Lusitania: The Cultural History of a Catastrophe, by Willi Jasper, translated by Stewart Spencer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 233 pp., $30.00).  Readers wanting a detailed narrative history of the torpedoing and sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 on the order of Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember about the loss of the Titanic should refer to the classic account of the disaster by A.A. and Mary Hoehling, first published in 1956.  Willi Jasper’s summary, almost sketchy, account of the Lusitania’s fatal voyage is confined to a single chapter, as indeed the primary focus of his book required.  (This does not excuse examples of the author’s apparent unfamiliarity with maritime matters, including his ignorance of the age-old nautical tradition whereby ships are referred to by the feminine pronoun and several serious factual errors, including statistical ones.  He describes Lusitania as “entirely comparable in size to Titanic,” though the former was 787′ in length with a gross tonnage of 31,550, and the latter 882′ 8″, grossing 46,328 tons, and has an astounding reference to the White Star vessel as having capsized, when of course she went down by the bow after grazing the iceberg and upended to the vertical position before making her final plunge.)  Yet Jasper’s subject is the cultural and historical milieu that made a naval attack on a great passenger liner possible, and indeed made what had previously been considered random acts of barbarism against innocent civilians conventional strategy in wartime.  Jaspers’ chapter “Modern Vikings?” about Germany’s development of her U-boat fleet and the character of the skippers who commanded it is also excellent.

Dante: The Story of His Life, by Marco Santagata, translated by Richard Dixon (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard Press; 485 pp., $35.00).  This is a distinguished work of scholarship by a professor of literature at the University of Pisa, though as such it is likely to appeal largely to scholars and to nonspecialists with a serious interest in Dante.  The writing is extremely and carefully detailed, a quality that seems somewhat at odds at times with the author’s fondness for speculation on the facts of the poet’s life, or on his feeling, influences, and intentions, where fact cannot be established.  On the other hand, this approach to his subject made it possible for Santagata to go beyond biography to present a text of real social and historical, as well as literary, value—the more valuable, indeed, given Dante’s extraordinarily wide range of interest and of reference, whether as the author of De Monarchia, the Commedia, or other works.  And Marco Santagata (or his American publisher) has done well also to follow up quotations rendered into English with the medieval Italian text, which impresses me as being less periphrastic than the English translations of the Commedia I have read.  I learned first of this book from a highly enthusiastic review in The Spectator over the summer, and was hardly disappointed by the book itself.

Hustler: The Clinton Legacy, by Joe Sobran, edited by Tom McPherren (Vienna, VA: FGF Books; 267 pp., $23.00).  Were it not for Mrs. William Clinton, it would probably be unnecessary for anyone who had not rashly chosen to devote his professional career to the history of late 20th-century America rather than to that of 17th-century France or Italy in the period of the Risorgimento ever to pay heed to Bill Clinton again.  As things stand today, the possibility for a two-headed presidency next January threatens to make the 42nd president of the United States relevant once more.  If that possibility should be realized, Joe Sobran’s collected ruminations on the man during his two terms of office in the 1990’s will also attain a new relevancy independent of their wit, insight, and good writing.  Sobran, considering a period debate in the Wall Street Journal about whether Clinton is or is not a sociopath, asks, “Doesn’t the concept of a ‘sociopath’ sound uncomfortably like a recipe for a successful career in modern mass politics?”  And doesn’t it seem more and more an accurate characterization of Lady Hillary Macbeth Clinton as she totters, gasping and hacking, toward election day?  (Though, in her defense, Mrs. C. cares nothing for sex, only power and money, while her husband lusts after all three—a 33-percent improvement from the 90’s, then.)  The question that occurred to me while perusing this book was “Would giving Joe Sobran’s wonderful columns a second life really be worth the price?”  I can only wonder how Joe himself would reply to that.

        —Chilton Williamson, Jr.