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Sunday books: Joseph Heller, Freud's cocaine and more

August 21, 2011 |  6:00 am


It's been 50 years since the publication of Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," an occasion marked by two new books: the first biography of the author, who died in 1999, and a memoir from his wryly funny daughter. Carolyn Kellogg reviews "Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller" by Tracy Daugherty and Erica Heller's "Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller was Dad, the Apthorp was Home and Life was a 'Catch-22.' "

Meanwhile, Richard Rayner explores "An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine" by Howard Markel. "In my last severe depression, I took coca again, and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now busy collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magic substance," Freud wrote to his fiancee, Martha, on June 2, 1884. Indeed. The book follows the lives of two men of science (the mind and medicine, respectively) and their intersections with cocaine; Rayner finds it "rich, engrossing."

David L. Ulin reviews the latest by Laura Lippman, one of Baltimore's finest mystery novelists. "Beware the wild child. That's the message of Laura Lippman's 'The Most Dangerous Thing,' a novel that occupies the unlikely middle ground between thriller and coming-of-age saga, shifting from present to past as it tells the story of five childhood friends and the fateful night in 1979 that changed their lives."

In our column Not Just for Kids, Susan Carpenter looks at National Book Award finalist Cristina García's first young-adult novel. "Friendships are often forged in uncomfortable environs, when individuals who wouldn't ordinarily meet are forced to interact. Such is the case in 'Dreams of Significant Girls,' a young-adult novel that unfolds in a Swiss boarding school and makes roommates of three girls from radically different backgrounds."

Fashion writer Adam Tschorn looks back at a 1953 book about certain military men and their obsession with uniforms. "'The Reason Why: The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade' by Cecil Woodham-Smith ... focuses on the contentious relationship between the seventh Earl of Cardigan and the third Earl of Lucan, their obsession with the details of their station and the trappings of military regalia rather than with any actual fighting." When the enemy has cherry-colored pants and fur hats adorned with brilliant plumes, must one retaliate with braids and epaulets? En garde!

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Joseph Heller in 1979. Credit: Iris Schneider / Los Angeles Times