Books: Paperbacks

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On Giant's Shoulders

by Melvyn Bragg,

Sceptre, pounds 7.99,

366pp

IT'S HARD to see how this volume, based on a Radio 4 series, could be improved on as an introduction to science. A dozen scientific greats, from Archimedes to Einstein, are dazzlingly illuminated by successors working in the same fields. We learn that it was Galileo who first insisted on the power of maths ("without it, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth") and the key thing about the "deeply unlikeable" Newton was his realisation that both the falling apple and the captive moon obey the same law. Sparks fly between contributors on Darwin. This is science told with passion.

The Lover's Companion

edited by Elizabeth Jane Howard,

Pan, pounds 7.99, 262pp

WORTH READING as much for Elizabeth Jane Howard's elegant editorial asides on love and literature as for the anthologised passion in store. Howard has plumped for love at its most thrilling - extracts from Wuthering Heights, First Love and Anna Karenina - and period pieces from Nancy Mitford, Elizabeth Taylor et al. Defending the joys of "vicarious pleasure", Howard attacks that "nasty highbrow theory" that romance is for losers. A sucker for the Tudors, she includes the full lyrics of "Greensleeves" and Henry VIII's letters to Anne Boleyn.

Three Miles Down

by James Hamilton-Paterson,

Vintage, pounds 7.99, 296pp

AFTER HIS paean to the oceans Seven-Tenths, the aquatically-obsessed Hamilton- Paterson was invited to accompany an attempt to recover $83 million in gold from two ships on the Atlantic sea-bed. Though he applies his novelistic skills to the characters aboard the Russian ship hired for the expedition, H-P admits, "Science is so much more interesting than literature, it's really quite shocking." The highlight of the book is when he wangles a trip to the depths: "Wonderful beyond anything I've ever seen before, spectacularly ungodded." No gold was found, but H-P brought back a book of great riches.

One People

by Guy Kennaway, Canongate Books, pounds 6.99, 241pp

SET ON the talcum-soft sands of Angel Beach, Guy Kennaway's satirical portrait of life in a small Jamaican community ripples with humour and crystal clear seas. Like a sunny Garrison Keillor, Kennaway recounts the personal dramas of the town's leading players over half a century: Jackie, a beautiful prostitute who seduces a well-meaning innocent for his British passport; the tale of "Shepherd Bush George" and his disastrous experience as a football linesman; and the mysterious powers of Sandra and her "bumpa botty". Like Keillor, Kennaway's prose is even better read aloud.

David

by Simon Lee,

Phaidon, pounds 12.95, 352pp

WHO BETTER for Phaidon's "Art & Ideas" series than Jacques-Louis David? He was official artist of the Revolution and, after a spell in prison, favourite painter of Napoleon. This great survivor produced his finest work at the heart of the tumult: his unfinished masterpiece "The Oath of the Tennis Court" bears six bayonet holes. While admitting that David displayed a "ruthless and fanatical streak" during the Terror, Lee says the painter combined "powerful commitment and extreme pragmatism". This profusely illustrated book reveals the same is true of his art.

A History of Silence

by Barbara Neil,

Pan, pounds 5.99, 291pp

ROBBIE HEATH, a successful London physiotherapist, has spent most of her twenties taking care of her ageing mother and vulnerable older sister. In an attempt to break away from this intense family trinity, she accepts a position in the States, and flies off to Louisiana to take care of a rich old gentleman (and his antebellum mansion). It's not long before mother and sister turn up in New Orleans to join in the fun. Child abuse and its toxic legacy lie at the heart of this disturbing and atmospheric novel, but Neil nimbly avoids the subject's more usual cliches. Author of The Possession of Delia Sutherland.

Magnum

by Russell Miller,

Pimlico, pounds 12.50,

324pp

AT ANY time, there are 500 photographers struggling to join the 50 snappers who make up the Magnum photo agency. While lapping up Miller's superb account, you wonder why they bother. Newcomers have to endure a two-year novitiate before joining a ramshackle outfit described by an ex-member as "amateurish, erratic and inefficient". Bitter words are not uncommon between colleagues, not least Cartier-Bresson's view of grunge specialist Martin Parr: "You are from a completely different planet."

Bear and His Daughter

by Robert Stone,

Picador, pounds 6.99,

222pp

NOT A good collection to read in February, Robert Stone's stories are enough to make you want to go out and shoot yourself. His characters - drunks and junkies of both sexes - wander about in snowdrifts and deserted shopping malls, their heads filled with paranoid fantasies about Vietnam and the Catholic Church. Classics include "Miserere", the tale of two women who steal aborted foetuses; while the title story recounts how a drunken poet, visiting his daughter (also an alcoholic), finds himself at the wrong end of a loaded gun.

Hitler's Secret Bankers

by Adam LeBor,

Pocket, pounds 7.99, 400pp

THIS INDICTMENT of the Swiss bankers who benefited from the "holocaust bonanza" makes painful reading. We learn that "whether gold was of monetary quality or dental grade, it would always find a home in Swiss banks". Deposits made by Jews killed in the death camps were not returned to relatives for over 50 years because they had no death certificates. Other Swiss organisations who took Nazi booty ranged from Bally Shoes to the Red Cross. Swiss bankers are making restitution, but LeBor notes they charge 100 francs for tracking down an account.

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