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Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution
by David B. Mattern '73.
University of South Carolina Press, 1996

In the definitive biography of one of America's most important but least-known Revolutionary War generals, David B. Mattern, assistant professor at the University of Virginia and associate editor of The Papers of James Madison, tells the life story of Benjamin Lincoln, a prosperous farmer who left the comfort of his Massachusetts home to become a national hero in America's struggle for independence. Mattern's account of the citizen-soldier who served as George Washington's second-in-command at Yorktown and as secretary of war from 1781 to 1783 revisits the challenges, sacrifices, triumphs and defeats that shaped Lincoln's evolution from affluent middle-aged family man to pillar of a dynamic republic. In addition to offering new insights into leadership during the Revolutionary period, Lincoln's life so mirrored his times that it provides an opportunity to tell the tale of the American Revolution in a fresh, compelling way.

Historians generally have been unkind to Lincoln, but Mattern refutes charges that the general was lethargic, corrupt and ineffective. He points out that Lincoln was one of Washington's most trusted commanders, displaying courage, energy and leadership on battlefields as diverse as Saratoga and Savannah, Charleston and Yorktown. Mattern gives a thorough account of all of the general's military experiences and, of particular interest, offers an unconventional assessment of his failure in one of the most critical episodes of the war -- his command of the Southern Department in 1779- 1780.

After charting Lincoln's wartime fortunes, Mattern chronicles the patriot's foiled attempts to translate national renown into entrepreneurial success. He tells of Lincoln's crowning military and political achievement when, in 1786, he was called to arms once more to suppress Shays's Rebellion. Mattern also describes Lincoln's subsequent election to the lieutenant governorship of Massachusetts -- a political career ended by a feud with John Hancock -- and his final years of federal service as collector of the port of Boston.

Don Higginbotham, author of George Washington and the Military Tradition, terms Mattern's work, "Balanced and judicious, remarkably well-researched. He does a splendid job of keeping the theme and Lincoln's loyalty and dedication before the reader throughout. In fact, Lincoln possessed some of the qualities that Washington had. No revolution succeeds without leaders who are tenacious and persistent. This biography ought to elevate Lincoln's stock to our pantheon of Revolutionary worthies."


Behind the Crystal Ball: Magic, Science, and the Occult from Antiquity through the New Age
by Anthony Aveni.
New York Times: Times Books, 1996. 406 pages, illustrated. $28 hardcover.

Professor Aveni's new book is his third study in cultural and intellectual history, following Conversing with the Planets and Empires of Time. These books are examples of the highest liberal arts tradition, to which Aveni, as a teacher, has always dedicated himself. They assume nothing in the reader beyond intelligence and curiosity. In return, they offer initiation into realms of knowledge which have the time or expertise to research at first hand. By the end, one has a basic grounding in the subject and can pursue it, or not, as one pleases. These are exactly the kind of books we hope our students will keep reading as long as they live.

Aveni's subject matter calls to mind Foucault's Pendulum, that much-bought but little-read novel by Umberto Eco. Read both books, and you will touch on just about every facet of the occult (or esoteric, or Hermetic, or theosophic) tradition. But Eco did this with the intention of discrediting the tradition in favor of a politically motivated rationalism. Aveni's motives are more generous, and he is just as entertaining. Those who know him will be delighted to hear his voice in every sentence.

Behind the Crystal Ball presents a parade of mages and sages, tricksters and knaves, who carried the occult tradition through the Scientific Revolution into our own days. Contrary to expectations, the triumphs of science have not driven out alchemy, astrology, divination and spirit-communication: all are alive and well, and not only on the West Coast. Nor have the officially sanctioned rationalist and materialist philosophies prevented perfectly sane people from continuing to have life-changing psychic and spiritual experiences. Are these triumphs and these philosophies perhaps only temporary stages of the human adventure, to be superseded in their turn? That is an underlying question of this book.

