An engrossing and visually splendid exploration of the artistic and cultural meaning of canes.


The humble walking stick is a medium for intricate art and ingenious engineering, according to this lavishly illustrated work.

Moss, a joint chairman of London’s Antique Walking Cane Society and an avid collector, surveys the history of walking sticks and canes—and their ubiquitous spinoff, the umbrella—and their multifarious guises and functions. Canes, he notes, were a practical necessity for navigating muddy, treacherous pre-modern streets, especially for 18th-century fashionistas wearing high heels and unwieldy wigs. They were also useful for fending off ruffians, whether as a club or as a disguised sword, spear, or gun. Jewel-encrusted scepters were status markers for noblemen, and simpler canes were understated testaments to the tastefulness of the self-made London dandy. Above all, they were art objects, whether gnarled carvings by folk craftsmen, sleek art deco confections, or props in a Fred Astaire dance routine. Moss illustrates all of this history with photos of items in his own collection, which make up the heart of the book. He showcases a bewildering variety of walking sticks and umbrellas: sword-canes, pistol canes, razor-blade canes, canes that squirt water to amuse children (or acid to repel assailants), canes that contain shaving kits, cameras, telescopes, matchboxes, ear trumpets, watches, nutmeg graters, musical instruments, or even surgical instruments for performing circumcisions. His photographs focus on the rich artistry of the handles, including porcelain ones painted with delicate landscapes; ivory and wood handles carved as animals and flowers; erotic carvings of supine maidens; historical busts; macabre carvings of deceased heads in various stages of decay and vermin infestation; and a whimsical carving of a man peering cross-eyed at a wasp on his nose.

This treatise presents its readers with a soup-to-nuts introduction to canes, covering everything from details of construction, materials, and patents to cultural conventions that governed their use. The hundreds of sumptuous full-color images do full justice to the items, and the text curates them well, examining them by genre and period. Moss’ lucid prose features evocative appreciations of both the canes’ aesthetics—“The sculptor has expertly carved the woman’s sinuous hair and body to follow the curve of the handle,” he writes of a handle featuring mermaids, “while her counterpart lies face up on the top of the handle, her exquisitely detailed tail wrapped around the swell”—and their symbolism, noting, for example, that the iconic puppet character Punch’s appeal lies in the fact that he’s “a strange combination of the demon and the buffoon.” Over the course of the book, his shrewd, wide-ranging historical analysis situates canes in their larger social context, as well: “Dandyism can be seen as a stand against the levelling of democratic values, often including a nostalgic loyalty to pre-industrial values, such as the ideals of ‘the perfect gentleman’ or ‘the autonomous aristocrat.’ ” Connoisseurs and casual readers with a liking for good-looking fashion accessories will find a great deal of interesting lore and imagery here.

An engrossing and visually splendid exploration of the artistic and cultural meaning of canes.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5381-4495-4

Page Count: 568

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

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A comprehensive exploration of one of the most influential women of the last century.

The accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) were widespread and substantial, and her trailblazing actions in support of social justice and global peace resonate powerfully in our current moment. Her remarkable life has been extensively documented in a host of acclaimed biographies, including Blanche Wiesen Cook’s excellent three-volume life. Eleanor was also a highly prolific writer in her own right; through memoirs, essays, and letters, she continuously documented experiences and advancing ideas. In the most expansive one-volume portrait to date, Michaelis offers a fresh perspective on some well-worn territory—e.g., Eleanor’s unconventional marriage to Franklin and her progressively charged relationships with men and women, including her intimacy with newspaper reporter Lorena Hickok. The author paints a compelling portrait of Eleanor’s life as an evolving journey of transformation, lingering on the significant episodes to shed nuance on her circumstances and the players involved. Eleanor’s privileged yet dysfunctional childhood was marked by the erratic behavior and early deaths of her flighty, alcoholic father and socially absorbed mother, and she was left to shuttle among equally neglectful relatives. During her young adulthood, her instinctual need to be useful and do good work attracted the attention of notable mentors, each serving to boost her confidence and fine-tune her political and social convictions, shaping her expanding consciousness. As in his acclaimed biography of Charles Schulz, Michaelis displays his nimble storytelling skills, smoothly tracking Eleanor’s ascension from wife and mother to her powerfully influential and controversial role as first lady and continued leadership and activist efforts beyond. Throughout, the author lucidly illuminates the essence of her thinking and objectives. “As Eleanor’s activism evolved,” writes Michaelis, “she did not see herself reaching to solve social problems so much as engaging with individuals to unravel discontinuities between the old order and modernity.”

A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9201-6

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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