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The Punic Wars

by Nigel Bagnall,

Pimlico, pounds 12.50,

347pp

A MODERN Field-Marshal applies his strategic expertise to the greatest confrontation of classical times. The 118-year conflict between Carthage and Rome was initiated by the expansionist Romans, who got more than they bargained for when Hannibal hacked his way almost to the walls of Rome. Bagnell's analysis is leavened with character sketches and dry humour. He notes that a ferocious general who advocated cannibalism to ease logistics problems was "obviously a very practical fellow, if a bit short on realism."

Karoo

by Steve Tesich,

Vintage,

pounds 6.99,

406pp

IN THIS second novel Steve Tesich (who died in 1996 aged 53) has created an anti-hero as appealing as any dreamt up by Philip Roth or Saul Bellow. Dr Saul Karoo is a curmudgeonly script doctor with a drink problem, an ex-wife and an interior life to match literature's most hyped-up middle- aged males. Called upon by sleazy Hollywood studio executive Jay Cromwell to rewrite the first film of legendary director Arthur Houseman, Karoo ends up selling what's left of his soul for the sexual favours of a Venice Beach hopeful.

Arithmetic

by Todd McEwen,

Vintage, pounds 5.99, 185pp

CHILDHOOD, SOUTHERN Californian-style is the subject of Todd McEwen's latest comic novel. Thrown out of their hacienda-style bungalow to make way for the building of Disneyland, Joe Lake's family is relocated to a new tract home in a new town. School is OK until Joe blows it by taking a huge jade-coloured pencil (topped off with a wooden China man) to his maths class. From then on, arithmetic comes to embody all the "crappy feelings" he has for his new home. An energetic and brightly lit child's- eye view of life in the dirt hills of Orange County.

The Beast in the Nursery

by Adam Phillips, Faber, pounds 7.99, 134pp

THIS BOOK consists of only three short essays, plus intro and coda, but you don't fell short-changed. Prompted by Freud ("the child's profundity is in the quality of his curiosity"), Phillips muses not so much on childhood as the losses experienced on the path to adulthood. Every line resonates with potent insights, often arousing feelings we have long forgotten: "The child is the virtuoso of desire... To forget the pleasures of anticipation is to forget memory itself." Indifference, says Phillips, is never an option for children. They are "suspicious of clarity... in awe of the passions".

The Gold of Exodus

by Howard Blum,

Coronet, pounds 7.99, 435pp

THOUGH IT reads like an airport novel, this is a real-life account of an attempt by a dodgy American duo - an "ex-SWAT team member" and a "politician and treasure hunter" - to find gold hidden on the "true Mount Sinai". While diving in the Red Sea, they chance upon "the land bridge that the Israelites crossed 4000 years ago". Sadly, the mountain of Moses turns out to be a Saudi nuclear base and our heroes are arrested. "Don't even think of turning cute on me", warns their captor. Were they set up by Mossad? Who cares? Reading this book is like being cornered by bar- room fantasists.

On the Move:

feminism for a new

generation

edited by Natasha Walter,

Virago, pounds 9.99, 186pp

IN HER book The New Feminism, The Independent's Natasha Walter challenged the assumption that feminism had become a dirty word among young women. This anthology of nine essays (including pieces by MP Oona King, journalists Kath Viner and Aminatta Forna, Helen Wilkinson of Demos, and several 15 to 18-year-olds) resoundingly proves her point. It's a passionately argued and undogmatic read, and Walter says she found herself disagreeing with many contributors' opinions. The only shame is that some of feminist's liveliest commentators were too long in the tooth to be included.

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