Paperbacks: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them<br/>Stanley<br/>American Ground<br/>The Bounty<br/>Our Final Century<br/>New Poems on the Underground<br/>Have Mercy On Us All

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The Independent Culture

James Naughtie's disputed revelation that Colin Powell described the neo-conservatives in Bush's cabinet as "fucking crazies" in a telephone conversation with Jack Straw does not seem unlikely when you have read this remarkable book.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken (PENGUIN £7.99 (421pp))

James Naughtie's disputed revelation that Colin Powell described the neo-conservatives in Bush's cabinet as "fucking crazies" in a telephone conversation with Jack Straw does not seem unlikely when you have read this remarkable book. Part satirist, part political observer, Franken describes himself as "a comedian". His book is funny, but it is also a furious denunciation of the American right. We learn, for example, of Bush's urgent reaction when warned of a possible al-Qa'ida attack shortly before 11 September 2001. "One of the interesting things to do is to drink coffee and watch Barney [the Presidential pooch] chase armadillos," said the President from his Texas ranch during "the longest presidential vacation in 32 years". On 9 September 2001, Donald Rumsfeld quashed a $600m anti-terrorist proposal from Congress. Franken details the US government's refusal to accept international agreements on the environment and weapons control. He reminds us that vice-president Dick Cheney "didn't give a shit" for weapons inspectors. It is therefore unsurprising to learn the reaction of US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz when Franken asked him a question: "Fuck you." CH

Stanley by Frank McLynn (PIMLICO £18 (910pp))

Yes, Stanley did say: "Dr Livingstone, I presume." According to McLynn, this quaint inquiry was "the result of a great deal of agonising". It certainly wasn't an attempt at drollery. Stanley, wrote one contemporary, could not stand "the least bit of humour." Born John Rowlands in Wales, Stanley took the name of his adoptive New Orleans family, but he never shed the psychological scars of his childhood. McLynn describes him as both the greatest "pure technician in the art of African exploration" and "a pathological liar". This vast book is packed with adventures, but it is also a journey into the heart of darkness. CH

American Ground by William Langewiesche (SCRIBNER £6.99 (218pp))

Not the least merit of this superb book is its succinctness. Langewiesche was the only journalist given unrestricted access to Ground Zero and the result might have been an unwieldy tome about the worst enormity to strike mainland America since the Civil War. Instead, he has produced a slender work of great clarity in which every sentence works to unpick the massive, hellish confusion of the Twin Towers aftermath. For its clarity, cool intelligence and honesty, this utterly absorbing work ranks alongside John Hershey's classic account of Hiroshima. CH

The Bounty by Caroline Alexander (HARPERPERENNIAL £8.99 (491pp))

What more could we possibly learn about the ill-fated Bounty? Well, it may come as news that Bligh was commended by Nelson. He was also a notably humanitarian captain who "hoped I might complete the voyage without punishment to anyone". Bligh's recommendation of Fletcher Christian as midshipman on the Bounty was regarded by Fletcher's brother as "a very great obligation". In her atmospheric and perceptive book, Alexander explores why the relationship between the two men exploded and how this most famous of all mutinies instantly accreted to itself a web of myth. CH

Our Final Century by Martin Rees (ARROW £7.99 (228pp))

Throughout recorded time, people have warned "the End is Nigh", but when the doommonger is the current Astronomer Royal, we should take notice. It might be possible to dismiss Rees as a Jeremiah if his book were not so persuasive. Who can deny his assertions about the "destructive and disruptive capabilities" now available to individuals, or the consequences of global warming even "at the slower end of the likely range"? Rees reckons "the odds are no better than fifty-fifty" that our civilisation will not "suffer a serious setback" by the end of this century. By the end of this book, those odds sound generous. CH

New Poems on the Underground Ed Gerard Benson et al (CASSELL £6.99 (112pp))

The simplest ideas are often the best. For nearly 20 years, Poems on the Underground have brought pinpricks of pleasure to the cramped, care-worn souls who endure the daily miseries of the Tube. The latest anthology, which includes all the poems that have appeared in the last two years, ranges from Chaucer to Heaney via Yeats and Marianne Moore: "If you tell me why the fen/ appears impassable, I then/ will tell you why I think that I/ can get across it if I try". How can it fail to make you feel better? CP

Have Mercy On Us All by Fred Vargas (VINTAGE £6.99 (321pp))

Vargas may sound like some Hispanic heavyweight, but in fact she's a French archaeologist and - in recent years - a cult crime writer, too. Wittily translated by David Bellos, this ingenious outing for her wily, intuitive Commander Adamsberg sees Paris aghast at an outbreak of plague. The plot twists; the people grip; Vargas depicts authentic Paris quartiers. Above all, she shows how ancient fear and myth lurk beneath the city streets. BT

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