Christmastime is approaching and publishers are cooperating; that is, they’ve put a lot of expensive books, paperback and otherwise, on the market. A few to avoid and a few to consider:→ The Atlas of Early Man: Concurrent Developments across the Ancient World, 35,000 B.C.- A.D. 500 by Jacquetta Hawkes (St. Martin’s, 255 . pp., $15). Cheap at the price. This is a superb attempt to coordinate the activities of ancient societies all over the world during the major eras of pre- and early history; thus, one finds out what Amerindians, Indians, Mesopotamians, Western Europeans and Egyptians (among others) were doing in terms of art, architecture, technology, etc., in 5000 B.C., 500 B.C., and so on. The illustrations—photographic reproductions, including a spectacular painting of a stag from the 10,000-year-old Turkish city of Catal Huyuk, and careful line drawings—take up most of the book ; Hawkes’ text takes a conservative diffusionist line (as opposed to the more radical diffusionist position held by, say, Joseph Campbell). Her writing tends toward the chatty, and while I would have preferred a more scholarly approach, her comparative maps of the state of various arts in various eras give a stronger sense of humanity emerging into a recognition of itself than any book I have previously come across. Go into a bookstore and have a look; the stag is on page 38, and an unbelievably “modern” Mesopotamian sculpture of a woman’s face from some 7000 years ago is on page 61. If you can resist the pull of these images, you can resist anything.
→ All You Need is Love: The Story of Popular Music by Tony Palmer (Grossman/Viking, 323 pp., $15). To write a history of any popular music, let alone all American popular music from the 1890s to the present, one needs a theory, at the very least a point of view. All Palmer—a British critic and TV producer—has is the notion that whites stole from blacks and that a lot of what people dig is junk. One can read through his entire chronicle of ragtime, swing, big band, R&B, rock & roll, country, etc., and rarely find the slightest evidence that Palmer ever felt the music, that it has in any significant way shaped his life, beyond providing him with a living. He comes on as a destroyer of gross misconceptions (the “Delta,” he tells us firmly, is not near New Orleans, but between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers 150 miles north—a fact that has been fairly well-known at least since the first maps of the Mississippi territory were drawn up), but he has no new information of import to offer. As a work of history or analysis, All You Need Is Love is a shameless job, especially when compared to Ian Whitcomb’s After the Ball (Penguin), which covers similar ground; as a collection of photographs, it is more than decent. Pass on it.
→ John Lennon: One Day at a Time by Anthony Fawcett (Grove Press paperback, 192 pp., $6.95). A very boring rundown of John-and-Yokoiana from 1966 through John’s 1976 attainment of resident alien status in the U.S., written by an intimate and coworker with a lot of help from Lennon Remembers, the long interviews that first appeared in these pages more than five years ago. Grossly inferior to the Get Back book by Jonathan Cott and David Dalton included in th English release of the LP Let It Be, and to Peter McCabe and Robert Schonfeld’s Apple to the Core (Pocket Books), this is merely illustrated gosh-wow with an arty gloss. Despite an excellent chronology and discography, totally dispensable.
→ The Illustrated Elvis by W.A. Harbinson (Grosset & Dunlap paperback, 159 pp., $4.95). The traditional incense-burning text with the traditional good selection of badly laid-out and reproduced pictures. As with two similar Elvis picture books from last year, a sad waste of a good idea.
→ The Rolling Stones: An Illustrated Record by Roy Carr (Harmony paperback, 120 pp., $6.95). Same format as Carr’s job on the Beatles: record reviews as chronology plus endless photos, memorabilia, and record-sleeve repros. Many rare gems, including a double-page full color spread of the banned bathroom-wall cover for Beggars’ Banquet. Recommended.
→ White Women by Helmut Newton (Stonehill, unpaginated, $22.50). High-class cryptoracist porn. If you envied the characters in Visconti’s The Damned, you’ll love Newton’s photos of mostly undressed women, since his message seems to be an affirmation of the fact that people, or at least he and his models, still live in an Aryan fantasy world.
Rolling Stone, December 16, 1976