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Book reviews

“Nearer the Moon” by Anaïs Nin (Peter Owen, London)
This is the fourth installment of a newly-published set of Nin’s celebrated diaries, here covering the period from 1937 to 1939 when she was in her mid-30s and passionately in love with three men: her husband Hugh Guiler, the Peruvian Gonzalo Moré, and — most famously — Henry Miller. Unlike the already well-known previous versions of her journals in which Anaïs Nin, as proto-feminist, explored via art and philosophy her own personal and physical realm, these are the unexpurgated works that Peter Owen is publishing. Finally, with spellbinding honesty and terrible insight, the fully-uncensored details of her relationships with her lovers is restored to its full force, with her characteristic powers of psychological penetration and passion. Perhaps this epoch in the author’s life was the most poignant, where she reachs an artistic and personal maturity and yet has no way of being aware that, shortly, when she flees from war-torn France, she will never live there again, for the rest of her life. Few diarists have ever matched the level of intensity or the sheer literary achievment of Anaïs Nin, and these unexpunged versions only reinforce that exploit. MH

Mrs. Newton, June Newton a.k.a Alice Springs (Taschen)
A snapshot-like autography focusing on photo couple June and Helmut Newton. The pictures featured throughout the book — a wonderful contemporary mix of personal shots and professional portraits of creative figures including Yves Saint Laurent, Gore Vidal, Balthus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Brassaï, Nicole Kidman, and Angelica Houston — illustrate the story of her life. Her previously unpublished diary extracts are lit up by gentle irony, disarming honesty, and a photographer’s eye for telling detail. Intensely personal and engaging, this book charts the journey through life of a remarkable 20th-century woman. BR

L’Autoportrait au XX Siècle by Pascal Bonafoux (Diane de Selliers)
Almost better than visting the Luxembourg exhibition is curling up on a comfortable sofa at home with this luxurous book containing 540 finely-printed portraits produced by the 20th century’s leading artists and photographers. The book, edited by the currator of the Luxembourg Museum’s “Moi” exhibition, includes a provocative selection of pieces, ranging from Marcel Duchamp to Frida Kaholo to Robert Maplethorpe. The text is in French. But for Anglos with less than perfect command of the language this book’s high quality reproductions make it well worth the 230E price tag.

“The Price of Loyalty — George W. Bush, The White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill” by Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster, New York)
He was one of the most admired CEOs in corporate America, honored as much for his tremendous managerial abilities as his dedication to the improvement of workers’ conditions and environmental issues. And he was one of the most highly-respected economists and financial wizards in Washington DC, having served or consulted from the days of JFK, in many Administrations, right up through the presidency of George H.W. Bush. And it was no surprise for anyone, then, that Paul O’Neill would be tapped, in December 2000, to become George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury. A process man, O’Neill’s personal axioms about decision-making — that one needs to understand both the hows and the whys, analyzing all sides to a question, encouraging a full play of opinion and dissention, an open warfare of conflicting ideas and reasonings, in order to arrive through selection and elimination at pragmatic, workable solutions within which essential truths were maintained — soon ran afoul of the power structure within the Bush White House. He was fired in November 2002. Though not a vengeful spirit, O’Neill was nevertheless persuaded to expose the hermetically sealed world of the Bush White House and describe its policy and decision-making procedures, or lack thereof. Like O’Neill himself, this distinctly readable narrative by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Ron Suskind, doesn’t rely on unsupported theory and assumption, but digs deep into analysis of the profound differences between an idealistically absolutist approach to formulation of policy, and that of philosophical enquiry — with questions of loyalty thrown in for good measure — and how those worlds were colliding within the White House while Paul O’Neill headed the Treasury Department, and continue to collide today. MH

Reviews by Marcus Heberden & Bob Roberts