BOOKS / Recent paperbacks

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EMPIRE AND THE ENGLISH CHARACTER by Kathryn Tidrick, I B Tauris, pounds 9.95

A beguiling analysis of England's imperial tendency is wrapped round lovely portraits of representative grandees like Gordon of Khartoum and Sir Henry Selous. Tidrick identifies the moral ambiguities in their superiority complex, but finds a strain of sympathetic good humour to accompany the sour taste left by history.

ANNA PAVORD'S GARDENING COMPANION, Chatto, pounds 11.99

The confessions of this newspaper's head gardener are arranged in an easy month-by- month sequence, so anyone can figure out what should be growing, when it's time to dig, and so on. August, according to this candid and good-natured guide, is strictly for weeds.

WARTIME LIES by Louis Begley, Picador, pounds 5.99

An award-winning novel about the heavy moral price attached to the grim business of survival in the concentration camps. The protagonist escapes with his life, but only through a pattern of lies treacherous enough to haunt him ever after.

CORKER'S FREEDOM by John Berger, Granta, pounds 5.99

Berger's third novel, like all his work an imposing blend of earthiness and intellectual clarity, is a bracing description of two London lives. William Corker has walked out on an unhappy life, while his colleague Alex embarks on a happy one. Putting the two together lets Berger explore intimacy and loneliness with touching and detailed finesse.

THE PEOPLE OF PROVIDENCE by Tony Parker, pounds 6.99

Parker's patient microphone has rarely been switched on to such good effect. The inhabitants of a 'mixed' South London housing estate speak freely about almost everything, and he misses not a word. The young, the lonely, the old, the flash, the hopeful, the defeated - affluence doesn't get much of a look-in, but otherwise all human life is here.

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE by Jared Diamond, Vintage, pounds 6.99

The winner of this year's Rhone- Poulenc science book prize is a charming history of homo sapiens, which any alien would immediately identify as the third species of chimp. Precise details about things like penis- size mingle with erudite thoughts on everything we think of as only natural.

MIDAQ ALLEY by Naguib Mahfouz, tr. Trevor Le Gassick, Doubleday, pounds 6.99

An early novel by the Egyptian Nobel laureate: an absorbing description of characters led away from their roots by the British Army. Swarming with colourful detail - the Alley is the book's only fixed point - it is also a clean allegory for all the destructions visited on old worlds by new ones.

SONGS OF INNOCENCE and SONGS OF EXPERIENCE by William Blake, Dover, 95p

Blake's unsurpassable songs are just one in the new series of unbelievably cheap Dover classics. Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Dostoevsky, Conan Doyle, Hawthorne, Wordsworth and Joyce, all for the price of a pizza: enough said.

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