Blight, flux, Italy, violence, charm

October 11, 1998|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the sun

By now, most Marylanders can spell the word pfiesteria - but figure that if the Chesapeake's newest scourge puzzles scientists, a lay person can't be expected to understand it. Dinoflagellates (same dino as in dinosaur), indeed. Yet even as pfiesteria appears and disappears in a single place, it's also spreading.

Ritchie C. Shoemaker, an energetic family-practice physician in Pocomoke City who also knows his way around in marine biology, is the author of the subject's first general-reader book, "Pfiesteria: Crossing Dark Water" (Gateway, 350 pages, $13.95, plus $4.25 shipping; softbound).

The private citizen has become a public activist. Dr. Shoemaker, in this lively day-by-day account, arrives at a strong clue to the chemical substances responsible for this scary imbalance in our estuarial biosphere. Beware copper and, well, dithiocarbamates.

As Shoemaker reminds us, when seafood is ruled toxic, watermen are out of work. Crops suffer, without fertilizers and pesticides. Disease scares away tourists. Runoff is everywhere - coastal North Carolina and Florida, too, are blighted. Investigators dispute; voters palpitate.

Just thinking about it all could give a politician lesions. Might a sex scandal, or a general election, serve to distract public opinion?

"Close my eyes and I can still see the intersection of Howard and Lexington, and the department stores ... Needle's, Clark's and Western Union, on East Baltimore Street ... Waterloo Row ... " There speaks the ancient-of-days Baltimorean. So, is it an improvement or a retrogression, the street scenery of new-age Baltimore?

Mark B. Miller had the engaging notion of direct photographic comparison. For "Baltimore Transitions: Views of an American City in Flux" (Pridemark, 223 pages, $24.95), he rounded up pictures of downtown and suburbs, as they used to be; then, standing each time on the same spot as the bygone photographer, he shot today's scene. Before (fire, demolition, relocation) and After (new construction - or vacant space). Miller adds helpful historical notes. You will soon reach for a magnifying glass.

Garibaldi, like Napoleon and Bismarck and Lenin, still needs only one name for reference. Nonetheless, with so many nations and national leaders by now, a new biography of a last-century figure is quite justifiable. Benedict LiPira's "Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Father of Modern Italy" (Noble House, 124 pages, $15.25) is the lucid and judicious retelling of a life both adventurous and significant (born 1807 in France, died 1882 on an island off Sardinia). A hero indeed, this man of the people who, after Italy's overdue unification in 1870, went right on being "an insatiable lothario."

It goes way back, that U.S. undercurrent called violence. From Andrew Jackson's time to Lincoln's, violence bubbled up in print, along streets and roads, on the floor of the Senate and, particularly, in the South. The source was drunkenness, partisan politics, class injustices, natives vs. immigrants, territorial expansion; but more and more, it was slavery.

Here in Mobtown and elsewhere, confusion blunted judgment. But modern historians such as Goucher College's Jean Harvey Baker have sorted out the rioters.

Now comes a richly detailed overview, "American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War" (Oxford, 372 pages, $65), by David Grimsted of the University of Maryland, College Park. This book is not merely definitive; it is unanswerable.

South Africa is a wonder to us all - desegregated without a bloodbath. But the stillness of oppression has been replaced by a fester of cross-purposes. Patricia Romero, traversing the country, tape-recorded unfamiliar voices - women, speaking their minds. Professor Romero, of Towson University, has now published 30 of her very-real-people interviews in "Profiles in Diversity: Women in the New South Africa" (Michigan State University Press, 231 pages, $24.95, softbound).

Afrikaners, Chinese, Coloreds, English, Indians (Tamils), Jews, Xhosas, Zulus - yet here and there a universal note sounds. The underclass lacks employable skills. Education is a daunting task. Violence, the women report, is a tradition apparently on the rise since the political turnover. Families are still split, the father laboring miles away; "grandmothers have been, and are, the mainstay." Tossie Mpanole, age 19, from Guguletu Township still says: "In spite of all the difficulties, I am very positive about everything. I am going to be something one day."

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