The Week in Books

March 20, 2008

George Gissing: A Life by Paul Delany, professor in the department of English, Simon Fraser University. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £25.00, ISBN 9780297852124.

"George Gissing believed that the twin purposes of literary biography were to reveal how an author had become a writer of books and to show how each book came into being. Paul Delany has fulfilled these requirements amply in this thorough yet accessible account of one of the most miserable lives in literature."

Sarah Wise, The Daily Telegraph

The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations by Brian Fagan, emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara. Bloomsbury, $26.95, ISBN 9781596913929

"Fagan's conclusion is that the medieval warming was generally good for Europe, but it produced prolonged droughts in many parts of the world ... The droughts were especially severe in the American west ... Thinking of the fate of the profligate Maya rulers, Fagan remarks ominously: 'The analogies to modern-day California, with its aqueducts for water-hungry Los Angeles, or cities such as Tucson, Arizona, with its shrinking aquifers and falling water-table, are irresistible.'"

Andrew Robinson, Financial Times

Servants of the Supernatural: The Night Side of the Victorian Mind by Antonio Melechi, research fellow in the department of sociology, University of York. William Heinemann, £20.00, ISBN 9780434013340

"The only real surprise in Antonio Melechi's book is that he felt it necessary to write it. The stories he tells here may have once seemed beguilingly strange, but now they are like old friends, trotted out in the many fine books on the subject which have appeared ... Think of him as an analogue for James Randi, that permanently cross-looking Canadian magician who has dedicated himself to proving (and failing, actually) that Uri Geller is a fraud."

Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

The Death of the Critic by Ronan McDonald, senior lecturer in modern English literature, University of Reading. Continuum, £14.99, ISBN 97808264991

"McDonald believes that the main reason for the gulf between academic and non-academic criticism is 'the turn from evaluative and aesthetic concerns in the university humanities' departments'. He does not bemoan the influence of the Richard and Judy Book Club or the internet; he blames his fellow academics."

John Mullan, Times Literary Supplement

Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power, Anna Lindh professor of practice of global leadership and public policy, Harvard University. Allen Lane, £25.00, ISBN 9780713998412

"What were Sergio's core beliefs? He had so much glamour and style, and achieved so much in the field, that it may seem pedantic to focus on his intellectual and moral compass points. Yet they are important to understanding his actions, even his fate. With a few serious exceptions, Power covers them brilliantly."

Adam Roberts, The Independent.

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