The week in books

April 24, 2008

Isabella De' Medici: The Glorious Life and Tragic End of a Renaissance Princess by Caroline P. Murphy, associate professor of Renaissance art, University of California, Riverside. Faber and Faber, £20.00, ISBN 9780571230303

"It is a pity this story is spoilt by the author's clumsy style. She prefers the word 'demise' to 'death', uses the phrase 'as such' when she means 'in consequence', and could in general benefit from editing. Still, the vibrancy of Isabella's character shines through, along with the tragic sense of a woman trapped in a man's world."

Virginia Rounding, Financial Times

New Writings of William Hazlitt edited by Duncan Wu, professor, English department, Georgetown University. Clarendon Press, £120.00, ISBN 9780199207060

"Wu has, in his own words, 'synthesized a range of scholarly expertise': many items have previously been attributed to Hazlitt, principally by Stanley Jones, but Wu also draws on work by the French scholar Jules Douady and others; and he has numerous new offerings as well ... Wu has done useful service in gathering this material, and his annotations cast erudite light on a literary milieu."

Seamus Perry, Times Literary Supplement

Austerity Britain, 1945-51 by David Kynaston, research fellow in history, Kingston University. Bloomsbury, £25.00, ISBN 9780747579854

"Kynaston provides a great deal of social detail, but it isn't clear to what end. His book ends abruptly with Stanley Matthews failing to get an FA Cup winner's medal and the reader is unsure quite what Kynaston is arguing. One interpretation is that he is describing the culture of an individualistic, privacy-loving people on whom the activators worked to little effect ... The other is that life does not fit into any pattern, and this seems to be where Kynaston's argument is heading."

Ross McKibbin, London Review of Books

China Returns to Africa: A Superpower and a Continent Embrace edited by Christopher Alden, senior lecturer in international relations, London School of Economics, Daniel Large, PhD student, department of politics and international studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, and Ricardo de Oliviera, fellow and tutor in politics, St Peter's College, Oxford. Hurst and Co Publishers, £65.00 and £25.00, ISBN 9781850658856 and 8863

"The editors of this hefty volume have assembled essays by 24 academics of a dozen nationalities, who possess exceptional knowledge of China's operations in Africa ... The outcome presents an impressive study of one of the most important developments in the modern world."

Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall, fellow of New College, Oxford until his death in 2007. Yale University Press, £10.99, ISBN 9780300136296

"(Nuttall's) real achievement is to cover almost the entire dramatic oeuvre in a series of astute and original readings, many of which contain no isms at all. Nuttall perhaps goes too far in positing a Shakespeare always in conscious control of meaning, but these explorations of individual plays are enjoyably provocative and largely persuasive."

John Dugdale, The Guardian.

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