Books: Paperbacks

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Romantic Affinities: Portraits from an Age 1780-1830 by Rupert Christiansen, Vintage pounds 6.99. This articulate guide to high romanticism has much to tell about the lives of the Lake Poets and their younger followers, but it is far from Anglo-centric. All Europe was affected by the young Romantics' intoxication, and their disillusioned hangovers. We meet a succession of poets from Chenier to Pushkin - all haunted (and many destroyed) by the kind of fantastical demons of idealism, iconoclasm and compulsion that would not revisit the world until the 1960s.

The Crossing Place: A Journey among the Armenians by Philip Marsden, Flamingo pounds 6.99. It's good to find an up-to-date and involving book 'in search of' the Armenians. They have much in common with other dispossessed peoples - business-orientated but revering tradition and scholarship, mystical but materialistic, strained (and strengthened?) by diaspora and attempted genocide, passionate and aggressive for the lost homeland. Marsden's quest - through the Near East, East Europe and the Azeri-Armenian war - starts in rational curiosity, but he soon falls into the gently exasperated love which is the mark of a good travel book.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, Fourth Estate pounds 5.99. The triumphant story of Daisy Goodwill, from womb to tomb. Daisy's life, which starts in a remote Canadian quarry town in 1905, is given in an accumulation of small, carefully sifted grains through which the writing percolates, providing colours and savours for the imagination's delight: every page is alive with significance and human understanding.

Martin Heidegger by Hugo Ott, Fontana pounds 8.99. Was Heidegger a philosopher or a fraud? Ott's biography is more concerned with the question of whether he was a Nazi apologist, asking why he was promoted to head the University of Freiburg after Hitler came to power, and examining Heidegger's conduct during his brief tenure. From his pro-Nazi public statements it seems the party had reason to believe the Professor was one of them (he remained a member until after the war), although he was quite soon dismissed when he proved disappointing as a propagandist.

East of Wimbledon by Nigel Williams, Faber pounds 5.99. The hero in this third novel-dispatch from SW19, 24-year-old Robert Wilson, is part Paul Pennyfeather and part Billy Liar. Posing as a Muslim in order to teach at the Wimbledon's Islamic boy's school, newly founded by the rascally entrepreneur Mr Malik, he becomes so catastrophically enmired in the doctrinal politics of Islam that a death sentence is pronounced on him by the maths master. The desperate contortions which follow generate jokes that bubble across every page.

Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds, Sceptre pounds 9.99. The author of this biography heads the Dorothy L Sayers Society, and completed the Dante translations left unfinished at Sayers's death. Sayers may have looked in later life a bit like a clergyman in drag, but she was an astonishingly complex woman, humourous, vital, very brainy and utterly without sentiment or public self-pity, despite the emotional disappointments she knew. 'The passionate intellect is really passionate,' she wrote, which would have made a good epitaph.

Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World by Kanan Makiya, Penguin pounds 6.99. Makiya is the Iraqi whose 1986 book Republic of Fear told an unheeding world that Saddam Hussein was a genocidal monster. His new book gives more examples of Ba'th atrocities, arguing that Iraqi cruelty is but an extreme example of practices, both institutional and individual, which exist throughout the Arab world. Makiya passionately denounces Arab nationalists for retreating into a hypocritical rhetoric 'totally irreconcilable' with the language of human rights; his call for the Arab world to take responsibility for this moral crisis is a notably brave one.

Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips, Picador pounds 5.99. A novelist's ambitious attempt to plot black-white relations across 250 years and three continents. As co-ordinates Phillips offers four stories. One of them is set during the reverse colonisation of Liberia by liberated black American slaves in the 1840s; the second tells of a runaway slave woman, heading into the unknown of the American West; the third is a slaver's log from 1752; the last, told by a Yorkshire shopkeeper during the Second World War, relates her affair with a black GI. Phillips handles his 'many-tongued chorus' with great flair, but the conclusion is sombre. This much pain cannot be wrapped in an up-beat ending.

The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan, Vintage pounds 7.99. An elephantine political manifesto for the Grey Party from a doughty 72-year-old veteran of modern feminism. Friedan's 600 pages battle passionately and relentlessly to defeat ageism and correct the false consciousness of oldies who are 'in denial'. Piling up statistics to show how the old are stereotyped and marginalised, she demands a new affirmation and 'empowerment' of old age. The very size and scope of her book prove her thesis - that age has everything that youth has, and some.

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