Poet's letters, history atlas

``Dear Mama: . . . Demuth, that fellow who is studying art here, has invited me to a dance at his school on Saturday evening. I am to take a girl whom I have never seen, but who is very nice nevertheless. . . .'' Yes, William Carlos Williams wrote letters to his mother, but he also wrote them to Marianne Moore, Kenneth Burke, Nathanael West, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Charles Sheeler, and many other well-known friends. The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams (New Directions, New York, $9.95) collects 218 letters written by the doctor and poet between 1902 and 1956. The selections were edited by John C. Thirlwall. What did the map of Europe look like when the Hapsburgs reigned? What about the layout of Africa in 1880? Which European countries controlled which parts of Africa at the start of World War I?

How has the map of the Middle East changed since 1945? These are the sort of questions answered by the Rand McNally Atlas of World History (Rand McNally, New York, $14.95).

It's a thoroughly useful reference with cogent essays relating to each map.

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