Paperbacks

The Day Before Yesterday: Five Million Years of Human History by Colin Tudge (Pimlico, pounds 9.99) Frightening and fascinating in equal measure, this beautifully written mix of eco-history and geopolitics argues that our leaders should be taking a very long view of the future of our environment - indeed, that one million years is not an unreasonable unit of political time. It also shows how swiftly and irreversibly global change can take effect, pointing out that if CFCs had been invented in the laissez-faire epoch of Victorian industrialism, the end of the world would today be unquestionably nigh.

Dreams of Love and Modest Glory by Joan Lingard (Mandarin, pounds 6.99) Big historical novel, taking in the Russian Revolution, two world wars and the collapse of Communism. It opens in 1913 with the double wedding of twin sisters from Aberdeen. One marries a tsarist count, the other a Latvian intellectual, and their love stories open out into a family saga, marked by secrets and lies, spanning three generations. This is a good, effortless read, instantly involving and unpretentious.

Byzantium: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich (Penguin, pounds 9.99) Anyone seeking a reading project this Christmas will not do better than Lord Norwich's acclaimed trilogy about Byzantium. This dazzling conclusion (from Easter 1081 to 29th May 1453) maintains the same scorching pace and penchant for intriguing detail as the first two volumes (Byzantium: the Early Centuries and Byzantium: The Apogee republished at pounds 9.99 each).

The People of Providence by Tony Parker (Eland, pounds 9.99) A sequence of 49 in-depth interviews from a down-at-heel London housing estate may seem an unusual choice by a publisher who specialises in travel books. But this is an extraordinary work. Parker, who died this year, spent five years on the project. First published in 1983, it merits comparison with Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor for depth and clear-eyed sympathy.

The Plastic Tomato Cutter by Michael Curtin (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99) In alternate chapters, two narrators describe how the Sixties transformed a small Irish community. One is Mr Yendall, the martinet of a fusty gents' outfitters. The other is Tim Harding, an over-educated snooker champ who ekes a living out of Fagend, his one-man agency for the treatment of nicotine addicts. Yendall's world is turned upside-down by long-haired pop groups and the disappearance of the half- crown. Harding has a more serious problem: consanguinity. He falls for a beauty who turns out to be his sister. Curtin's inventive, beguiling imbroglio is a delight from start to finish.

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