The Journals of James Boswell ed John Wain, Mandarin pounds 7.99. Selection from the famous biographer's journals that balances diary entries recording his daily hopes and fears along with a large and tasty dollop of London social history.
Laurence Olivier by Donald Spoto, Fontana pounds 6.99. Revelatory and emotionally analytic biography more interested in the great actor's performances between the sheets (and in the closet) than on the boards. It skimps on Olivier's valiant escape from the confines of 50s' theatre,
and serves up a rather trivial and mean-
spirited individual. But there is enough fact to re-capture the fugitive magic.
A Guide to Art ed Sandro Sproccati, Little, Brown pounds 14.99. A giddy dash through seven centuries of western art for the non-specialist but enthusiastic gallery visitor. The summaries are far from banal, but the tiny reproductions of hundreds of paintings are useful only as memory nudgers if you've already seen the pictures.
Odd Jobs by John Updike, Penguin pounds 12.99. Fat collection of occasional pieces ranging from impressive essays (Franklin and Emersonianism) to high-intensity reviews of modern novels. Updike is subtle, sympathetic, self-effacing and irresistibly quotable: for example, post-modernism is 'a cartoon-cat version of modernism - the cat keeps running even though he has only air beneath him'.
Passage to America by Terry Coleman, Pimlico pounds 10. You needed a strong stomach to take the transatlantic passage in the mid-19th century, sleeping in ranks of five bunks with everyone suffering from seasickness, or worse. With diligence and insight, Coleman takes us deep into the lives of millions of unknown people.
Seeds of Change by Henry Hobhouse, Papermac pounds 9.99. Five commercial crops arguably had a greater effect on the forming of the modern world than war or revolution: quinine, sugar, tea, cotton, potatoes. Their ignoble histories include the role of cotton and sugar in the slave trade; the potato's legacy in Ireland and America; and the evil opium-tea wars that destroyed a centuries-old Chinese civilisation. A fascinating study.