BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks

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Captain Swing by George Rude and E J Hobsbawm, Pimlico pounds 10. Brilliant account of 'the most impressive episode in the English farm-labourers' long and doomed struggle against poverty and degradation', the 1830 uprising which began with threatening letters signed 'Captain Swing' and culminated in strikes, riots, arson, executions and transportation. Model historical recovery of a silenced rural underclass.

The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne, trs M A Screech, Penguin pounds 9.99. Over 1,000 pages of dazzling humanity and wisdom from the French equivalent of Shakespeare, in a new translation that makes the wide-ranging thoughts of this 16th-century sage, a master at spotting the cunning interconnectedness of things, seem as fresh as spring.

Perversions: Deviant Readings by Mandy Merck, Virago pounds 8.99. What can we learn from Simone de Beauvoir's view of Brigitte Bardot? What does the dog in Fatal Attraction stand for? Merck's quirky lesbian angle on popular culture avoids the obvious with a determination that itself can seem perverse, but her lively deconstruction of stereotypes makes for a bracing read.

Dylan Thomas: In the Mercy of His Means by George Tremlett, Constable pounds 9.95. Fiercely affectionate attempt to rehabilitate the great Welshman whose reputation as a lazy drunk seems set in concrete. A sponger? No, says Tremlett, merely an anti-materialist. A slob? Not according to the man from the BBC, who found him admirably professional. By the end, the accumulation of evidence is enough to justify even Edith Sitwell's reference to DT's 'holy and childlike innocence'.

Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World by David Rieff, Phoenix pounds 5.99. When the author told friends he was off to research this book, all he got was jokes about the blandness of Californians ('Their idea of reading is a long personalised licence plate'). Undaunted, he found a city not lacking in identity but with a surfeit of it, a city both enriched and sundered by its immigrants. Thoughtful, liberal, cliche-free - though not witness to the riots.

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