Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Julie A. Campbell, Editor
Stephen Adams, The Best and Worst Country in the World: Perspectives on the Early Virginia Landscape. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. xii + 305 pp. $55.00 (hardcover), $19.50 (softcover).
Published as part of the series Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism, this book is, according to author Stephen Adams, the first in a projected series exploring Virginia landscape over time. In The Best and Worst Country in the World, he examines attitudes toward and writings about Virginia landscape to 1700. Adams is a professor of English at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, but he lived in Virginia between 1979 and 1986.
In his introduction, Adams compares the writings of William Byrd (1674-1744) and Annie Dillard (1945-), who described roughly the same area in southwest Virginia. Adams recognizes that Byrd and Dillard brought very different perspectives to their approach to the region and that "they organize and alter the landscape in the very process of viewing it." He subscribes to historian Simon Schama's view that "landscape" itself is an intellectual construct, something shaped by culture.
Adams opens with an exploration of the historical geology of Virginia. Chapter 2 attempts to suggest the ways in which the first inhabitants, Indians, perceived the land. Chapters 3 through 8 discuss the Spanish explorers, the Roanoke colonists, the Virginia Company, and colonial times. Adams admits his approach springs from ecocriticism and "green" cultural analysis as an attempt "to read texts from early Virginia with attention to environment and place, studying human culture as both a product of and process within the evolution of ecosystems."
Much of Adams' discussion comes from the secondary literature. Throughout the book, he is restricted in his analysis to the few surviving descriptions by Spanish and British explorers. These descriptions limit Adams' attempt at re-creating the historical landscape as experienced by these explorers and settlers to a very few educated men.
For readers familiar with previous studies on English settlement and European reactions to the American landscape, there will be few surprises. Adams is familiar with recent scholarship and uses it liberally. He does include materials not generally studied, such as broadsides and maps. Nevertheless, the overall effect falls short of compelling ecocriticism. Perhaps in the next volume, which will explore eighteenth- century writings, Adams will find more material for his study.
-reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator
Bill Bryant, Tomorrow Jerusalem: The Story of Nat Turner and the Southampton Slave Insurrection. 1st Books Library (www.1stbooks.com), 2001. xviii + 269 pp. $14.14 (softcover).
Tomorrow Jerusalem is another retelling of the slave insurrection that Nat Turner led in 1831. Considered an exceptional child by his family and his owners, Turner grew up to become a preacher. He claimed to receive visions and signs from the Holy Spirit that inspired him to raise the slaves of Southampton County in rebellion to earn their freedom. Turner long planned his rebellion, gathering only a trusted few for support. As his plans matured, he expected that other slaves would join his efforts and that whites would flee or die. However, the revolt failed as a result of poorly organized and disciplined slaves and better organized and armed whites. Turner eluded capture for two months before being caught and hanged.
Before his execution, Turner related his tale of the rebellion to Southampton lawyer Thomas R. Gray, who subsequently published Confessions of Nat Turner (1831). Author Bryant uses it as the frame for his own work and augments it with further valuable research from the Southampton County records and other materials. But Bryant goes beyond merely writing about the insurrection, he endeavors to place it in context of other events in Southampton County, Virginia, and the United States. His cast ranges from Nat Turner to John Floyd, and from Andrew Jackson to William Mahone and George H. Thomas, two Southampton natives who became generals of the opposing Confederate and Union armies in the Civil War.
However, Bryant has emulated biographer Edmund Morris and his work Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (1999). Apparently unsatisfied with the historical record, Bryant decided to embellish fact with fictional accounts to liven up his story. For example, he develops a close relationship between Turner and his owner's mother, Sally Travis, and creates dialogue between Turner and his fellow conspirators to explain their motivations. He uses other fictional conversations to put Southern whites' concerns over slavery and rebellion into words. Bryant offers neither footnotes nor endnotes to separate fact from fiction. So while Tomorrow Jerusalem is interesting and informative, it should be read with caution.
-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Finding Aids Archivist
R. Kent Newmyer, John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. xviii + 511 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).
The timing is probably accidental, but Newmyer's biography of John Marshall caps a remarkable decade of scholarship on the Great Chief Justice. Five books published between 1994 and 2000 have scrutinized Marshall's life and career, and publication of Marshall's papers continues apace at the College of William and Mary. Newmyer, already widely regarded as the best legal biographer of our times, took all this new scholarship into account while completing this excellent study of Marshall. Of all the fine studies, this is the one book above all others to read.
Newmyer organizes his account of Marshall's life around the justice's deepest beliefs. A nationalist by virtue of his service in the Revolutionary War, Marshall supported ratification of the Constitution in 1788 and, thereafter, resisted pressures from Southern, states-rights politicians to weaken the national government. A common-law attorney by virtue of his successful legal practice in Virginia, Marshall was sympathetic to the emerging commercial and industrial economy, and he supported slavery.
