The week in books

September 25, 2008

Admirals: The Naval Commanders who Made Britain Great by Andrew Lambert, Laughton professor of naval history, King's College London. Faber and Faber, £20.00, ISBN 9780571231560

"Nelson stands far above all other figures in British naval history. Those commanders who came before him are seen largely as preparing the way for him. Those who came afterwards were universally inspired by him while always failing to match his genius.... With such a dominant figure at the centre of the long story of the Royal Navy, it is a brave undertaking to write a study of the greatest British admirals without him. That is what naval historian Andrew Lambert has done, and Admirals proves an absorbing account of other great naval commanders."

Paddy Docherty, Financial Times

Taj Mahal by Giles Tillotson, former senior lecturer in South Asian art, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Profile Books, £15.99, ISBN 9781861978905

"Giles Tillotson's sprightly account of its structure and history, the stories that have accumulated around it and the impression it has made on tourists down the centuries is a welcome addition to Profile's 'Wonders of the World' series... Few structures have meant more different things to people than the Taj Mahal... Widely accepted as a symbol of India, but is Muslim in design and inspiration, which in a predominantly Hindu country - especially since partition - has made it less representative than outsiders might imagine."

Peter Parker, The Telegraph

Downing Street Diary, Volume Two: With James Callaghan in No 10 by Bernard Donoughue, visiting professor of government, London School of Economics. Jonathan Cape, £30.00, ISBN 9780224073806

"The parallels between Callaghan's administration and Gordon Brown's are peculiarly exact - which lends these diaries an eerie topicality: here we have as intimate an account as we could wish of what happens behind the scenes when a government is torn apart by forces beyond its control... For Callaghan's Government the destructive force was the trade union movement: for the Brown Government it has been the credit markets... Books such as this rise far above mere political gossip: they are essential reading for any student of British government."

Dominic Lawson, The Sunday Times

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin, lecturer in biophysics, University College London, and Tania Sanchez. Profile Books, £20.00, ISBN 9781846681028

"Turin's entries in his alphabetical guide to fine fragrances are brilliant exercises in synasthaesia. Each paragraph awarded to a masterpiece mix covers chemistry, biology, composition (with professional footnote on composer), commercial and political history (the European Union polices ingredients if they put the wearer, maker or environment at risk), personal memories, fantasies, and cross-references to arts, high and low... If there is to be any hope of persuading people to make perfume as much a quotidian reward as wine and food have become these past 30 years, there has to be a way to write about it that excites us, makes us curious, makes us laugh. Turin has found it."

Veronica Horwell, The Guardian.

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