The Week in Books

June 12, 2008

The Meaning of Life by Terry Eagleton, John Edward Taylor professor of English literature, University of Manchester. Oxford University Press, £10.99, ISBN 9780199210701.

"Eagleton pre-emptively announces on page one that he's not a philosopher, but anyone tackling this subject is de facto a philosopher; the question is, how good? Eagleton indulges in some needlessly laboured analysis of terms, but is less interested in philosophical argument than in sticking it to his enemies, those pesky liberal humanists."

Brandon Robshaw, The Independent

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker, Harvard College professor and Johnstone Family professor in the department of psychology, Harvard University. Allen Lane, £9.99, ISBN 9780141015477

"Some readers may prefer to go straight to the illuminating sections on sex and on swearing ... We might philosophise in words of Greek or Latin origin, but we still swear and have sex in visceral Anglo-Saxon. Everyone with any interest in language will find this a stimulating book. And because they often show language at its most elastic, it even includes some good jokes. You finish this book delighting in the fecundity and flexibility of language. It both forms and expresses the multiplicity of what we are."

Ross Leckie, The Times

State of the Nation: British Theatre since 1945 by Michael Billington, visiting professor in theatre studies, Penn English Program in London, King's College London. Faber, £25.00, ISBN 9780571210343

"It gets no index entry of its own, but rarely can Leamington Spa have been mentioned so frequently in a history of British theatre. What Michael Billington brings chiefly to that well-trodden subject is himself ... State of the Nation is as clearly written as you would expect from such an accomplished reviewer (it cheerfully resurrects puns used in notices thirty years ago) ... It doesn't pretend to be encyclopaedic. Which, of course, leaves more to be written."

Paul Allen, The Times Literary Supplement

India: The Rise of an Asian giant by Dieter Rothermund, professor emeritus of South Asian history, University of Heidelberg. Yale University Press, £20.00, ISBN 9780300113099

"If anyone is qualified to quibble with Rothermund about his conviction that India has a great future, it's not me. But still, after reading this book, which is a meticulous historian's collection of facts, backed by a lifetime's work, I feel the need to quibble. To me, India does not look like a country with a great future. It looks like an enormous country always on the verge of enormous trouble. If the facts in Rothermund's book are anything to go by, India seems to be a place of almost unparalleled volatility."

William Leith, The Spectator.

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