The Week in Books

April 10, 2008

Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text by Jas Elsner, Humfry Payne, senior research fellow in classical art and archaeology, Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Princeton University Press, £29.95, ISBN 9780691096773

"To explore the differences between what we moderns see in ancient texts and images and what Roman eyes saw, Elsner tends to favour texts over images. This approach showcases his brilliant command of a wide variety of textual sources that chart Ancient Roman reactions to the visual."

John Clarke, Times Literary Supplement

Indo-European Poetry and Myth by Martin L. West, senior research fellow in Classics, All Souls College, Oxford. Oxford University Press, £80.00, ISBN 9780199280759

"As West progresses from grammar to poetry to myth, he finds himself on progressively shakier ground in his argument ... For linguistics is a science, and the study of myth is not. He is well aware of this ... Yet he often falls prey to the same temptation that did (Max) Muller and his 'Science of Mythology' 150 years ago, which is to draw conclusions from the art of mythology with a confidence more appropriate to the science of linguistics."

Wendy Doniger, London Review of Books

Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-Star Fantasist by Simon Armitage, member of the English Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University. Viking Adult, £16.99, ISBN 9780670915804

"Gig is full of great lines such as Armitage's flip, accurate analysis of the tribes that succeeded punk: "the ska revival (bluebeat sung by punks) ... post-punk (punks in overcoats)". The description of the latter-day Morrissey as looking like "a retired shire horse standing on its back legs, or something from mythology, as if those tailored Italian trousers might be hiding a pair of goat's legs", is certainly striking ... A born observer, he even describes a riot at a Smiths show that I don't recall, despite being there. (There were many riots in 1984, mind.)"

Steve Jelbert, The Independent

In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government during the Last 100 Years by David Owen, chancellor, University of Liverpool. Methuen, £25.00, ISBN 9780413776624

"David Owen, a grand old man of politics who also qualified as a doctor, seems, on the face of it, to be particularly well placed to write about illness and its effects on leaders. But his book has the disconnected and cobbled-together feel of a multi-author anthology. The first 100-plus pages read as if they had been farmed out to a jobbing research student briefed to provide potted histories of state leaders in the last century. The prose is angular, while sense, syntax and spelling suffer. Ill-digested medical notes are added, as if to emphasise the author's clinical credentials."

Margaret Cook, The Guardian.

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