The week in books

September 11, 2008

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed, assistant professor of medicine, Medical University of South Carolina. Sourcebooks, £7.99, ISBN 9781402210877

"(Ahmed's) journey ... fails to live up to expectations. Although daring and brutally honest in some of its descriptions of Saudi life, Ahmed rarely probes deeply enough into the complex subjects she writes about, or stays long enough with the people she meets to allow readers to understand and connect to them."

Roula Khalaf, Financial Times

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia by Orlando Figes, professor of history, Birkbeck, University of London. Penguin Books, £10.99, ISBN 9780141013510

"This lengthy but gripping work of oral history restores the humanity to Soviet Russia's murdered masses, piecing together the fear-filled reality of daily life under Stalinism. Figes has deftly combined hundreds of personal testimonies to present a revealing and harrowing sample of the 25 million or so victims whose 'spoiled biographies' - a creepy euphemism - marked them as enemies of the regime. Filled with appalling and often immensely moving stories, The Whisperers has more than enough acute detail to prevent reader numbness setting in."

Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn, lecturer in landscape history, Central Saint Martins College of Art. Faber and Faber, £19.99, ISBN 9780571216932

"Elizabeth in the Garden opens in the style of a fanciful historical novel, but readers should not be put off since the heart of the book contains strong, precise description and thoughtful analysis. Martyn guides us with ease around the great gardens, explaining the ideas behind them, their planning and geometry, hydraulics and planting, alluding in passing to the works of Spenser and Sidney as well as Hill's Gardener's Labyrinth and Gerard's Herbal."

Jenny Uglow, The Daily Telegraph

The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach professor of physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Basic Books, £15.99, ISBN 9780465003211

"The book is not without flaws ... however, imperfections do not stop it being a thrilling read. In an endnote, Wilczek warns that the nitty-gritty of quantum field theory is not for sissies. Nor is this book. But doughty and patient readers will be rewarded with a glimpse of physics at its quirkiest and most illuminating."

The Economist

British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-1906 by Eugenio Biagini, reader in modern British and European history, University of Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, £55.00, ISBN 9780521841764

"Biagini's book is a detailed and fertile analysis of social and political reform in the United Kingdom on the eve of crisis. It sets the scene for the ensuing struggle between democracy and Imperialism as it came to dominate relations between Britain and Ireland down to the end of the 20th century."

Richard Bourke, The Times Literary Supplement.

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