The week in books

January 24, 2008

Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism by Donald Sassoon, professor of comparative European history, Queen Mary, University of London. Harper Press, £14.99 ISBN 978-00071924

"Just as he wanted people to think him more brutal than he actually was, so (Mussolini) liked to claim that he had seized power rather than received it, that the fascists' so-called 'march on Rome' had forced the Italian Establishment to accept the inevitability of fascist government. But the claim was untrue ... As Donald Sassoon argues in this convincing and well-written book, the fascists came to power because it suited the Italian establishment at that moment."

David Gilmour, Sunday Times

Loaded Dice: The Foreign Office and Israel by Neill Lochery, co-director of the Centre for Israeli Studies at University College London. Continuum, £19.99, ISBN 9780826490568

"Neill Lochery makes good use of Margaret Thatcher's papers to show that the view that her policy was dictated largely by her pro-Israel and anti-Foreign Office feelings is a travesty. As for feelings, her dislike of terrorists was at least as deep rooted, and the Israeli prime ministers with whom she had to deal, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, were both former terrorists with British blood on their hands."

Oliver Miles, The Guardian

I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer, curator of collections at The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. Yale University Press, £25.00, ISBN 9780300111729

"More than 20 volumes of selections from the journals have appeared prior to this one ... Most, however, focus on a particular aspect of Thoreau: (Jeffrey Cramer) has made a selection to reveal every aspect of the man ... and his annotations, which appear on each page parallel with the text, are superb."

Sara Wheeler, The Daily Telegraph

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter, Biblical scholar and professor of Hebrew and comparative literature, University of California, Berkeley. Norton, £22.00, ISBN 9780393062267

"(Robert Alter) is partial to Victorian langauge, perhaps in the belief that it is more 'poetic'. The result is that, at times, he sounds more dated than the King James ... Worse, like many writing poems for the first time, he is in love with inverted syntax ... The incessant inversion, combined with a predilection for possessives, leads to many examples of the kind where la plume de ma tante would become 'My aunt's is the pen'."

Eliot Weinberger, London Review of Books

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley. Allen Lane, £16.99, ISBN 9781846140969

"A book telling us to 'eat food' sounds about as necessary as one telling us to 'breathe air' ... Yet this is the main message of In Defence of Food ... What is more, (Pollan) succeeds in making 'eating food' seem entirely worthy of an apologia. For Pollan, the habit of 'eating food' is, in fact, a radical departure from the prevailing norms of the Western world."

Bee Wilson, Sunday Times.

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