Books of the region: war, evil, the Senate

October 12, 1997|By JAMES H. BREADY | JAMES H. BREADY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For something else to think about, when the times are out of joint, there's nothing like the Civil War. It calls across the years, still and always. And for anyone who can tell Army of the Potomac from Army of Northern Virginia, here's a book to own and not lend out: "Maryland's Blue & Gray: A Border State's Union and Confederate Junior Officer Corps," by Kevin Conley Ruffner (Louisiana State University Press. 428 pages. $34.95).

Recent articles by Ruffner, a Washington historian, in Maryland Historical Magazine have been harbingers of this opus: a study of the 365 captains and lieutenants in the Maryland Brigade (U.S.A.) and the Maryland Line (C.S.A.), in the Virginia theater of operations. Ruffner tracks down birth, parentage, education, home (for Baltimoreans, in upper- or lower-class ward), civilian occupation, military record, postwar life. A group narrative, one side and then the other, is followed by 98 pages of roster.

Blue: Harrison Adreon, South Baltimore grandson of an 1814 Old Defender, auctioneer's son, City College, at age 24 promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel; later, lawyer, Republican wheel, Baltimore postmaster. Gray: William H. Murray, born at West River (Anne Arundel), Baltimore businessman (rich ward), Bull Run I and Front Royal, hero to his men, at age 24 killed in action at Gettysburg.

Each side had it hard. In Richmond, these scions of city and planter gentility, angling for officer commissions, were sometimes eyed as dodgers of the Union draft; the Maryland Line was broken up in 1862. As for the Union's artisan-soldiers, afterward they went back to work; it was the ex-Confederates who published volumes of memoirs.

***

Senators tend to like the Senate, so they try for a sequence of terms. As for a crime novel by a senator about the Senate, readily that too has a sequel. The last we heard of Sen. Eleanor Gorzack (in 1996's "Capitol Offense"), she was using her pro tem appointment to bring home MIA bodies from Vietnam, including her husband's, while narrowly avoiding a murderer. Now, in "Capitol Venture" (New York: Dutton. 300 pages. $24.95), Norie Gorzack is running for office - to fill out the four years of her deceased predecessor's unfinished term. The while, bodies are dropping, one and then another.

The setting is Pennsylvania, but the first of two co-authors is Maryland's very own Sen. Barbara Mikulski (her colleague, Marylouise Oates, lives in Washington). The terrain may be the Poconos, Fallingwater, the Jersey Shore, center-city Philadelphia, but the first-person singular protagonist is instantly recognizable: short, bright, up from the ethnic masses, keen on the environment, above all a voice for everyman and everywoman. Hank Dugdale, the rival candidate, is a right-wing creep. The murdering is the work of rural, gun-happy militiamen.

Or is it?

The plotting is OK, but what makes "Capitol Venture" a book to recommend is the insider view of politicking, campaigning, fund-raising - of the senatorial life.

***

Besides founding Hadassah and helping to lay the groundwork for Israel, Henrietta Szold of Baltimore and Jerusalem was a photographer's delight. Nachum T. Gidal, a German Jewish pioneer in photojournalism, moved to Jerusalem in 1936, with time out to accompany the armies in World War II. Then came an international life of exhibits, books, teaching. Szold died in 1945, and Gidal in 1996 at age 87; but from his negatives he had fashioned one last, impressive book: "Henrietta Szold, the Saga of an American Woman" (Hewlett, N.Y. Gefen Books. 160 pages. $27.95).

***

We all know evil when we read about it, or see it, or suffer it, yet evil is a slippery concept. Trying to pin it down, C. Fred Alford of College Park went to that "socially designated container of evil," Patuxent Institution. For months, he interviewed an "evil group" of 18 prisoners (plus other subjects elsewhere).

Professor Alford starts with the familiar "Evil is pleasure in hurting another and a lack of remorse," but moves to another plane: evil is inner dread, which the evildoer would transfer to a victim. By the end, Alford has quoted Immanuel Kant; yet "What Evil Means to Us" (Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell University Press. 178 pages. $22.50) will draw in many a good-doer.

***

Dread, in its subjective purity, is a motif in Elisabeth Stevens' new book, "In Foreign Parts: Art & Stories" (Delhi, N.Y. Birch Brook Press. 120 pages. Paper. $18. Preface by David Kriebel). These nine stories, each with an introductory etching, depict ordinary people; their predicaments are plausible at first, then off-center, then alarming.

For a Halloween occasion - but sans children - try reading Stevens aloud.

James H. Bready writes a monthly column on regional books for The Sun. He is retired from the Evening Sun where he was a reporter, book editor and editorial writer.

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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