Paperbacks: <br></br>It Don't Worry Me; <br></br>Beef & Liberty; <br></br>Breaking Open the Head; <br></br>Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations; <br></br>American Architecture; <br></br>In Search of Klingsor; <br></br>Diary of an Ordinary Woman

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The Independent Culture

It Don't Worry Me, by Ryan Gilbey
FABER £8.99 (244pp)

For anyone jaundiced by recent Hollywood products, Gilbey's articulate and perceptive appreciation of American films in the Seventies will awaken memories of an era when cinema was confident, innovative and unformulaic. Ironically, Gilbey himself does not have golden memories of seeing Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, Woody Allen's Annie Hall or Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation when they first appeared: he was born in 1971. Coming to these films afresh, Gilbey recognises both their shortcomings and their glories. Apocalypse Now is "a wild, sprawling, sometimes silly film... Coppola's propensity for indulgence jars sharply with the picture's eloquence about the indulgences of others." He notes that "without the mordant riposte of The Godfather Part II", its predecessor "would not have weathered the years so well". Gilbey's energy, moral sense and pin-sharp critical acumen are reminiscent of the great American film critic Andrew Sarris. Your confidence in his judgement is confirmed by his selection of Robert Altman as the most daring and consistently inventive director of the Seventies pantheon. He is particularly smitten by Altman's transgressive masterpiece McCabe & Mrs Miller, noting the "brilliant blasphemy" of bringing Warren Beatty and Julie Christie together in bed and cutting away "before their lips even meet". CH

Beef & Liberty, by Ben Rogers
VINTAGE £7.99 (207pp)

Taken from Gillray's print Politeness, the splendid cover depicts John Bull sitting alongside a great rib of beef and scowling at a Frenchman: "You be D--m'd!" The importance of beef to the British was acknowledged by Shakespeare, but it was in the 18th century that roast beef became a symbol of Albion, rhapsodised by Fielding ("It ennobled our hearts"), raised to iconic status in Hogarth's The Gate of Calais. Including all the trimmings from mustard to bulldogs, Rogers's account of this down-to-earth image of nationhood - a symbol you can swallow - is a feast of a book about British bloodymindedness. CH

Breaking Open the Head, by David Pinchbeck
FLAMINGO £7.99 (322pp)

Subtitled "A Chemical Adventure", Pinchbeck's psychedelic odyssey sounds off-puttingly self-centred: "Without any higher vision, life seemed unbearable and pointless." But as he progressively ingests iboga bark ("a large wooden statue walked across the room"), ayahuasca or yagé ("the snake pit turned into a field where plants were growing at incredible velocity") and DPT ("diabolical hierarchies, secret cabals, vast libraries of wickedness"), you cannot help being impressed by Pinchbeck's daring, determination and kinked intelligence. This voyage into the cortex is a classic of drug literature. CH

Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations
edited by Antony Jay
OUP £12.99 (497pp)

Though the great gagsters such as Denis Healey (who called Thatcher "La Passionaria of middle-class privilege") may have left the political stage, memorable quotes still occur even in this dreary era. A 15-page supplement covering 2000-3 includes Theresa May's "nasty party", "dodgy dossier" and Edwina Currie's "I wasn't even in the index". This edition maintains the dictionary's tradition of identifying misquotes. On 11/9/01, Jo Moore never wrote "A good day to bury bad news". What she wrote was more unfeeling: "A very good day to get anything out we want to bury." CH

American Architecture, by David P Handlin
THAMES & HUDSON £9.95 (304pp)

Combining excellent photographs and a lively text, this book is an impressive survey of what is arguably America's greatest art-form. From colonial beginnings, Handlin shows architects developing distinctive hybrids - Brooklyn Bridge is a dialogue between new technology and Gothic piers - before evolving a truly American style in the Twenties skyscrapers. In this revised edition, Handlin notes that the state of mind that produced the "smug complacency" of the dreary 1997 Spengler Centre at Harvard Business School also resulted in a host of corporate scandals. CH

In Search of Klingsor, by Jorge Volpi
FOURTH ESTATE £7.99 (402pp)

Volpi and his young guns make up the "Crack" movement in Mexican fiction, scornful of "magic realist" silliness. This thriller dives into the same uncertain regions of wartime science as Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen: the Bohr-Heisenberg relationship, and the thwarted Nazi nuclear programme. A US scientist sets off to find the Nazi mastermind known as "Klingsor". An ingenious and entertaining game of cat-and-mouse ensues. It all reads as if Stephen Hawking had worked over a plot from John le Carré. BT

Diary of an Ordinary Woman, by Margaret Forster
VINTAGE £6.99 (407pp)

Forster enters postmodernist territory with this absorbing and moving book, ostensibly the real diary of an "ordinary woman" but actually, as she confesses in a new "Author's Note", a novel. The diaries begin in 1914 and chart the life of Millicent King, who starts out as a shop-girl, lives through two wars and ends up campaigning at Greenham Common. Uninterested in history and politics, she finds her life profoundly affected by both. A fascinating fictional overview of the century. CP