Paperbacks

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman (Phoenix, pounds 7.99) A big bestseller in the States, Diane Ackerman (poet, essayist and naturalist) celebrates the five senses and the ``sense-luscious'' world we live in with the passion of a Roman voluptuary. It's the kind of book that you can dip into at random and experience a quick sensory frisson each time: delights include Helen Keller on the ``elemental'' whiff of young men, the importance of the crunch factor in crisps, and why perfumes smell strongest just before a storm. Ackerman's own personal nirvana is wallowing in a vanilla-scented bath while sipping a vanilla cream seltzer.

The Trouble with Science by Robin Dunbar (Faber, pounds 7.99) This bad- tempered but stimulating polemic inists that science and empirical observation are basic to human life: we ignore them at our peril. Dunbar offers plenty of evidence, from the rescue of Apollo 13 to the failure of Norse colonies in Greenland. But the case is overstated. His assertion that the reaction against science began with 19th-century Romantics is dubious. Shelley, for one, adored it. Science has gained ground ever since this book appeared last year: there is no mention of the hugely inspiring Hubble photos.

Bosnia: A Short History by Noel Malcolm (Papermac, pounds 10) In this rich and fascinating work, Malcolm performs a prodigious feat in untangling arcane detail and debunking myth. The Serbs and the Croats were Slave tribes who arrived in the seventh century, but the basis of their animosity is economic (Christian peasants resenting Muslim landlords) rather than ethnic. In fact, for much of the period since 1878, the two peoples lived peacefully together. In a new epilogue taking the story to the end of 1995, Malcolm says that ethnic separation will ensure a ``much more troubled future''.

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Sevrin (Abacus, pounds 8.99) The idea that the Irish made it to America 400 years before the Vikings is a thrilling one. Putting his faith in the Navigatio, a medieval text which describes St Brendan's voyage to the Promised Land, explorer Tim Sevrin and four friends reconstructed the saint's tiny ox-hide boat and put the myth to the test. Sevrin's account of their terrifying journey across North Atlantic is unemotionally told, but the power of his story is undeniable. The book includes the text of the Navigatio and extensive design notes on the boat's construction. A real boy's own adventure.

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