The Week in Books

December 18, 2008

From Genocide to Continental War: The 'Congolese' Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa by Gerard Prunier, director, French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. Hurst Books, £40.00, ISBN 9781850655237

"If Prunier did not exist already, there would be an urgent need for him to be created. The maverick French historian is a genuine rarity, someone who has criss-crossed Africa for 37 years, who can deliver a historical sweep but masters the details ... As conflict reignites in its ravaged east, the basic premise of successful engagement with Congo must be a clearer understanding of how it got where it is. This unique and hugely ambitious book may turn out to be one of the most important to emerge on Africa for a long time."

William Wallis, Financial Times

Blood Sport: Hunting in Britain Since 1066 by Emma Griffin, lecturer in history, University of East Anglia. Yale University Press, £12.00, ISBN 9780300145458

"Beginning with the Norman conquest, Griffin sets British hunting - first for deer and relatively recently for foxes - in its historical context, and she covers its rightly abandoned variants such as bear-baiting and cock-fighting. There is much interesting sociology here, and we see how the (Hunting Act 2004) had its genesis in 1824 with the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That was elevated to the Royal Society by Queen Victoria in 1840 - although the Royal Hunt continues. The many paradoxes of hunting remain illustrative of the enigma that is humankind."

Ross Leckie, The Times

Arthur Miller: The Definitive Biography by Christopher Bigsby, professor of American studies, University of East Anglia. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £30.00, ISBN 9780297854418

"Bigsby's sympathetic study contains electrifying new perspectives on its subject. In 2005, just before Miller died, he gave Bigsby boxes and boxes of previously unseen material. Some held manuscripts that had never been published, either because they fell short of Miller's daunting standards or because they were rejected before he became famous. Bigsby clearly feels the hand of history on his shoulder. Not only must he give a definitive take on this great writer but he has had unrivalled access to the key primary source - not the boxes of papers, but the man himself."

Vanessa Thorpe, The Observer

Going Astray: Dickens and London by Jeremy Tambling, honorary professor of comparative literature, University of Hong Kong. Pearson Longman, £16.99, ISBN 9781405899871

"Tambling delivers subtle and sinuous reading of individual works. He shows how deeply Dickens' fiction inhabits London places, from the Borough and the Docks to Mayfair and the Inns of Court, and how those real places shape the expression of core ideas: of taboo, of trauma, of law, of secrecy. Crucially, he adds topography to literary criticism. Those spine-tingling photographs, many contemporary street maps, a comprehensive gazetteer: all these amenities keep the Victorian monster visible, even as his book shows how Dickens exceeds the facts to portray a city 'uncanny, strange and singular to itself: odd'."

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent.

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