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THE END OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY by Jeffrey Robinson, Hutchinson pounds 18.99

There seem to have been almost too many histories of the Cold War. But Jeffrey Robinson has come up with more than enough fresh details to raise the temperature. He focuses on the international chicanery surrounding the launch of the first Soviet satellite, and notes the involvement of the British in the reconnaissance missions into Soviet air-space. He has gained access to a variety of classified papers, including some precious and revealing documents from the Soviet Union. By homing in on this single episode he gives the story a brisk narrative urgency, so that you can almost kid yourself that it's a story we haven't read before. The human dimensions of the leading characters - their nervous pride, their baffled and dangerous ambitions - are always in the foreground. The corridors of power emerge, as always, as grim and deceitful places.


Wainwright and his faithful photographer Derry Brabbs have already produced two coffee-table guides to the Lake District. But this one is given an especially elegiac tone by the fact that the author - the great populariser of long-distance rambling in Britain - was dying as he wrote it. 'Swan songs often contain a chord of melancholy,' he begins. 'My eyes began to fail me about four years ago . . . now I live in a shroud of mist.' It is hardly surprising that his final thoughts should have returned to the remembered hills of Lakeland. It's the best place for him - had he lived we would probably have been treated to Wainwright's favourite hamburger restaurants or Wainwright's Favourite Trains. Brabbs's pictures are clean and autumnal; some of the vantage points he has secured make your knees hurt just thinking about it.

P G WODEHOUSE: MAN AND MYTH by Barry Phelps, Constable pounds 16.95

'Each of the boys had one boiled egg a week.' You know from early on in this book that Barry Phelps is not a man to stint on detail; every aspect of Wodehouse's life - school days, Hollywood, those infamous broadcasts - is frisked for nuggets of information, some of them more useful than others. There is a heartening story of the author being hunted for unpaid taxes, brought to court, getting off the hook, then going out to lunch with the taxman and finding they played rugger together. Phelps is more assiduous and astute than previous biographers such as Frances Donaldson, and more concerned to push his thesis - namely, that 'the Wodehouse we know is only the Wodehouse he wanted us to know'. So it's out with the shy innocent and in with the man about town, the adept socialite, the 'phenomenally intelligent intellectual'. Hmmm.