Bismarck and the Development of Germany , by Otto Pflanze; three volumes -- Vol. I: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871; Vol. II: The Period of Consolidation, 1871-1880; Vol. III: The Period of Fortification, 1880-1898 (Princeton, $95 the set). Just in time for the reunification of Germany comes this massive life and times of the creator of the modern German nation, Otto von Bismarck. The first volume tells how the "man of blood and iron" smote Prussia's rivals, Austria-Hungary and Napoleon III's France, and linked south German nationalism to the expansionist aims of the north German Kingdom of Prussia. The result was the German Empire, the most powerful economic and military power on the continent. The second volume examines Bismarck's convoluted foreign policy, and the third volume emphasizes the Iron Chancellor's domestic policies and his troubles with the excitable and erratic Kaiser Wilhelm II.
On to Westward: The Battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima , by Robert Sherrod (Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co., $19.95). As a war correspondent for Time/Life magazines in World War II, Robert Sherrod quickly established a reputation as a reporter's reporter and chronicler of the U.S. Marines as they island-hopped across the Central Pacific in a series of mostly bloody amphibious invasions. His 1944 book on Tarawa is a classic of war reporting and was among the first to inform the American public in a non-propagandistic way of the high human cost of battle. This book, first published in 1945, similarly tells the story of two hard-fought island campaigns, forever associated with the valor of the Marine Corps.
The Painting and Politics of George Caleb Bingham , by Nancy Rash (Yale, $35). As the recent exhibition of Bingham's work at the East Wing of the National Gallery made clear, his lasting fame may rest on his pictures of fur traders, rivermen and jolly boatmen, but his favorite subject was the politics of Missouri, the border state where he spent most of his life and which he served in several elective and appointed offices. This study places Bingham's art firmly in the context of his politics (one chapter is cleverly entitled "Of Snags and Whigs"). One of the most notable aspects of his career is that he was able to achieve a national reputation precisely because his work was so steeped in the sights and customs of his region.
Good Dirt: Confessions of a Conservationist , by David E. Morine (Globe Pequot, 138 West Main Street, Chester, Conn. 06412; $19.95). The author's chief confession is that he falls short of the conservationist ideal of an outdoor fanatic who prepares his own granola and bags peaks on weekends. Recalling his days as a land-acquisition maven for The Nature Conservancy, David Morine admits to being "too wedded to soft beds and hot showers to get intimate with the real Mother Nature." In the course of this irreverent memoir, he recounts negotiations with benefactors rich and dizzy, including a southern widow who studiously ignored her buttock-biting dog's assaults on visitors. Readers who want more "Good Dirt" can tune in to the local environmental talk-show of that name hosted by Morine and Douglas Wheeler Thursday nights on WAMU Radio.
Native American Portraits, 1862-1918: Photographs from the Collection of Kurt Koegler , text by Nancy Hathaway (Chronicle Books, $29.95). Many of these photographs are highly stylized, and some of them are historically inaccurate (e.g., subjects posed in garb not worn by their ethnic group), but nearly all are poignant and arresting. It is tempting to read a full awareness of impending loss into these majestically sorrowful faces, but American Indians of the period also seem to have felt that photography was a solemn process, not to be grinned for. The subjects include chiefs -- Sitting Bull and Gall of the Sioux, Joseph of the Nez Perce -- and such minimally identified common folk as a plain-suited "Old Apache Scout." Surprisingly, the collector, a New York attorney, began assembling this remarkable record only as recently as 1979.
Here at Eagle Pond , by Donald Hall (Ticknor & Fields, $19.95). Holing up on a farm or some other country property to write wise, Montaignesque essays about the change of seasons and the stalking approach of age has become a favorite dream of writers -- never mind that most such essays are precious, tediously self-absorbed, or both. Donald Hall rises well above such pitfalls by dint of his loamy prose (not for nothing is he one of our most celebrated poets: see his recent New and Collected Poems), the depth of his affection for his region (New England -- more specifically the ancestral farmstead in New Hampshire), and the sheer, darting interestingness of his mind. This is a welcome sequel to his earlier collection, Seasons at Eagle Pond and a lovely complement to his family memoir, String Too Short to be Saved.