Books: Dry Paths in a Swamp

THE POLITE AMERICANS by Gerald Carson. 346 pages. Morrow. $1 >.50.

Americans are incorrigible joiners, as witness the National Association of Former FBI Agents, the Asparagus Club, the Auto Dismantlers Association of Southern California and the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (lumbermen). A dog named Socrates Lovinger is listed in the Manhattan phone book. In colonial times, cussers were punished with a red-hot poker thrust through the profane tongue. In 1900 a New York judge committed an actress to Bellevue for smoking cigarettes. In 1905 the U.S. had more pianos and cottage organs than bathtubs....

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