The week in books

August 7, 2008

Children of the Revolution: The French 1799-1914 by Robert Gildea, professor of modern history, University of Oxford. Allen Lane, £25.00, ISBN 9780713997606

"Gildea is an accomplished interpreter of this convulsive era. Yet at times his scholarly book becomes a rather unconvincing mix of analysis and narrative, and Gildea's fascinating analytical theme sometimes loses itself in the descriptive undergrowth ... Although Gildea suggests that the great ideological battles had largely exhausted themselves by 1914, it is striking to see how many ... still resonate today."

John Thornhill, Financial Times

Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: An Unlikely Love Story by Christina Thompson, editor of the Harvard Review. Bloomsbury, £14.99, ISBN 9780747582526

"Twenty years ago, on a student trip to New Zealand, Thompson met a Maori called Seven, whom she married, and it's not unkind to say that her marriage has doubled up, rather neatly, as fieldwork ... Now she lives a 'contact encounter' every day ... Captain Cook was able to sail home after his first and second voyages (the third time it didn't work out). Thompson has ensured for herself that she never, ever can."

Lynne Truss, The Sunday Times

Shark by Dean Crawford, visiting associate professor of English, Vassar College. Reaktion, £9.99, ISBN 9781861893253

"Sharks have got a bad press: they're not much interested in humans, finding them a bit stringy and bony. In any case, Crawford points out, bees and dogs kill many more people every year than sharks do. Still, despite his protestations, the notorious eating of many American sailors by sharks after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 hardly sounds less horrible than subsequent fictive exaggerations of the incident."

Steven Poole, The Guardian

Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought by Margaret Meserve, assistant professor of history, University of Notre Dame. Harvard University Press, £32.95, ISBN 9780674026568

"Empires of Islam is the product of the most painstaking research. There is not a byway that Meserve has not followed to trace the intricate debates of the time. But the contribution made by her book goes further than the polemics centred on the origin of the Turks. It helps us to reassess humanist historiography in its broadest sense."

Alastair Hamilton, The Times Literary Supplement

Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology, Brown University. Viking, £13.20, ISBN 9780670018833

"(Miller) deals poorly with ... why this problem is so much greater in the US than elsewhere. (His) rationalisations are sometimes painful to read ... Europe's relative freedom from the scourge of creationism is explained with a condescending anecdote. The popularity of creationism in the US is ascribed to independence and rebelliousness rather than religiosity."

P. Z. Myers, Nature.

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