The week in books

January 29, 2009

Bodies by Susie Orbach, visiting professor, London School of Economics.

Profile, £10.99, ISBN 9781846680199

"Orbach unpacks Freudian ideas such as hysterical symptoms and explains the role of genetics, the brain's mirror system, the culture of perfectibility, the global homogenisation of beauty and the postmodern rhetoric of empowerment and choice that encourages girls in Iran to have Nicole Kidman's nose, American girls to whittle down to Keira Knightley's size, Chinese men and women to insert rods in their legs to become taller, 50 per cent of Koreans to exchange their eyelids for a Western version and Brazilians to pad their bums."

Min Jin Lee, The Times

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species by Sean B. Carroll, professor of molecular biology and genetics, University of Wisconsin. Quercus, £16.99, ISBN 9781847247216

"More than 170 years after the Beagle brought Darwin back to England, it is hard to see what seismic discoveries might remain for evolutionary biologists, but Carroll argues that with new technology, there are more to come. His account of how we got this far leaves you with an overwhelming sense of awe and respect for the most remarkable of creatures, the men and women who searched for the origins of species and in doing so gave us a profound sense of place among life on Earth."

Ian Sample, The Guardian

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster, Joyce and Elizabeth Hall professor of US history and environmental studies, University of Kansas. Oxford University Press, £18.99, ISBN 9780195166828

"Muir found his own redemption in the wilderness landscape, becoming one of the founders of the nature conservation movement, and a household name equal to Emerson and Thoreau in the 19th-century pantheon of American Transcendentalism and nature-worship. How this happened is explained in Worster's fine biography, though not without difficulty and much supporting detail ... countervailing intellectual and political philosophies are well documented by Worster."

Ken Worpole, The Independent

Understanding Somalia and Somaliland by Ioan Lewis, emeritus professor of anthropology, London School of Economics. C Hurst and Co, £16.99, ISBN 9781850658986

"Since Lewis' book was published, Somaliland has suffered a major terrorist attack upon its president's and local UN offices as well as the Ethiopian trade mission, probably orchestrated by al-Shabaab, angered by the moderate and tolerant nature of Somaliland's democracy. The international press mostly recorded this as another bout of Somalia's black-hole-like anarchy, when in fact it was different and significant, endangering the one island of calm and stability in the Horn of Africa. But why bother to write about this, when there are pirates to attend to? Lewis' approach, informed by unparalleled scholarship and experience, is one to which the international community should now pay heed."

Carne Ross, New Statesman.

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