brothers, Alice James wrote well and suffered from numerous unclassifiable illnesses; ''neurasthenia, like intelligence, seems to have run in the family,'' Yeazell says. A fascinating book. Those who agree should look for Jean Strouse's ''Alice James, A Biography'' (Bantam, $4.95) and ''The Diary of Alice James'' (Penguin, $4.95).
Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Mozart (Vintage, $8.95) is a maddening and difficult biography; it also assumes a fair amount of interest and knowledge of the composer. Although Hildesheimer is from start to finish a fan of Mozart the musician, he seems to have a different agenda for Mozart the man.
What makes this biography particularly vexing is Hildesheimer's penchant for long digressions, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods passages in which he mounts a soapbox and explains his biases, subjects Mozart to some psychoanalytical scrutiny, and so on. If you like Mozart and intrusive biographers, this may be for you.
One of the best-written of recent autobiographies is Kate Simon's Bronx Primitive (Harper Colophon, $4.95), a book that is an exceptionally honest and affecting account of growing up female and an immigrant in 1920s New York City.
The book's subtitle is ''Portraits in a Childhood.'' Here is the opening of Chapter 3: ''When my brother was born, I was eighteen months old. My father, for whom I was still searching, had been in New York for six months. Our Warsaw apartment turned dark, the singing stopped. It need hardly be said that I was jealous, felt abandoned, unloved, coldly shadowed while the full warm light that was mine now circled him.''
Simon invests the stuff generic to childhood - school, play, sibling rivalry, parents - with new meaning, forces imagery from her early years into photographlike clarity. ''Bronx Primitive's'' only flaw is that there isn't enough of it.