The week in books

November 6, 2008

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch professor of history and William Ziegler professor of business administration, Harvard University, senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Allen Lane, £25.00, ISBN 9781846141065

"This book is timely - but ... (it) feels rushed ... The whirlwind of ideas and gimmicky images that greet the reader could often have benefited from more rigorous thought. It is hard, for example, to see what a multi-page musing on the similarity between financial evolution and biological evolution contributes; or, indeed, a comparison between government bonds and James Bond."

Bill Emmott, Financial Times

Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye by Jane Stevenson, Regius professor of the humanities, University of Aberdeen. Vintage Books, £16.99, ISBN 9780099501664

"Sadly, this book doesn't illustrate a single picture, so we have to guess what the Teapot Gods (Burra) painted in 1948 might look like, but it does draw heavily on his gloriously idiosyncratic letters and Burra comes shining through in quotation; as he assures a friend, 'Aye have quayte a social layfe in may fashion dearie.'"

Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

David Mamet: A Life in the Theatre by Ira Nadel, professor of English, University of British Columbia. Methuen Drama, £25.00, ISBN 9781408104514

"Accounts of the lives of giants tend to make difficult reading for lesser lights in the same field, and believe me, Ira Nadel's David Mamet is no exception. It's just a shame that such an exciting career should receive such a prosaic treatment ... If only Nadel could write with a smidgen of his subject's elan."

Ranjit Bolt, The Daily Telegraph

Planet Google: How One Company Is Transforming Our Lives by Randall Stross, professor of business, San Jose State University. Atlantic Books, £16.99, ISBN 9781843549802

"This sharp-eyed book is full of telling revelations ... It is a restless examination of Google's strengths and weaknesses, and contradictions ... This is a slightly dry book, the prose compact rather than elegant. But when so much of what is written about Silicon Valley and the web generally is still either self-servingly evangelical or sour and conspiratorial, agnostics about the whole enterprise have to find insight where they can."

Andy Beckett, The Guardian

Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew by Sasson Somekh, professor emeritus of modern Arabic literature, Tel Aviv University. Ibis Books, £9.50, ISBN 9789659012589

"(Somekh's) wry, wistful memoir is an elegy for an experiment in co-existence rather than a Zionist parable about its impossibility. Baghdad, Yesterday invokes a world in which Arab and Jewish writers met in cafes on al-Rashid street, browsed in the same bookshops and dreamt of an independent, secular, modern state ... He has written a gentle book about one of the least gentle of historical relationships."

Adam Shatz, London Review of Books.

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