The week in books

January 8, 2009

Elsewhere, USA: How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, BlackBerry Moms and Economic Anxiety by Dalton Conley, university professor of the social sciences and chair of sociology, New York University. Pantheon Books, £16.40, ISBN 9780375422904

"Elsewhere, USA ranges entertainingly over everything from the psychology behind the over-tipping of pizza delivery men to the implications of social networks such as Facebook for the notion of human individuality and the fact that these days in New York, criminals are likely to be more interested in your social security number than stealing the tyres of your car ... Contentious assertions and wry social observations fly by, in a book that induces some of the febrile anxiety that it also sets out to define, and which already needs some updating."

Jonathan Birchall, Financial Times

Life Explained by Michel Morange, professor of biology and director of the Centre for the Study of the History of Science, Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris. Yale University Press, £14.99, ISBN 9780300137323

"I do like a book with a confident title. Life Explained would sit nicely on your shelf next to my own forthcoming The Universe, and Everything In It, Explained to Everyone's Immense and Total Satisfaction. Morange, a biologist, tackles the age-old question that straddles biology and philosophy: 'What is life?' ... I won't give away Morange's thoughtful and persuasive payoff, but his demand that children undergo compulsory education in philosophy of science is energising."

Steven Poole, The Guardian

The Gangs of Manchester: The Story of the Scuttlers, Britain's First Youth Cult by Andrew Davies, senior lecturer in history, University of Liverpool. Milo Books, £11.99, ISBN 9781903854815

"A group of youths gets tooled up and makes a deliberately aggressive foray into neighbouring territory ... During the brief but ferocious battle, several young men receive severe stab wounds. The press publishes horrific stories about youth violence. Sound familiar? In fact, this particular affray occurred in August, 1890 ... The Gangs of Manchester is an important addition to the growing library on pre-Fifties youth culture, and is recommended to subcultural theorists, youth workers and all those fascinated by Manchester ... As you pass through the empty north side of Manchester's city centre, the ghosts are still there."

Jon Savage, The Daily Telegraph

A Linguistic History of Venice by Ronnie Ferguson, head of the department of modern languages, University of St Andrews. Olschki, EUR33.00, ISBN 9788822256454 "Readers should find it easy to navigate the most specialised sections without losing the thread of the enlightening and lucidly written overall narrative ... while (Ferguson) fully recognises threats to Venetian's future survival - among them the scientifically flawed, sometimes nonsensical terms of 'The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages', which seem perversely calculated to undermine rather than protect some of these languages - Ferguson ends his invaluable study on a quietly optimistic note."

Roderick Conway Morris, Times Literary Supplement.

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