The week in books

November 13, 2008

Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing and the New Geopolitics by Bobo Lo, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House. Brookings Institution Press, £18.99, ISBN 9780815753407

"Russia did itself no favours by invading and partitioning Georgia in August; China, for which the inviolability of national frontiers is a sacrosanct principle, was among the most offended powers. But in other respects, Russia and China are now closer than at any time in their history. For the rest of the world, the best hope may be that both countries turn some day in the direction of that much-despised value, liberal democracy. But it is nothing more than a hope, according to Lo: 'This optimistic scenario is not completely out of the question, yet it remains a distant prospect.'"

Tony Barber, Financial Times

Lady Worsley's Whim: An 18th-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold, academic adviser in British history and history of art, Institute for the International Education of Students. Chatto and Windus, £25.00, ISBN 9780701179809

"[Lady Worsley] was said to be a model for Lady Teazle in Sheridan's play The School for Scandal (1777). But not even naughty Lady Teazle would have got up to such japes as Lady Worsley. At a 1778-79 New Year's ball at Harewood, she flung the male guests' clothes ('particularly their breeches') out of the window. Later in the month, with two reckless accomplices, she set fire to militia flags in a Leeds pub and vandalised a local grandee's library. Rubenhold opines, portentously, that this may have been a cry for help."

James Fergusson, The Sunday Times

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry, Columbia University. Pan Macmillan, £8.99, ISBN 9780330418386

"Sacks first began to wonder about the effects of music on the brain in 1966. At that stage there was oddly little research on the subject. Here, he uses a device in which he has almost cornered the market - the elegantly written medical case study - to examine such phenomena as 'amusia', the link between music and heightened emotions and the man who started composing music after being struck by lightning. An excellent counter to Darwin's theory that music is not 'the least use to man'."

Katy Guest, The Independent

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War by Jeffrey A. Lockwood, professor of entomology, University of Wyoming. Oxford University Press, £8.99, ISBN 9780195333053

"Six-Legged Soldiers is an excellent account of the effect that arthropod-borne diseases have had on warfare. The discussions of how we are prepared, or not, for future threats from military operations, accidental introductions or bioterrorist events are pessimistic. The book highlights the need for further research to prevent, detect and mitigate vector-borne disease introductions, and to prevent globalisation of entomological threats. This book will inspire readers to understand these threats and prepare new methods to combat them."

Kenneth K. Linthicum, Nature.

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