The Americas

Article excerpt

The Olmecs: America's First Civilization, by Richard A. Diehl (Thames & Hudson, 27.50 [pounds sterling]) is the first modern overview from recent archaeological finds and recent studies of Olmec art, to explore this enigmatic culture of southern Mexico.

The Life and Times of Mexico by Earl Shorris (W.W. Norton & Company, 18.99 [pounds sterling]) reveals the heartbreaking reality of Mexico in this account of its history, art, politics, religion and people. In this narrative of 3,000 years of history, Mexico is seen as if it were a person, but in the Aztec way--the mind, the heart, the winds of life--and on every page there are portraits and stories: artists, shamans, teachers, a young Maya political leader--the rich few and the many poor. Earl Shorris tells this story ingeniously: prostitutes in the Plaza Loreto launch the discussion of economics;we are taken inside two crucial elections as Mexico struggles towards democracy, and we meet the country's greatest living intellectual. The result is a work of scope and profound insight into the divided soul of Mexico.

A Dog's History of America: How our Best Friend Explored, Conquered and Settled a Continent by Mark Derr (North Point Press, $25) looks at the way humans have used canines--as sled dogs and sheepdogs, hounds and seeing-eye dogs, guard dogs, bombsniffing dogs--as he tracks the changes in American culture and society. The result is an unusual perspective on American history.

The Emperor's Beard: Dom Pedro II and the Tropical Monarchy of Brazil by Lilia Moritz Schwarcz and translated from Portuguese by John Gledson (North Point Press, $30) blends politics, anthropology, cultural studies and art history to show how Brazil successfully created a European-style monarchy in the New World--and why its influence has endured.

Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma by Camilla Townsend (North Point Press, $23) differs from previous biographies of Pocahontas in capturing how similar 17th-century Native Americans were--in the way they saw, understood, and struggled to control their world--not only to the invading British but to ourselves. Resistance, espionage, collaboration, deception: Pocahontas's life is shown as a road map to Native American strategies of defiance exercised in the face of over-whelming odds and in the hope for a semblance of independence worth the name.

Veteran journalist Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (Simon & Schuster, 10.99 [pounds sterling]) offers a personal and public biography of America's best scientist, inventor, publisher, business strategist, diplomat, writer and political thinker of the eighteenth century, and places him in the context of his turbulent times.

The gravest decision in a democracy is the one to go to war. In War and the American Presidency (W.W. Norton, 17.99 [pounds sterling]) Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., explores the war in Iraq, the presidency and the future of democracy. Describing unilateralism as 'the oldest doctrine in American history', Schlesinger nevertheless warns of the dangers posed by the fatal turn in US policy from deterrence and containment to preventative war. …