The week in books

February 7, 2008

Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism by Umberto Eco, director of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, University of Bologna, translated by Alastair McEwen. Harvill Secker, £17.99, ISBN 9781846550355.

"The title of this book tells us Eco's current concerns. They are: that we are leafing backwards through history's pages; that wars are hot, bad and largely America's fault; and that a populism that accords with the laws of television has descended on Italy - and may fall upon us all. In the first, he is unconvincing. In the second, he is frequently silly. In the last he is brilliant."

John Lloyd, Financial Times

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi? by Francisco Goldman, Allan K. Smith professor of literature, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. Atlantic Books, £16.99, ISBN 9781843547372.

"This has some of the merits of a whodunnit: although it is clear in outline halfway through who the culprits are, so corrupt, convoluted and susceptible to outside threats and pressure is the Guatemalan justice system that it is not at all clear until the end whether they will be brought to book."

Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph

The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution by Sean B. Carroll, professor of molecular biology, genetics and medical genetics, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Quercus, £15.99, ISBN 9780393330519.

"Fossil genes are the nemesis of intelligent design. What sort of grand designer would litter his creations with decayed copies of genes that we know are still functional in other creatures? There is a simpler explanation. Fossil genes have decayed because they are no longer under selection pressure. As Carroll says: 'The rule of DNA code is use it or lose it.'"

Peter Forbes, The Guardian

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark by Don Thompson, economist and professor of business specialising in art who has taught at the London School of Economics and the Harvard Business School. Aurum, £14.99, ISBN 9781845133023.

"One of the things that intrigues (Thompson) most about the art market is its virgin, unregulated state. He is like a botanist chancing upon an untrammelled tract of land. He falls upon it with glee, gathering specimens by the armful. Inevitably those specimens are not all correctly identified and understood."

Philip Hook, The Mail on Sunday

The Fox and the Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath by Charles van Onselen, researcher and historian, University of Pretoria. Cape, £20.00, ISBN 9780224079297.

"Van Onselen's long, disturbing and magnificently dogged book takes us through a grim terrain spread across three continents; a world of squalor and violence, of prostitutes and pimps, of tenements and penitentiaries ... but it is to here that the trail keeps winding back, to London's East End in 1888, to the unanswered question that is at least part of the Ripper's enduring fascination: who was he?"

Charles Nicholl, London Review of Books.

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