of the emperors in Byzantine chronicles.nEven Daniel Boone, shoehornedninto this history despite never havingntraveled within 1,500 miles of California,nis reduced Irom being an authenticnAmerican hero to a quizzical oldngrouch.nIt is only when Richard Henry Dananenters the scene two-thirds of the waynthrough the book that Batman’s tableauxnmomentarily comes to life. Dananis a very empathetic figure, a Harvardngraduate who decided, after devouringntoo many books, to sign on board anwhaler on a voyage from Boston aroundnCape Horn to California and back.nDana described his travels in TwonYears Before the Mast, one of the earliestnand best accounts of American exploration.nWhen Batman paraphrasesnDana, he is on solid ground. When henleaves Dana’s adventures, his footing isnmuch less sure, except for one memorablenscene in which a wandering furntrapper named Antoine Robidaux travelsnto a small town in Missouri in 1840nto urge farmers, for the first time, toncross 2,000 miles of uncharted wastelandnfor the golden land of California.nRobidaux “said there was but one mannin California that ever had a chill there,nand it was a matter of so much wondermentnto the people of Monterey thatnthey went eighteen miles to the countrynjust to see him shake.”nIt is touchstones such as this thatnmake popular history worthwhile bynallowing us, for a moment, to glimpseninto the past and see it fresh and whole.nThese moments occur so rarely in Batman’snwork that I can’t recommend ThenOuter Coast. I hope, however, thatnmore gifted writers will emerge to tillnthe same fields as Batman. The historynof our nation is much too important tonbe left to the Marxists and the mathematicians.nMartin Morse Wooster is Washingtonneditor of Harper’s magazine.nFlightless Birdnby Brian MurraynGalapagos by Kurt Vonnegut, NewnYork: Delacorte; $16.95.nMany see in Kurt Vonnegut a menacento society. Since the late 1960’s, parents’ngroups and school boards in severalnstates have launched drives to keepnSlaughterhouse Five and othernVonnegut novels out of libraries and offnsyllabi.nOther observers regard KurtnVonnegut as a writer of consistent intelligencenand integrity—a titan of hisnage. For every Vonnegut hater there arenprobably five avid Vonnegut fans, perhapsnmost of whom are high school andncollege students who also believe thatnStar Trek is high art and that HenrynJames was a trumpet player who led hisnown big band back in the 40’s. Thesendevotees will tell you, quite earnestly,nthat Vonnegut is a certified DeepnThinker and that several of his books—nincluding Cat’s Cradle and SlaughterhousenFive—are among the most importantnof our time.nVonnegut is a religious skeptic; hisnpolitical views—such as they are—nveer left. He is certainly liberal with thensort of snide cracks and scatologicalnjokes that one associates with boys ofn13. But he is not as sinister as his mostnsevere critics contend. In essays andninterviews, Vonnegut has spoken withnpride of the Purple Heart he earnednduring World War II; of his successfulnrearing of six children and his ownnupbringing in a large family with firmnMidwestern roots; of the fact that “Inhave earned whatever I own by hardnwork.” In the main, Vonnegut’s novelsncall for nothing worse than the spread ofnneighborly goodwill and an end to thenworship of machinery; his satirical jabsnare sometimes right on the mark. Consider,nfor example, his 1968 essay “Yes,nWe Have No Nirvanas”—a funny, incisivenexpose of the then very trendynMaharishi Mahesh Yogi.nOf course, Vonnegut’s disciples overratenhim greatly; he is not a modern-daynMark Twain. Slaughterhouse Fivenmight endure, but in the year 2010nVonnegut’s other novels will probablynbe considered no better known thannCarl Van Vechten’s are today. Indeed,nVonnegut’s novels have become progressivelynless readable: such works asnSlapstick (1976) and Deadeye Dickn(1982) exhibit the sort of sloppy predictabilitynthat is common among writersnwho recognize that even their mostntrivial scribblings will be quickly consumednby a constituency of largely uncriticalnfans.nGaldpagos, Vonnegut’s most recentnnovel, contains a couple of amusingnscenes and some clever verbal constructions.nJames Wait, a principal character,nis a con man with skin the color ofn”the crust on a pie in a cheap cafeteria.”nIn Guayaquil, Ecuador, he stays at anhotel with “the proportions and moodnof a glassfront bookcase, high and widenand shallow.”nMuch of the novel is set in Guayaquilnand on the Galapagos Islands madenfamous by Darwin; down where it isnnn”hotter than the hinges of hell.”nBut on the whole, Galdpagos is andog’s dinner of precious tricks andncomic-strip philosophizing. EssentiallynVonnegut argues that human beingsnhave made a mess of the world becausen—through an evolutionary quirk—wenwound up with brains too large to servenany truly useful purpose; that we’d allnbe far better off if we had flippers andnfins and spent our days flopping aroundnthe seashore with the walruses and thenseals. Irritating, too, is the condescendingnand rather cloying narrative voicenthat Vonnegut once again employs. InnGala’pagos, Vonnegut often soundsna bit too much like Miss Francesnsing-songing her way through a sciencenlesson at the Ding Dong School.nListen to this description of the “flightlessncormorant”:nThis bird was black andnappeared to be the size of anlarge duck, but it had a neck asnlong and as supple as a snake.nThe queerest thing about it,nthough, was that it seemed tonhave no wings, which wasnalmost the truth. This sort ofnbird was endemic to thenGalapagos Islands, meaningnthat it was found there andnnowhere else on the planet. Itsnwings were tiny and folded flatnagainst its body, in order that itnmight swim as fast and as deepnas a fish could.nIn the early 70’s, when he was at thenpeak of his popularity, Vonnegut announcednthat he would write no morennovels. After reading—or trying to readn—Galdpagos, many will be sorry thatnhe reneged on his promise.nBrian Murray is professor of Englishnat Youngstown State University.nRedeemer Novelnby Carl C. CurtisnHonorable Men by LouisnAuchincloss, Boston: Houghton Mifflin;n$15.95.nSome years ago Ernest Tuveson arguednin his landmark study Redeemer Nationnthat our country’s Puritan backgroundnhas led it through a series of historicalncrusades—from Indian wars to Vietnam—tonbring righteousness to a corruptnworld. It’s an interesting idea,ndisturbing and perhaps perverse, thatndeserves more attention than it hasnJULY 1986/37n