work surveys the bleak landscape, observingrnthe prominent landmarks since ArnNation At Risk (1983), and before: anrnentrenched, monopolistic establishmentrnfeeding on a captive audience; incompetentrnteachers protected by the nation’srnmost powerful union; university schoolsrnof education that arc held in contemptrnby serious scholars and genuine intellectuals;rnpoliticized curricula; ideologicalrnbrainwashing of students; an institutionalrnfear of competition; the intrusion ofrnnonacademic political propaganda; divisivernmultieulturalism; a pedagogicalrnpenchant for narcissistic psychobabble;rnetc., ad nauseam. Dr. Sowell hits hisrnstride in the two-thirds of the book herndevotes to the nation’s colleges and universities,rnthough here, too, he coversrnmuch of the ground previously plowedrnby others. Though Sowell offers a newrnand unusually trenchant economic analysisrnof the spiraling “costs” (i.e., spending)rnof American universities, for thosernfamiliar with previous critiques by AllanrnBloom, William Bennett, Chester Finn,rnand Diane Ravitch of the appalling staternof education in America, Professor Sowcll’srnbook stands as a complement torntheirs, rather than a freestanding andrnoriginal work.rnOne cannot come away from InsidernAmerican Education without the distinctrnimpression that Professor Sowell believesrnthe cause is lost. After 300 thoroughlyrndemoralizing pages describing the trulyrndreadful condition of the nation’s “public”rnschools and universities, he offers arnhalfhearted, half-page conclusion callingrnfor “vast changes” of the sort that arndozen years of George and the Gipperrnfailed to implement. The difficulty herernis that such people as the esteemed ProfessorrnSowell—people who recognize thernscale of the mounting catastrophe—dornnot nowadays control the institutionsrnthreatened by it; when the did, they recoiledrnfrom revolution. And revolution isrnwhat is required, not incremental changernat the margins. Yet tectonic change appearsrnat this late date to be almost impossible,rnthe decline in the Americanrneducational system being a symptom ofrnthe larger eclipse of American civilization.rnHistory does not provide a singlernexample—not one—of a nation or empirernthat, having recognized the impendingrnsmashup, first slowed, thenrnhalted, and finally reversed its gadarenerndescent into historical obli’ion. Historyrnis catching up to Ainerica.rnBRIEF MENTIONSrnART, FRAUD, AND MYSTERYrnThe Raphael Affairrnby Iain PearsrnNew York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 19] pp., $18.95rnJonathan Argyll, a 28-year-old doctoral student of art history from England, is arrested for vagrancy when found sleeping in thernChurch of Santa Barbara near the Campo dei Fiori in Rome. He tells his interrogators that masked beneath the paint of the church’srnaltarpiece, a mediocre composition hy 18th-century painter Carol Mantini, is a long-lost work hy Raphael. The painting xanishesrnand reappears in London with Britain’s foremost art dealer. Sir Edward Byrnes. The Raphael is unmasked with great pomp andrnfanfare and sold in the main sale room at Christie’s—as the world’s most expensive painting—to the Italian government. Duringrna gala event at the National Gallery in Rome, the painting is burned by a vandal who knows that the much-touted “masterpiece”rnis actually a fake. Mysterious murders follow and set the stage for a thrilling denouement.rnIain Pears holds a doctorate in art history from Oxford, has been a consultant to the Getty Foundation, and is the author of IhernDiscovery of Painting (Yale University Press). This book is the first in a series of forthcoming detective novels by Pears, and a betterrndebut could hardly have been made: The Raphael Affair was short-listed for the British Crime Writers’ Association Award.rnThe set-up is typical of the crime novel genre. The chief inspector is smug like Peter W’imscy, though without the wit and urbanity;rnhe is cerebral, corpulent, and sedentary like Nero Wolfe; and he has a fond but acerbic relationship with his beautiful assistantrnFlavia di Stefano. What is refreshing in this case is that the inspector is neither the run-of-the-mill flatfoot nor the typicalrngumshoe; he’s Generate Taddeo Bottando of the Italian National Art Theft Squad. Pears informs the reader in a preface thatrn”there is an Italian art squad in a building in central Rome, hlowever, I have arbitrarily shifted its afhliation from the carahinierirnto the polizia, to underline that my account l:)cars no relation to the original.”rnThe pace of the plot and nature of the narrative are substantial enough to stand on their own, but overlapping these are entertainingrnif not always accurate generalizations: bold, slashing strokes of cultural criticism—of European culture in general andrnof Italian life in particular, which the author eleady loves-that have all the subtlety of Van Gogh at Auvers. The Swiss are “insufferable,”rnwith their “cleanliness, order and efficiency.” In contrast to neighboriioods in Rome, London’s are “unutterably dull,”rnwith “an atmosphere of respectability that made vou think they were all tucked up in bed by nine-thirty with a glass of hot milk.”rnThe graduate student is “good-looking enough, in an English sort of way [though] not ery well-dressed hy Italian standards.” ArnFrenchman swallows his pride and orders “a bottle of Montepulciano, which he considered one of the few Italian wines that mightrndeservedly have been produced in his home country.” And concerning Italian cuisine, “Like most Roman eating establishments,rn[the restaurant] served wonderful pasta, magnificent antipasti and dreadful main courses. Unlike Turin, which realh knew whatrnmeat was, Romans seemed satisfied with any sort of boot leather.”rnAmid the plot, dialogue, and cultural polemics is also a trove of information about art forgeries and their detection-aboutrncraquelure, the hairiine cracks that appear in old oil paintings; about how forgers emulate them, successfully and unsuccessfully;rnabout spectrometers, electron microscopes, and alcohol solutions used in determining the authenticity of artworks. “An oil paintingrntakes years to dry completely, sometimes half a century,” a character explains. “There’s no bigger giveaway than a Renaissancernpicture which is sticky. That, incidentally, is how Wacker, the Van Gogh forger, got caught in the 1930’s.”rnThe Guardian describes The Raphael Affair as “good clean art-scam fun. . . . Plot as layered as a forger’s paint; Italophiles andrngallery gazers will love it.” It is all this, and more.rn—Theodore FappasrnSEPTEMBER 1993/31rnrnrn