Afghanistan: Paradise Lost, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud. New York: Vendome Press. 98 color plates. $12.95. The hyperbolic title and a brief but flowery commentary overstate the undeniable poignancy of this collection of dazzlingly beautiful photographs, taken by the Michauds during the 14 years they spent in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion of 1979. Their desire to pay verbal tribute to the land and its people is understandable, but the pictures, mute witnesses of a vanishing way of life, are still more eloquent, capturing the richness, severity, and mystery of a place that once seemed set apart in splendid isolation. These photographs convey the stunning contrasts within Afghanistan, a remote country that has always invited -- and stalwartly resisted -- conquest. The Gardens at Giverny: A View of Monet's World, by Stephen Shore. Introduction by John Rewald. Essays by Gerald Van Der Kemp and Daniel Wildenstein. Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture. 71 pp. $17.50.
Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny, France, were an artistic creation in themselves as well as a continuing inspiration for his paintings. Restored during the late 1970s, the gardens were opened to the public in 1980, 97 years after the Impressionist first began to plant the roses, tulips, nasturtiums, pansies, zinnias, asters, and irises in a wild riot of color so different from the classic formal gardens of France. In 1893, Monet began to fashion the water garden that would serve as the subject of his famed ``Water Lilies.'' Shore's lovely photographs, delightful in themselves, are valuable for what they reveal about the differences between the sharply focused eye of the camera and the richer, more deeply imaginative vision of the artist. A Compass Error, by Sybille Bedford. New York: Obelisk/Dutton. 270 pp. $8.95.
To Flavia Herbert, a clever young woman coming of age in the 1930s in the south of France, the future looks challenging but uncomplicated. She is certain that ``life is good and learning infinite.'' But a slight misprision has devastating consequences that alter the course of her life. A subtle, gracefully constructed novel that conveys the exhilaration of youth while reminding us of the unforeseen ways in which the past can impose itself on the future. George Eliot: A Biography, by Gordon Haight. New York: Penguin. 616 pp. $9.95. The Lifted Veil, by George Eliot. New York: Penguin/Virago. 91 pp. $5.95.
The late Prof. Gordon S. Haight of Yale devoted most of his scholarly life to British woman novelist George Eliot. His biography of her, first published in 1968, remains the indispensable guide to her life and work. But even Mr. Haight sympathized with Eliot's publisher's reservations about her eerie romance with the subject of clairvoyance in ``The Lifted Veil.'' Long out of print, this novella, which Eliot called a jeu de m'elancholie, is most interesting -- not only as evidence of Eliot's questing curiosity, but as a rationalist's meditation on the power of romantic obsession. The Age of Ideologies: A History of Political Thought in the Twentieth Century, by Karl Dietrich Bracher. Translated from the German by Ewald Osers. New York: St. Martin's Press. 305 pp. $11.95.
This comprehensive and acutely analytical book by an eminent German scholar surveys the common ground shared by various ideologies that have influenced the course of the 20th century. At the heart of movements such as communism, fascism, national socialism, '60s radicalism, and current Islamic fundamentalism, Bracher discerns a similar configuration of attitudes: antidemocratic, antiliberal, anti-individualistic, and fascinated with the cult of ``justified'' revolutionary violence. As a German, Bracher is particularly concerned with the dangers of movements per se, and he distrusts any attempts to substitute a monolithic ideological formula for the sometimes frustrating pluralism of liberal democracy. Political Prairie Fire: The Nonpartisan League 1915-1922, by Robert L. Morlan. With a new introduction by Larry Remele. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. 414 pp. $10.95.
Long before the hardships of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of the 1930s, the boom-and-bust cycles of a ``free'' economy had already been wreaking havoc on American farmers. In 1915, a grass-roots group of North Dakota farmers embarked on a program to replace private monopolies with state-run agencies. The astonishing success of the Nonpartisan League and its subsequent demise are memorably chronicled by Robert L. Morlan in ``Political Prairie Fire,'' first published in 1955. This edition features a judicious introduction by Larry Remele, who helpfully assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Morlan's classic account. H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, selected and edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock. New York: Oxford University Press. 676 pp. $12.95.
One of the strangest political correspondences in history consists of the impassioned and indiscreet letters written by Britain's great Liberal prime minister to a woman 35 years his junior. Begun two years before the outbreak of World War I, the correspondence becomes more intense with the onset of Asquith's burden of heading a wartime administration. Few political leaders could have so indulged in a private -- although possibly Platonic -- passion amid such public responsibilities. This unusual situation yields insights into the prosecution of modern war and a mind in the grip of a powerful personal obsession. Essential reading for students of history, psychology, or both. Washington Despatches 1941-45: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy, edited by H. G. Nicholas, with an introduction by Isaiah Berlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 700 pp. $19.95.
For much of World War II, the British government had the good fortune to have as an observer of American political life the distinguished Oxford don Isaiah Berlin. He happened to be in America when his post as press attach'e in Moscow was abruptly canceled. From Washington he then began to report with acuity and erudition on how the press, Congress, labor unions, and other United States institutions viewed the wartime case of Britain. This book, containing some of Berlin's dispatches, well annotated by an Oxford historian, makes for absorbing reading. One can well understand why Winston Churchill was so struck by their qualities that he wanted to question their author in person -- and how disappointed he must have been when the I. Berlin then visiting London was brought to him and turned out to be songwriter Irving Berlin.