History, faith, drink, the news

Books Of The Region

February 24, 2002|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

To our ancestors, the Patapsco River valley offered much: a rapid current for millraces and millwheels, wood for heat and carpentry, transportation -- the Baltimore-Fredericktown Turnpike, later the new Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The first form of industry, in the 1700s, was iron smelting, followed by flour milling, papermaking, cotton-spinning and looming. William Patterson's Union Manufacturing Co., in 1808, was the state's first incorporated factory. Then came those four business-minded brothers, the Ellicotts.

But Henry K. Sharp's book, The Patapsco River Valley: Cradle of the Industrial Revolution in Maryland (Maryland Historical Society, 125 pages, $22.95 softbound, oversize) is not just a pleased tribute to capitalist forebears, most of whom seem not to have used slaves.

Often, back then, fire broke out. Or the river rose. On July 24, 1868, an upcountry thunderstorm loosed a torrent down that narrow gorge and caused a classic American catastrophe. As successive dams broke, their debris battered the houses and buildings downstream. Two B. & O. trains stuck in the mud; four of the valley's 11 factories "utterly vanished"; 36 people drowned. (Baltimore's 1904 downtown fire was much bigger in destruction and dollars, but had no identified fatalities.). Today the valley is scenic as ever, but as an industrial site it has never recovered.

Sharp, an architectural historian from Virginia, relives the disaster in you-are-there detail. But the bulk of his careful, authoritative book has to do with that early promise, that important role in the economy of a young nation. His researches had the help of Charles L. Wagandt and other modern investigators -- who still seek the site of Mary Katharine Goddard's paper mill, at Elk Ridge Landing, one of several supplying Baltimore's first newspaper.

A basic Maryland book.

Behind the dread word "terrorism" lurks a quieter, perhaps even larger word -- conversion. Can the crash of buildings, the deployment of missiles and tanks, be shown to have caused any one person to convert from this major contemporary religious faith to that one? Headlines come, headlines go, but in many a zealot the combative urge -- the rejecting, the condescending -- goes on and on.

Charles Rammelkamp started out as a Protestant, in college explored Eastern religions, in 1983 affiliated with Judaism. He is still there, although his belief system may partly be humanism. He is able to live among his co-religionists, to like one and loathe another -- and look at them understandingly.

His book, A Better Tomorrow (AmErica House, 147 pages, $19.95, softbound), is cast as brief stories, even vignettes. In some, the central figure is Robert Kleinpoppen, who edits the newsletter of a fictional Baltimore synagogue that is in an uproar over its rabbi's misbehavior; in others, Daniel Morgenbesser, whose daughter's bat mitzvah approaches. Amid much pungent dialogue, A Better Tomorrow offers a knowing panorama of kosher personalities. To the ill natured, the sincerity of a convert is ever suspect. At a crudeness, this particular convert still flinches. But he's glad to be there.

Rammelkamp is not yet a master of structure. But many a Baltimorean can find himself or herself in this mirror of a book.

The overall male-female ratio in alcoholism, formerly three to one, slipped in the 1990s to two to one. In particular, studies show a marked increase in the number of young women who drink. And heavy drinking's effects differ, as between men and women at any age -- for instance, usually causing addiction to alcohol several years sooner in women, even when body size is allowed for.

Christopher Gilson and Virginia Bennett, in Alcohol and Women: Creating a Safer Lifestyle (Fusion, 174 pages, $14.95, softbound), state these truths bluntly -- but not punitively. Their purpose, rather, is to present a scientific update to the crowd at the downtown club or the college-neighborhood bar, and some plain good sense.

In the prefatory words of the venerable Thomas B. Turner, M.D., "women indeed do differ from men in some important respects in their reaction to alcohol intake." For women young or old, here are facts and advice.

Prolific is too mild a word for the mystery thriller crowd. Right now, there must be more than a dozen Marylanders scheming murder (and dabbing it with local allusions) under contract to trade publishers. So, does one review the latest Leigh Ann Warren, Tess Monaghan, Rei Shimura, Jennifer Marsh or Hitchcock Sewell novel, against each other, or in comparison to its own detective's previous appearances? Or, does one find in Marcia Talley's third and latest one, Occasion for Revenge (Dell, 272 pages, $8.99, softbound), occasion for sidestepping?

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