The week in books

July 3, 2008

The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present by Jan de Vries, professor of history and economics, University of California, Santa Barbara Cambridge University Press, £13.99, ISBN 9780521719254

"In spite of the scholarship and elaborate references, this book will interest all concerned with human behaviour in its many forms. It ... suffers from some repetition and economists' jargon. But it contains interesting insights into the ways behaviour has changed over the past couple of centuries ... Can we really continue on our present superficially attractive but ultimately unsustainable course? Are we really 'sapiens' after all?"

Sir Crispin Tickell, Financial Times

Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook, professor of history, University of British Columbia Profile, £18.99, ISBN 97818466811

"Imagination was coming to mean the capacity to fantasise about instant riches; realism, in painting as in literature, is acquisition by other means. But do the objects Vermeer painted retain their ostentatious price tags? Brook is so intent on cost and the grim injustice of expropriation that he can seem crassly unresponsive, indifferent to the almost beatific peace of the paintings ... Brook knows everything about price, but rather less about value."

Peter Conrad, The Observer

Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change c.1970-2000 by R. F. Foster, Carroll professor of Irish history, University of Oxford Penguin, £8.99, ISBN 9780141017655

"If Ireland is to do the time warp again the icons will not be Yeats or Patrick Pearse but the Pogues, Riverdance and Enya ... What bothers Foster about all this is ... the global success of Irish popular music relies on the exploitation of a hand-me-down Celticism ... But what is so disturbing about Irish kitsch (and is it worse than any other variety?). How pernicious is Riverdance or new houses with names like Inishlacken or Inishfree? ... I suspect that the real root of his dislike of kitsch is that he believes Irish culture is more susceptible to it than other cultures."

Clair Wills, London Review of Books

The Force of Destiny: A History of Italy Since 1796 by Christopher Duggan, professor of Italian history, University of Reading Allen Lane, £30.00, ISBN 9780713997095

"Christopher Duggan's ambitious new history of Italy makes two innovations which should be welcomed without reservation. First, by spanning the whole of the nineteenth century it avoids the conventional division between Italian history before and after Unification ... Second - and the two innovations are logically linked - this is a history of the national idea, which takes the existence of Italy not as a given but as a problem ... The advantage of this approach is that it provides a clear thematic focus that prevents The Force of Destiny from becoming a 'baggy monster', as more eclectic general histories inevitably are."

Adrian Lyttelton, The Times Literary Supplement.

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