The Week in Books

February 28, 2008

Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race by Richard Rhodes, affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Simon and Schuster, £20.00, ISBN 9781847371188

"Rhodes is a master storyteller and this is a compelling account ... Robert Gates, the American Defence Secretary, relates a story about Zbigniew Brzezinski (when he was Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser) being woken up with the news that 200 Soviet missiles were on their way to America. Brzezinski demanded confirmation before alerting the president. Two minutes later, he was informed that the radar now showed 2,000 missiles. Just before he woke Carter to tell him he had perhaps two minutes to launch a retaliatory strike, he was phoned again to be told there had been an error and that someone had put an exercise tape into the computers by mistake."

Robert Cooper, The Sunday Times

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, Alfred P. Sloan professor of behavioural economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. HarperCollins, £16.99, ISBN 9780007256525

"When Ariely attempts to generalise from his experiments, his conclusions are far less satisfactory than the clever experiments themselves. One example is his work on sexual arousal: having painted a memorable picture of undergraduates answering survey questions while masturbating over a laptop encased in cling-film, he recommends first that teenagers should carry condoms, and second that they should steer clear of situations where they may become aroused. Wise advice, perhaps, but something of a stretch from the experiment itself."

Tim Harford, Financial Times

The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in 18th-Century England by John Styles, research professor in history, University of Hertfordshire. Yale University Press, £25.00, ISBN 9780300121193

"(Styles) illustrates a revelatory range of printed cottons and linens, woven fibre mixes and cheap ribbons - scraps that he found in the admission books of the London Foundling Hospital. Pieces of whatever a baby was wearing when it entered there were pinned to its registration form, in the almost always unrealised hope that the mother would return later and identify it by the patches."

Veronica Horwell, The Guardian

Virgins: A Cultural History by Anke Bernau, lecturer in medieval literature and culture, University of Manchester. Granta Books, £18.99, ISBN 9781862078109

"(Bernau's) book would have benefited from demonstrating how the impulse to evangelise about sexual matters can take widely different forms. The Pink Nun, who roams the streets of Chicago handing out artefacts carrying messages such as 'Lock Your Cock' and 'You Are Not A Slot Machine', illustrates this well."

Alison Shell, Times Literary Supplement

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