PAPERBACKS

Londoner John Russell packs in the literary anecdotes in his racy, historical survey of London (Thames & Hudson pounds 19.95). Mary Ann Evans (soon to become George Eliot) lived in "the very archetype of the bad bed-sitter", while Hunt represents Londoners' qualities of friendship and optimism. Artists include Tissot, Hogarth, Sickert and Zoffany. Above: John Henry Henshall's "Behind the Bar", 1882

Blake by Peter Ackroyd, Minerva pounds 7.99. There's an air of distinct authority about Ackroyd's biography of William Blake. Above all, it is the life of a Londoner: brusque, intellectually self-sufficient and frequently paranoid, Blake was also the greatest visionary who ever played hopscotch in those chartered streets. Not mad, Ackroyd thinks, in any clinical sense, Blake was certainly an oddball, combining combative individualism with a passionate inner belief in human community. As an artist he hated the ruling academicism of his time and looked beyond to less bourgeois models. As a writer he was led by his own enormous, if always contrary, ambition. Not content just to be a seed stuck between the teeth of his age he aimed at no less a target than, as Ackroyd puts it, to "change the entire nature of human perception".

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, Penguin pounds 6.99. The winner of the inaugural Orange Prize deals with Edwardian land-owning folk, whose era was set to suffer summary abridgement by the Great War. Such stories come with ready-made impending generational doom, but Dunmore is more interested in the personal tragedy of the narrator, whose mother has long fled a fully-certified psychotic husband, leaving little Cathy and brother Rob in the care of a grandfather and a clutch of servants. Cathy's painful journey to womanhood takes in a sinister governess, incest, an abortion and the on-off friendship of a rich neighbour, George Bullivant, Cathy's very own Mr Knightley. But in its expressionistic use of deviance, madness, climate and season it is as close to the tradition of the Brontes as to Austen.

In the Public Interest by Gerald James, Warner Books pounds 8.99. James is the former Chairman of Astra Holdings, a fireworks company that grew in a few years in the 1980s into Britain's second largest arms manufacturer. Astra came not only to encapsulate the culture of British industry in those years, it was implicated in most of the Thatcher government's more sordid imbroglios - Westland, Matrix-Churchill, the Supergun, Ordtech, the Aitken-"Singapore" affair. Arms exports are of course so deeply tainted by secrecy, corruption and double-dealing that nothing written about them is to be taken entirely on trust. James eventually lost his investment, his job and all pension entitlements, so he is certainly no disinterested observer. Yet this dignified and detailed apologia amounts also to a compelling prosecution of Thatcher and her ministers which demands to be taken seriously.

The Insult by Rupert Thomson, Bloomsbury pounds 6.99. Shot in the head and struck blind, Martin Blom lies in his bed convinced he really can see - but only in the dark. He believes doctors have secretly implanted an experimental microchip in his brain stem and, though it's explained to him that sudden blindness can induce delusions, his paranoia sends him fleeing into the world with his white stick. Meeting and falling in love with Nina, naturally both beautiful and enigmatic, he regards her sudden disappearance as confirming his fears. Theme and setting - a vague Mittel- Europa of dingy rooms, threatening officials and clipped Teutonic nomenclature - lend a distinct whiff of Kafka to this poetically written, obsessive tale in which love and anxiety dissolve into nightmare.

In Bed With an Elephant by Ludovic Kennedy, Corgi pounds 6.99. Sir Ludo is still one of our most effective communicators. Politically Liberal, in America he'd long ago have been demonised as a communist, for he has never shrunk from espousing unpopular libertarian causes. But this is also a patriotic Scot, no full-scale nationalist but a Home Ruler, and his book is a highly personal statement of the case for a Scots culture distinct from that of the Albion elephant to the south. In an idiosyncratic but effective order of business he ponders aspects of Scottish history (Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots, Boswell and Johnson, the Stone of Scone and more) to see what lessons they hold for the future.

Nazi Germany: A New History by Klaus P Fischer, Constable pounds 14.95. There is nothing startlingly new here, but Fischer's book functions as an excellent synoptic account, well written, offering material and resources aplenty for further study, if one is so inclined. Fischer's reading of the Nazi state and of Hitler's personality are conventional - the Reich, in intention totalitarian, was rather less all-pervasive than it wanted to be, and Hitler was a fascinating showman on top and a sick bastard underneath. His three-page diagnosis of the Fuhrer's personality sticks it with just about every psychological disorder in the book. Fischer ends with a useful discussion of the historiography of Nazism, pointing out that it still seems to us a "moral wilderness". Historians' maps can only lead uncertainly towards the guilty parties.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future