Read It if You Can

Alternately posing as a doctor, a lawyer and a co-pilot for a major airline, con artist Frank W. Abagnale was the most successful bank robber in U.S. history and at age 17 became the youngest person ever wanted by the FBI. Catch Me if You Can: The Film and the Filmmakers documents the Steven Spielberg movie based on Abagnale's life and features an introduction by Abagnale, in which he explains the events of his life as they were filmed and tells how his story went from a talk show interview to a book to a Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. The illustrated screenplay takes up the bulk of the book and is punctuated with full-color photographs from the movie. Sidebars offer perspectives from the actors, production designers, costume designers and others. (Newmarket, $32.95 160p ISBN 1-55704-548-8; paper $22.95 -553-4; Dec.)

February Publications

While welfare reform in the mid-1990s meant new employees and equipment for some welfare offices and perks like interview clothing for some welfare recipients, it also meant harsh guidelines aimed at punishing welfare recipients who did not follow strict protocols. In Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform, Sharon Hays, using her research from two towns, focuses on single mothers who have at least occasionally relied on welfare for support. She finds that they are often pushed into dead-end employment with no career stability, while the government's emphasis on "family values" encourages them to marry men who can support them. These mixed messages, put forth via a rigid bureaucracy, pull welfare recipients and well-intentioned case workers in multiple directions. Hayes's subjects tell stories of the extreme poverty, broken families, sexual abuse, homelessness, and the lengths to which they go in attempts to juggle multiple part-time low-paying jobs, but they do not portray themselves as victims. (Oxford Univ., $28 288p ISBN 0-19-513288-2)

Attempting to cover the entire history of the horseback fighter from the late Dark Ages to the Renaissance, Alan Baker (The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves) is forced to limit itself to selected high points in The Knight: A Portrait of Europe's Warrior Elite. A good part of the chapter on castles and siegecraft, for example, is devoted to a somewhat Anglocentric history of fortification in the British Isles, before providing a solid account of the classic siege of Chateau Gaillard in 1204. Similarly, the chapter called "The Fall of Jerusalem" does not go beyond the First Crusade—though the account is useful, as is the biography of Godfrey of Bouillion. The chapter on the knight's equipment is oversimplified (although many of the controversies covered could not be resolved in a six-volume work), but balancing this is the fine account of the tournament at St. Inglevert, in which most of those weapons were called into play without anyone being killed. Indeed, the real strength of the book is its rummaging out anecdotes about knightly prowess from chronicles not available in most libraries. (Wiley, $22.95 224p ISBN 0-471-25135-6)

As a child, literature professor Michael Newton (University College, London) was captivated by Tarzan movies and Kipling's The Jungle Book. It's only fitting, then, that his first book, Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children, would investigate the history of children raised by (among others) wolves, monkeys and wild dogs. If these children help us understand "our continuing relationship with the savage image of ourselves" they also serve as a useful mirror of society's ills. As Newton argues, the medical treatments, therapeutic interventions, and general media hoopla following the discoveries of these children sharply reveal the intellectual and political fixations of their particular historical milieu from Victor, the "Wild Child of Aveyron," in 1800, onward. As interesting as such stories are in themselves, however, Newton's real strength lies in his ability to recognize how these children, seemingly helpless yet astonishingly self-contained, inevitably awaken our rescue fantasies and parental longings. Newton is a consummate storyteller, and this richly detailed study will work just as well outside of academe as within it. (St. Martin's, $24.95 304p ISBN 0-312-30093-X)

January Publication

In the slim though insightful Desperate Inscriptions: Graffiti from the Nazi Prison in Rome 1943—1944, Stanislao G. Pugliese, a professor of modern European history at Hofstra University and author of Carlo Rosselli, opens the doors of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters and prison in Rome. Now called the Museo Storico della Liberazione di Roma, the museum commemorates anti-fascists who helped liberate Rome. Pugliese's thoughtful narrative, accompanied by black-and-white photos by Lianna Miuccio, documents the lives of such antifascist prisoners as Arrigo Paladini, who wrote on the wall as he was dying, "There is nothing that can give the joy of a beautiful death as the consciousness of having served the country until the last breath of life." (Bordighera [], $12 paper 98p ISBN 1-884419-57-7)