A Federalist during his political career in Virginia in the 1780s and 1790s, Marshall doubted the wisdom of local politicians and especially distrusted Virginia's advocates of states rights. A man of democratic sympathies but a kindred spirit of the emerging capitalist elite, he remained popular in Richmond, where, nevertheless, his political and legal opinions were widely condemned. As a writer of brilliant and persuasive prose, Marshall, more than any other man in the decades following adoption of the Constitution, defined its central meaning in ways that had profound and lasting effects.
The sum of Newmyer's explication of these beliefs is that John Marshall was not pursuing a strategy as chief justice intended to enlarge national power at the expense of the states (as the Southern critics charged). Instead, he was protecting the national government and economy from what he thought were ill-considered state actions that threatened to untie the bonds of the Union and cripple national economic development. Perhaps Marshall's motivation did not matter to his opponents because the effect seemed the same. As Newmyer and the other recent authors have demonstrated, however, the difference mattered to Marshall, and it matters in understanding his long and influential career. Considering what happened a quarter century after Marshall died in 1835, they make a strong case.
-reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor's Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Brian Steel Wills, The War Hits Home: The Civil War in Southeastern Virginia. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. xiv + 345 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).
Given the wealth of surviving and easily accessible resources, it is astonishing that there are not more community- or regional-level studies of Virginia during the Civil War. In The War Hits Home, Brian Steel Wills has written a first-rate one. Professor of history at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, Wills has mined newspapers and manuscript treasures to produce a richly textured narrative concerning southeastern Virginia's experience of the Civil War. Though focusing on the town of Suffolk, county seat of now-extinct Nansemond County, Wills' geographic sweep embraces neighboring Isle of Wight and Southampton Counties and, on occasion, ventures as far east as Norfolk and Portsmouth and as far south as Gatesville, North Carolina.
Wills deftly weaves military, social, and political threads into a chronological story. He sees Suffolk as having experienced the conflict in three waves, each of which required individuals to make adjustments to their changed circumstances. The first wave corresponded to the flood of Confederate troops from outside the region pouring into the area to mobilize. The second dates from the Federal occupation of Suffolk in May 1862 as part of the Peninsula campaign, through the withdrawal of the Union garrison in July 1863. During the third and final wave, Suffolk was a no-man's-land caught between opposing forces. The author focuses on Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet's campaign in the region in April and May 1863, to which Wills devotes five of his fourteen chapters.
Wills avoids painting a monochrome image and is sensitive to the nuances of action and voice. He uses quotations judiciously and analyzes nineteenth-century language, speculating, for example, what a Northerner would have understood from the Harper's Weekly description of Suffolk in May 1863 as "a small, filthy town of great antiquity, small population, little trade, and a great deal of Virginia dirt and Virginia pride." Although focusing on how individuals_-military and civilian, men and women, free and enslaved-dealt with war and its consequences, Wills also addresses such larger issues as Confederate nationalism, life under occupation, and African American freedom.
Useful appendices provide capsule postwar biographies of the principal figures, lay out the Confederate and Union battle orders in the Suffolk campaign (April-May 1863), enumerate the casualties of selected southeastern Virginia companies, and list the Union naval vessels assigned to the North Atlantic blockading squadron. The War Hits Home is published in the University Press of Virginia's series A Nation Divided: New Studies in Civil War History, edited by James I. Robertson, Jr.
-reviewed by Sara B. Bearss, Senior Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Amy Waters Yarsinske, The Martin Years: Norfolk Will Always Remember Roy. Hallmark Publishing Co. (P.O. Box 901, Gloucester Point, VA 23062), 2001. 144 pp. $14.95 (softcover).
In spring 1970, Norfolk mayor Roy Martin accepted an unusual gift for the city. A carnival owner was planning to retire two elephants (named Mona and Alice), and offered them to the Norfolk Zoo. Martin readily accepted, asking that the pair be delivered to city hall so that their pictures could be taken. He was undaunted by the fact that the small zoo held only "some alligators, a black bear, a few monkeys and a bison," and ultimately managed to raise $265,000 for a facility to house the pachyderms. Such enthusiasm and energy made Martin one of Norfolk's greatest advocates in the decades after World War II.
Roy B. Martin, Jr. was a Norfolk native, Navy veteran, and successful businessman when he was appointed to city council to fill a vacant seat in 1953. He was elected mayor in 1962 and served for a dozen years. Martin oversaw aggressive redevelopment projects that shaped the city's modern skyline. During his tenure, Norfolk gained a convention center and concert hall, constructed a new city hall building and airport terminal, and opened a medical school. Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. donated his art collection to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (now the Chrysler Museum), and General Douglas MacArthur was buried in the old City Hall (now the MacArthur Memorial).
Martin was at the helm of a city in transition. In 1959, Norfolk city council voted to close area schools rather than integrate them; while he did not advocate integration, Martin voted against the closure, fearing that the withdrawal of funding would irreparably harm the school system and its students.
Amy Waters Yarsinske compiled The Martin Years from a variety of sources. She interviewed Martin and his wife Louise, reviewed their scrapbooks and photographs, and researched local newspapers. Her text provides a lively overview of Martin's civic involvement and public service. The slim volume is peppered with photographs and newspaper clippings, and, when paired with a more comprehensive narrative, would be useful to those interested in the modern history of Norfolk.
-reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator
Adrian Havill, The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold: The Secret Life of FBI Double Agent Robert Hanssen. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001. xxiv + 262 pp. $25.95 (hardcover).
As the author makes clear from the outset, Robert Hanssen was not driven by ideological fervor to embark on his twenty-year career as a spy, as was the case with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or the British double agent, Harold Adrian Russell (a.k.a. Kim) Philby, all of whom were true believers in the Soviet brand of socialism. Hanssen's motivations, at least on the surface, stemmed from simpler and more selfish reasons: money and excitement. Given a choice between idealism and greed, one would think that political passion would prove to be the more understandable basis for betrayal, but Hanssen appears to be a different case altogether.
His father was a Chicago law enforcement officer for thirty years-some of thyat time spent in intelligence-and Hanssen himself worked on the same police force-in intelligence-before joining the FBI, where he was employed for twenty-five years. His life, viewed from the outside, seemed built around his career, his wife and six children, and the Catholic Church, in ascending order. Yet scarcely five years after joining the bureau, he chose to indulge a fantasy that had nagged at him for years. In March 2000, Hanssen informed his Russian handlers: "I decided on this course when I was 14 years old. I'd read Philby's book."
The book he referenced was Kim Philby's My Silent War, first published in 1968 and considered a classic example of Soviet propaganda. After Hanssen's arrest, the media made much comment about this quote and the disparity between Hanssen's age-he would have been fourteen in 1958-oy. and the book's date of publication ten years later. However, Hanssen's letters to the Russians, usually beginning with the greeting Dear Friends and signed with the romantic alias Ramon Garcia, were carelessly written and sprinkled with errors. He likely meant to write, "when I was 24 years old." What is beyond dispute is his fascination with Philby's tale of espionage. A friend of Hanssen's recalled that he insisted that he read it. Years later the friend remembered Hanssen's chilling comment when the friend returned the book: "You know, someday I'd like to pull off a caper like that."
In this regard, Hanssen was tremendously successful. For two decades he turned over classified information to Soviet agents, and after the Soviet Union's fall, to agents of the Russian Federation and went undetected. He received hundreds of thousands of dollars for work that did incalculable injury to his country and probably led to the deaths of agents employed by the United States and its allies.
For two decades, Hanssen moved through the familiar landscape of everyday life, among family and friends, colleagues and strangers, in private and public places, engaged in countless ways, large and small, with the rhythms of community life, with the institutions of state and nation. All this he secretly betrayed. One wonders, as he burrowed deeper, how he regarded the growing estrangement between his buried existence and everyday life. In the end, the man who chose a double life was rewarded with a third: imprisonment without parole. The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold is riveting and recommended reading.
-reviewed by Don Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Anne Drake McClung and Ellen M. Martin, Among These Ancient Mountains: The Story of Rockbridge County, Virginia. Lexington, Virginia: Alone Mill Publishing, 2001. 201 pp. $47.03 (hardcover). To purchase copies, contact the Bookery, 107 W. Nelson St., Lexington, VA 24450-2035, 540/464-3377, or the Best Seller, 29 W. Nelson St., Lexington, VA 24450-2033, 540/463-4647.
If there is such a thing as the essence of Virginia, Rockbridge County is a good place to go looking for it. It lies between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains and is part of the James River Basin. Author Anne Drake McClung explains that the county's history is defined by its denizens' relationship with the landscape, which has determined the locations of towns, roads, and residences. Appropriately, the book opens with a series of illuminating topographic images of the county generated by the book's designer, Arthur M. Lipscomb III. The county's mountain ridges, green hills, and fertile bottomland invite landscape photographs, and the color images by Ellen M. Martin and McClung, who previously teamed up on a lovely book about Goshen Pass in the northwestern part of the county, convey the scenery's beauty.
McClung is head librarian of Rockbridge Regional Library's Goshen Branch, and she takes care to provide a proper bibliography and source notes for her readable text. She also admits that she loves the place, and the book is an appreciation-and for those who don't live there, an advertisement. The narrative meanders from Natural Bridge to the Civil War and then on to Lexington, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the institutions of higher education that honor them. Passing from Buena Vista, Glasgow, and Goshen-communities shaped by the hard experience of floods-the to favorite hamlets and county scenes, McClung supplements the color prints with a variety of vintage illustrations, including the century-old photographs of Michael Miley.
Behind the seemingly unchanging landscape, however, is evidence that history continues to happen in Rockbridge County. The farmers' shift in the middle of the twentieth century from grain production to beef cattle and sheep turned cultivated fields into the county's striking green pastures. The erection of monster chain stores on the outskirts of Lexington emptied the downtown retail section for specialty shops and preservationists. The county's population is growing older thanks to an influx of retired persons and the departure of the county's young people, although little change in the current overall population is predicted.
Whatever the future holds, this is a splendid portrait of Rockbridge County at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
-reviewed by John Kneebone, Director, Division of Publications and Educational Services