The week in books

February 5, 2009

Teenagers: A Natural History by David Bainbridge, university clinical veterinary anatomist, University of Cambridge. Portobello Books, £13.99, ISBN 97818461212

"The selling point is that David Bainbridge is a vet, and that he is observing his subjects in much the way that he might observe a semi-house-trained animal. But he does not quite do this. He does not slice open any teenagers, nor does he spay them, fit their dribbling snouts with muzzles or put them to sleep. All it means is that he has utilised the instruments of evolutionary biology and psychology to tell us, scientifically, what is going down with da kidz on da street. And, most of the time, it's interesting, in the same way that descriptions of the Soviet gulags were interesting."

Rod Liddle, The Sunday Times

King's Dream by Eric J. Sundquist, UCLA Foundation professor of literature, University of California, Los Angeles. Yale University Press, £16.99, ISBN 9780300118070

"In highlighting the roots and ongoing struggle over the content and use of that speech, Sundquist has produced one of the best short books we have on the ideas of racial equality from the early days of the American republic up to current Supreme Court decisions. Sundquist deals with the latest doubts about the 'dream' in his final chapter. Yet in the present climate he too pulls some of his punches and makes one wish he had pressed his case harder."

George Bornstein, The Times Literary Supplement

Bring on the Apocalypse: 6 Arguments For Global Justice by George Monbiot, honorary fellow, Cardiff University. Atlantic Books, £8.99, ISBN 9781843548584

"The problem with climate change, according to George Monbiot, is that it isn't glamorous enough: terrorism can at least lay claim to a certain dramatic flair, but global warming tells a tale of 'yeast in a barrel, burping and farting until it is poisoned by it own waste'. Ouch. In this selective compilation, he applies a pithy combination of ingenious logic, gloomy facts and biting humour to subjects as diverse as rich tax cheats, shoddy journalists, displaced Bushmen, the World Bank and the IMF ('juntas' both), patriotism, semi-privatised healthcare, the rise of the jellyfish, speeding motorists and wars of every stripe. He may be a snapping terrier in a field of pit bulls, but Monbiot sure can bark."

Heather Thompson, The Observer

The Return of Depression Economics by Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs, Princeton University. Penguin, £9.99, ISBN 9781846142390

"Paul Krugman may think as hard as Keynes and write as well as Galbraith, but it's not his Nobel Prize in Economics that gives this brisk analysis of our current plight its weight. Updated to discuss today's global turmoil, it has a salutary quote from another laureate, Robert Lucas. In 2003, he said: 'the central problem of depression-prevention' had been solved. Ben Bernanke, now head of the Fed, also claimed that 'macroeconomic policy had solved the problem of the business cycle'. Much of this bracing book looks at the slumps of the 1990s in Asia and Latin America. The point is that no one learnt from them."

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent.

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