The Jews of St. Petersburg: Excursions Through a Noble Past, by Mikhail Beizer (Jewish Publication Society, $25). The author, on his own in the 1970s, began to investigate the history of Jews who lived in the old capital of the Russian Empire between 1880 and 1930 (by which time the city was of course called Leningrad). Beizer interested the British historian Martin Gilbert in his work, and as a result we have this extraordinary book, which presents many interesting facets of life in the great city that figures so prominently in Russian literature and history. At no time in the 19th century did the Jewish population of St. Petersburg exceed 20,000 (by contrast, Odessa had 150,000 Jews). But as the 20th century progressed Jews left their shtetls and flocked to the cosmopolitan big city. Out of this community came financiers and industrialists and artists such as Marc Chagall, Yasha Heifetz, Osip Mandelstam and Isaac Babel. After the revolution the communists tried to crush all religious life but, as the book attests, the embers of faith glowed in the ashes. The book's pictures, illustrating a lost world, are particularly fascinating.
The Nature Fakers: Wildlife, Science & Sentiment, by Ralph H. Lutts (Fulcrum, $22.95). In 1903 the naturalist John Burroughs blew the whistle. Writing in the Atlantic Monthly, he accused several well-known authors of falsifying reality in their sentimental, anthropomorphized accounts of the natural world. The most egregious example may have been the writer who described woodcocks as wrapping their injured legs in casts of mud. Burroughs's attack climaxed with the quip that Ernest Thompson Seton's famous book, Wild Animals I Have Known, should have been titled "Wild Animals I Alone Have Known." Teddy Roosevelt joined the battle, accusing Jack London of similar fakery in such works as The Call of the Wild and White Fang. This study chronicles the controversy and relates it to recent, alleged outbreaks of fakery, for example in the movie "The Bear."
When the Cheering Stops: Ex-Major Leaguers Talk About Their Game and Their Lives, by Lee Heiman, Dave Weiner and Bill Gutman (Macmillan, $18.95). A journeyman hitter who wrote himself into the record books by hitting home runs in eight consecutive games, Dale Long says he was glad that Don Mattingly duplicated the feat a few years back because it rescued Long briefly from obscurity. Bobby Thomson still exults in the homer that put the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers for the 1951 National League pennant: "While I didn't stall during my home run trot," he recalls, "I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen." There is much nostalgia in this book of interviews, along with a few sobering updates. For instance, the great reliever Elroy Face now works as a foreman carpenter in a mental hospital. As Charlie Gehringer once said, "Baseball players got it backwards. First we play, then we retire, then we go to work."
Makers of the City, by Lewis F. Fried (University of Massachusetts, $30). The four writers who figure in this study eschewed scientific analysis of cities in favor of the highly personal interpretations typical of enlightened generalists: three quondam New Yorkers, Jacob Riis, Lewis Mumford and Paul Goodman; and a Chicagoan, James T. Farrell. Riis was a muckraking journalist, Mumford a magisterial essayist, Goodman a poet, novelist and essayist, and Farrell a novelist (Studs Lonigan).
Jacqueline du Pre: A Life, by Carol Easton (Summit, $19.95). The brilliant musicianship of English cellist Jacqueline du Pre has almost been eclipsed by the abbreviation of her career: She contracted multiple sclerosis in her twenties and died at the age of 42. This biography dwells mostly on du Pre during the good years -- child prodigy, international artist in her late teens, married to pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim at 21 -- but also presents poignant sketches of the great artist in her decline, listening over and over to her own records because they gave her the illusion of performing again.