The week in books

September 18, 2008

Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard, professor of classics, University of Cambridge. Profile Books, £25.00, ISBN 9781861975164

"Mary Beard ... sets out to rehabilitate Pompeii and succeeds triumphantly. Her writing is chatty, even anachronistic, but never imprecise. It is 'accessible' but not because it skates round complexities and contradictions. Above all it is rigorous: as in her recent book on Roman triumphal parades, she tests the evidence to destruction."

Christian Tyler, Financial Times

Britain Since 1918 by David Marquand, visiting fellow in the department of politics, University of Oxford. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, £25.00, ISBN 9780297643203

"Many historians have seen 20th-century Britain as relatively stable compared with every other major European country. Marquand's book, by contrast, suggests an inherently unstable polity which needs a new settlement. He seeks a republican constitutional democracy to transcend managed populism. Meanwhile, he inclines towards the Whiggism of one-nation Tories like Macmillan and Edward Heath. He is relaxed towards Cameronian 'toffs'."

Kenneth O. Morgan, The Independent

When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge by K. David Harrison, assistant professor of linguistics, Swarthmore College. Oxford University Press, £9.99, ISBN 9780195372069

"Harrison explains why language death matters ... As one of Harrison's colleagues puts it, the loss of a language is 'like dropping a bomb on a museum, the Louvre'. In this scholarly yet very readable study, Harrison writes powerfully of the value and beauty of these vanishing knowledge systems."

P. D. Smith, The Guardian

Moving Forward, Looking Back: The European Avant-Garde and the Invention of Film Culture by Malte Haegner, assistant professor at the Department of Media Studies at Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat Jena. Amsterdam University Press, £19.95, ISBN 9789053569603

"Most frustrating of all are Haegner's glancing mentions of such key terms as photogenie ... or the idea that cinema and especially 'city films' provide the ultimate metaphor for modern life in the city. These are never explored, just as the book never engages with what might have been the relationship between consciousness, film and literature in the modernist period."

Muriel Zagha, The Times Literary Supplement

Propitious Esculent: The Potato in World History by John Reader, honorary research fellow in the department of anthropology, University College London. William Heinemann, £18.99, ISBN 9780434013180

"In his account of the Irish famine, Reader offers the central message of the book. Eliminating extreme hunger and poverty is one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, but the history of the potato shows us that eliminating poverty means much more than ensuring the security of food supplies; social equity is equally, if not more, important."

Sandra Knapp, Nature.

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