Paperbacks: Literary London<br/>Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All<br/>Orson Welles: Hello Americans<br/>Setting the Desert on Fire<br/>Power and the Idealists<br/>The Apple<br/>Sacred Games

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The Independent Culture

Literary London, by Ed Glinert (Penguin £9.99)

Gliding round the metropolis like a cabbie of a particularly literary bent, Glinert keeps his passengers entertained with an engaging stream of snippets. Particularly in the City and West End, there is scarcely a street without some literary association. Around Smithfield, for example, we learn that Cock Lane, the only place in 14th-century London where prostitutes could ply their trade, was the scene of a ghost investigation by Dr Johnson, that as a schoolboy Charles Lamb drank egg-hot (beer, eggs, sugar and nutmeg) in St Sepulchre's and that Pip in Great Expectations chillingly described the meat market as a "shameful place... asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam." Like any taxi driver worth his salt, Glinert peppers his facts with a vigorous grind of opinion. This reviewer cannot concur that Ronald Firbank's novels are "largely unreadable" or that Borough is a "rundown, decaying district". Has Glinert visited the increasingly glitzy streets around Borough Market lately? There is a curious variance in the amount of detail given. We learn that Wilde was not reading The Yellow Book but a yellow book when arrested at the Cadogan Hotel, but not that Robert Graves, when following his deranged lover Laura Riding out of an upstairs window in their Hammersmith home, took the wise precaution of descending a floor first. CH

Hugh Fearlessly Eats It All, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury £7.99)

This volume is a classic example of why the opportunity to gather occasional pieces in book form should be resisted as all costs. F-W's big food books (to be joined by the River Cottage Fish Book in October) are passionate, informative and encyclopaedic. Judging by this trawl, his journalism is self-promotional (see title), self-satisfied (a lot of cute stuff about his children) and trite: "I produce organic food... to celebrate and enjoy my life." The passion here is more like tantrums. Of the Colonel Sanders' logo, he declares: "I want to smash it with my fist." How fearless can you get?. CH

Orson Welles: Hello Americans, by Simon Callow (Vintage £8.99)

The second volume of Callow's insider portrait takes Welles from Citizen Kane (1941) to his flawed and fragmentary Macbeth (1947). Such a vast canvas may seem excessive for an auteur whose post-Kane output was inevitably described as flawed and fragmentary, but it pays huge dividends. Among the book's many highlights is a detailed account of the relentless attrition of The Magnificent Ambersons. This began even before its disastrous preview in a double bill with a Betty Hutton musical. "High on the Conga from Honga and its own hormones," the audience displayed "bewilderment and boredom". CH

Setting the Desert on Fire, by James Barr (Bloomsbury £8.99)

Though the film Lawrence of Arabia is not mentioned, this book is a detailed exploration of the events on which it was based. In Saudi Arabia in 2005, Barr found the wreck of a train blown up by Bedu tribesmen led by Lawrence as part of a revolt, secretly engineered by the British, aimed at dividing Islam and crippling an Ottoman-led jihad against the Allies. Expertly delving into this shadowy corner of history, Barr explains why it remains hugely significant in the Middle East. In his first statement after 9/11, Osama Bin Laden said: "Our nation has been tasting humiliation and contempt for over 80 years.". CH

Power and the Idealists, by Paul Berman (Norton £9.99)

Readable and ruminative, this is a study of the aftermath of 1968 radicalism, particularly in Germany and France, by an American intellectual on the fringe. Among the themes explored are the distinction between throwing rocks and throwing bombs that came to haunt the ex-radical German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and the blank perplexity of 1968-ers faced by Iraqi meltdown. Berman's analysis is intelligent and perceptive. He notes, for example, that an Iranian Islamist student who insists that The Great Gatsby is "a rape of our culture" enunciates "principles established by the extreme right in Europe long ago". CH

The Apple, by Michel Faber (Canongate £6.99)

Fans of Faber's massive novel The Crimson Petal and the White ought to be satisfied and intrigued in equal measure by this neat collection of prequels and sequels. Catching up with characters such as the young prostitute Sugar and a now elderly William Rackham, the author ties up old loose ends and unpicks new ones. While not as densely packed with stuff as the novel, its dirtied-up Dickensian stories are just as charming as the original. KG

Sacred Games, by Vikram Chandra (Faber £7.99)

Indian writers have long striven to deliver the great Mumbai novel to match the "maximum city" itself in pulsating, tireless, kaleidoscopic energy. Chandra comes staggeringly close to total success. His mind-stretching sweep takes in a detectives-and-gangsters thriller, a social panorama, a satire of India new and old... and so much else. This mammoth yarn of cops and thugs, film-stars and financiers, unspools at Dickensian length - and with Dickensian zest. BT

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