Through his cross-cultural study, Aveni discovers that "in all cultures, powerful magic, like any good scientific experiment, has an organized set of methods, an impressive body of knowledge that needs to be learned diligently and practiced rigorously in order to be effective. Above all, we learn that magic is normal behavior." (p. 11).

Some people are made uncomfortable by such assertions: they will protest that Aveni "defends the occult" while "knocking science." But his attitude is far more subtle than that. "The problem is," he says, "that modern culture is so deeply imbued in Judeo-Christian and scientific ways of thinking. How can we possibly be expected to perceive someone else's ideas and actions in any other framework than our own?" (p. 329). Not for him the old-fashioned conflict of religion with science, but that of all dogmatisms with the Socratic agnosticism of knowing, at least, what we don't know. Magic, it seems, does work -- for those for whom it works. "Maybe we should pay less attention to trying to objectively verify or deny every reported paranormal experience and pay more attention to how our imaginations and perception work together." (p. 312).

Recent academic studies of occult subjects (e.g. John Mack's Abductions and Kenneth Ring's The Omega Project) are beginning to acknowledge the function of the imagination as an active, creative organ, not just a place of fantasy and unreality. Likewise, some of Aveni's physicist colleagues are not able to exclude the human perceiver from their cosmic models. The objective and exclusive reality of the physical world is being called seriously into question these days -- though this may not be a helpful attitude in chemistry or psychology 101. At such a time, it is no surprise that a scientist of Aveni's stature feels drawn to study alternative and traditional views of reality.

If there is one uniting thread to all of these, it is "a resurrection of the relief in the underlying connectedness of things." (p. 345). Here magic blends into its inescapable background, religion. So does science, in its latest theoretical developments: Aveni writes of "the scientific heist of the engaging questions traditionally assigned to the domain of magic and religion." (p. 346). All three, after all, deal with belief systems and with methods of working with unseen powers -- whether these are astral daimons, or electricity, or the will of God. These are profound conclusions for a book that hooks the reader with anecdotes and amazing tales. In reading it, one has truly been educated.

Reviewed by Professor of Music Joscelyn Godwin


Bluegrass Boy
Peter Rowan
Sugar Hill Records

Peter Rowan '65 left Colgate to pursue music. He'd already recorded his first album and soon joined Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys to sing leads and play rhythm guitar. Rowan also got to drive the bus and book shows but it was the musicial education he received from the father of the high lonesome sound that has stuck with him.

Rowan's latest album, Bluegrass Boy (Sugar Hill Records), is a tribute to the master, who passed away in September. Rowan has had a remarkable career, fusing genres, forming bands and expanding horizons. With SeaTrain west coast rock met country, Old & In The Way (including Vassar Clements, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia) produced the best-selling bluegrass album of all time, and Rowan has incorporated South American, Celtic and African music in recent works. He wrote "Panama Red," toured with Steve Earle and recorded old-timey music in friends' living rooms with dobro wizard Jerry Douglas.

Across the years, however, bluegrass has remained a passion. Bluegrass Boy is both a return to Rowan's roots and a statement of where he is today, once and forever a bluegrass boy.

In the process he pays homage to the master. Of the music and Monroe he says: "There are pop offshoots, but there's still the great cultural lineage in the haunting, otherworldly overtones of the original pure, high lonesomeness of Bill Monroe. Maybe he won't be there to plow his field, but he's left us the seeds." JH


Forgiving Buckner
Slide
Your Name Here Records

Forgiving Buckner is the debut album for Boston roots rockers Slide. While the CD's title, a reference to BoSox first baseman Bill's infamous 1986 World Series error, has generated plenty of interest in the sports media, the music doesn't use any gimmicks. Described as something akin to "Mountain meets T. Rex," Slide, featuring drummer and Harvard PhD candidate Ken Schopf '90, thumps out rock and roll that is lively, a little bit out there but true to the genre. Northeast Performer likens the group to The Band and The Boston Phoenix has written, "Slide can really work a groove and get somewhere hot with it."

