Women of theThird Reich
by Anna Maria Sigmund
(NDE Publishing, 236 pages, $22.95)

Evil doesn't exist in a vacuum. That's why the Nazis, our contemporary archetype of evil, invite continued investigation. In Women of the Third Reich, Anna Maria Sigmund studies the roles Eva Braun, Magda Goebbels, Emmy Goering and other women played in the rise of Nazi Germany, adding another attempt to unravel the complex psycho-social and cultural threads that allowed Hitler's ascendancy and the systematic deaths of millions of innocent people.

Through testimony, diaries, interviews and correspondence, Sigmund's book sheds light on the media roles and private lives of the Reich's leading ladies who--if they'd been examined while in the dock where they belonged--seemed to share a love for melodrama, an adoration of Hitler and aspirations to the elite, hermetic inner circle of power.

Sigmund gives us some tantalizing biographical data in this even-handed book. As is so often the case, reality puts fiction to shame. Many of these women make Hannibal Lecter seem like Snow White. Particularly riveting are the passages that describe Magda Goebbels' murder of her six children, Margaret Himmler's complicity in her husband's leadership of the SS and filmmaker Leni Riefenstal's one-woman propaganda machine.

What's ironic is that these women have nothing in common with the National Socialist ideal of femininity--the cheerful blond hausfrau whose devotion to küche (kitchen), kirche (church) and kinder (children) was the advertised glue of the Aryan nation. Unfortunately, this book fails to provide insight into the emotional components that drove these psychologically complex women. Whether this is due to lack of accurate historical information is unclear. It is, however, the major flaw of the book. Evelyn Sharenov

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich
(Metropolitan Books, 221 pages, $23)

Barbara Ehrenreich reads at Powell's-Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668. 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 29.

Barbara Ehrenreich has been arching a critical liberal eyebrow at American society for nearly 20 years. Her most recent book is a full immersion into the crisis of America's working poor.

Over the course of two years, Ehrenreich took jobs as a maid, a waitress, a nursing-home aide and a clerk at Wal-Mart, attempting to feed and house herself off the meager earnings. Even without children and with her own car, she barely managed to survive, at times taking two jobs to pay rent.

The resulting portrayal of America's underclass is biting and darkly humorous. Ehrenreich expresses outrage without tantrums, compassion without sentimentality. The portraits she paints of the people she found on the bottom of America's (until recently) booming economy are warm and complete. These aren't cardboard cutouts of the heroic poor, they're just folks trying to get by in the face of exploding housing costs and stagnant wages.

Ehrenreich focuses on the service industry, which is where job growth has occurred this decade, calling her co-workers there the most generous philanthropists in the country. "When someone works on less pay than she can live on--when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently--then she has made a great sacrifice for you."

The working poor, Ehrenreich argues, neglect their children to care for the children of strangers, endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. Increasingly, it's becoming clear that the service economy is creating a permanent underclass that America is going to have to face, sooner or later.
Patty Wentz 

Last Blue
by Gerald Stern
(Norton, 112 pages, $22)

Gerald Stern reads at the Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., 725-5666. 8 pm Wednesday, May 23. $10.

Teacher and prize-winning poet Gerald Stern, whose 1998 book of poems, This Time, won the National Book Award, has produced yet another handsome and substantial volume in Last Blue.

Beginning with the hues of Picasso's Bird on the dust jacket, Stern sprinkles his book with bits of blue from the first poem, One of the Smallest ("before I was born, thus I was/blue at the start..."), to the last, Kingdom ("And as for blue/it lay between the door and the first dog-wood/sprawled..."). Then there is the title poem, which itself is an elaborate meditation on blue. "You want to get the color blue right,/just drink some blue milk from a blue cup;/wait for the blue light of morning/or evening with its blue aftermath." This is a blue that plays between the painter's desire to get the color right and the metaphorical "blues" of depression. Stern's poems are worthy companions to William Gass' philosophical treatise On Being Blue.

Yet these last poems are not the collection's only interesting pieces involving that ubiquitous color. It's present in Mexican ("--you would call it purple anyhow, you would fight me/on blues, I know--"). The role nature plays in Stern's work is also seen in this wonderful love poem--where light and shadow play--which ends: "nights/so warm the phoebes were terrified and titmice/were starting to hunt for grasses while we made love."

Over the years Stern has published at least 10 books and, like wine, his work only gets better with age. This is a rare book where each new reading brings us further insight into our existence. Carlos Reyes