Books: Paperbacks

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Man or Mango?

Lucy Ellmann

Review pounds 6.99

Eloise sits in her cottage mourning her lost love and making lists of the things that scare and disgust her (pretty much everything), while George, the lost love in question, rails against the inadequacies of the English (he's American) and wonders where Eloise has got to. is about the possibility of love in the face of death - not so much individual mortality as the mass slaughters that have been the trademark of this century. Put like that it sounds pretty depressing, and there's an uncomfortable edge of self-pity in Ellmann's writing; but there's also a wit and warmth and intellectual energy - like Jeanette Winterson with a sense of humour, if you can imagine that.

The Journal of George Fox

ed Nigel Smith

Penguin pounds 7.99

Quakers always seem such gentle people; Fox's journal is a reminder that when they started out they were a ranting, radical sect, that found common cause with the Fifth Monarchists and absorbed the remnants of the Levellers. In it, Fox casts himself as a prophet, going about healing the sick, bringing comfort to the faithful and suffering tribulations at the hands of the unGodly - he has a fairly high opinion of himself, but in scorching visionary prose.

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind

Roy Porter

Fontana Press pounds 14.99

The head whirls: another massive volume from Roy Porter. Not 10 minutes since, it was a social history of London; now he's dashed off the entire history of medicine from palaeolithic times to the present. You wonder, what does he find to do in the afternoons? There is a price to be paid for all this fecundity - places where the book could have been a bit more tightly edited - but sheer sweep and readability make up for that. The main trunk of the book follows the development of western medicine, from the first attempts at a rational, secular view of disease in ancient Greece, through to the successive revolutions of Harvey, Pasteur and Fleming; but he also offers sympathetic appraisals of some of the alternatives - Chinese and Indian medicine; and he has a terrific eye for the odd, memorable fact. A tonic.

Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys

Will Self

Penguin pounds 6.99

After the indulgence of Great Apes, a book that outstayed its welcome by a good 300 pages, Self returns to what feels like a more natural length for him with a collection of witty, self-consciously grungy short stories. Even over a few pages, he can seem stretched - a good one-off gag-man trying to write proper sketches - but the basic jokes are fine: a man finds his home is built on top of a huge rock of crack; a baby starts to speak business German; a psychiatrist can't shake off a Freudian link between his Volvo and his girlfriend's vulva. Amusing, if not meaningful.

The Last King of Scotland

Giles Foden

Faber pounds 6.99

Winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, this is a gripping, closely observed and researched account of life in Idi Amin's Ugan-da. The narrator, Nicholas Garrigan, is a Scottish doctor working in the bush who finds himself unaccountably employed as the dictator's personal physician; Amin's monstrous charisma, as well as his own fear for his life, draw him further and further into complicity. Foden makes forays into Greeneland (in the atmosphere of moral confusion in the face of terror, there are strong echoes of The Comedians), but he has an eye and a commendably harsh sense of humour that are his own.