Slide is fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Wolf Wortis, bassist Fane and Suzi Lee on electric accordian. The group has been nominated for a Boston Music Award in the new local rock band catagory and has been playing all around the city, including Middle East and House of Blues. Slide has also gigged at Tramp's and the Bitter End in New York and plans to tour in the south and midwest.

"Rise Up" is receiving plenty of Boston air play. "Summer of Eighty-three" and "Pray for Rain" are also standouts and "Cool Papa Bell," while it isn't about baseball per se, extends the sporting connection of the title.

Schopf was a very busy drummer at Colgate, performing with campus bands such as Penal Code, Animal Farm, Crushed Red and Kruel Karma. When he isn't playing and recording with Slide, Schopf finds time to work toward his degree in paleontology. Rim shot.

Forgiving Buckner is available for $13 at PO Box 1359, Cambridge, MA 02142 or, using MasterCard/Visa via the Internet at slideme@aol.com.

For more information check out the band's web page at http://users.aol.com/slideme


Dear Son: There are No Free Lunches
by John Sias '52.
Transition Publishers
20 Wright Rd., Hollis, N.H. 03049, $4.95

"Identify what you're good at, your strengths. Build on these. They are your best bet for happiness and success." Thus begins 129 pieces of advice, words of wisdom from John Sias '52, the first president of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Nashua, N.H., to Chris McMullen, the nine-year-old boy he befriended in 1983.

Actually, the charming little book grew out of Sias's answers to questions McMullen, then a college student, asked his mentor about life.

"Here is everything I know," writes Sias in the introduction. What follows are straightforward recommendations for success at work, at home and within the community. Sias takes a no-nonsense approach to finances, politics and the value of hard work. As much a reminder as a guide, Dear Son urges fiscal restraint, physical fitness and moral responsibility.

"Don't pay someone else to perform a service that you think you can do reasonably well. For example, 85 percent of the cost of painting your house is the cost of labor."

"If you want to be better at a sport and you have to make a choice, put your money in lessons, not equipment."

"It's not the differences that cause conflict, it's being intolerant of those differences."

As a Big Brother John Sias gave a precious gift to a young boy. As an author he shares the experience and wisdom of a lifetime with all of us.


Marriage As A Path To Holiness: Lives of Married Saints
by David and Mary Ford.
St. Tikhon's Seminary Press

"David and Mary Ford set before us a few out of the many Christian couples whose crowns have indeed been "taken up" by Christ into His heavenly kingdom," writes Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia in his Foreword to the couple's Marriage As A Path To Holiness: Lives of Married Saints.

The Fords, who teach at St. Tikhon's, an Orthodox seminary in South Canaan, Penn., have chronicled the lives of married saints in order to "encourage those who are married as they strive for holiness" while emphasizing "the fundamental goodness of marriage itself." The collection of biographies are not all stories of bliss. While it is true most married saints had pious spouses, some were unevenly yoked with pagans. Along with her daughters Saint Domnina was turned over, by her husband, to soldiers. Only a last-minute escape saved them from execution.

The lives are marked by other differences. Saints rise from various economic situations, from varying cultures and vastly different ages. Some lived as brother and sister though the the majority presented here had children. What is common among these married saints is a "great love of Christ with a willingness to sacrifice their lives for His sake."

While the stated purpose of reading Marriage as a Path to Holiness is to be "directed to a life of virtue," the lives make for fascinating biography. Saint Angelis, a goldsmith and father of six; Saint Spyridon, the simple shepherd of Cyprus; Saint Innocent of Moscow, who meets his wife thanks to a protracted cold snap; and Saints Isaac and Rebecca. Isaac is the "child of promise," born of Sarah in her old age and Rebecca, according to the Book of Genesis, is the "Divinely-chosen woman" brought by a servant to the "chosen man."