Displaying the insider knowledge and ability to coin a telling phrase that he displays while clutching a microphone on the windswept doorstep of No 10, Andrew Marr has written a racy, hugely entertaining book about hacks.
However, it doesn't do what it says on the cover. My Trade is not "a short history of British journalism". There's a fair bit of history in there, but mainly it is a portrait of journalism over the past couple of decades, with particular reference to the experience of A Marr during his choppy spell at the helm of this newspaper while under previous ownership. The result is a highly readable primer for anyone thinking of entering the inky trade. With an average salary of £22,500, journalists have "a blurred social status, a foggy range of skills [and] an ill-defined purpose".
Yet Marr is nuts about this rushed, chaotic, startlingly ephemeral business and writes about it brilliantly and honestly. He admits that his deputy would "probably" have been better than he was at editing The Independent.
Having inherited David Frost's Sunday morning slot on BBC1, Marr has now moved into the journalistic stratosphere, but mentally he still has a Press card shoved in the band of his trilby.
"Sometimes it seems a rotten job," he concludes, "but it's better than all the others." CH
Modern Scotland 1914-2000, by Richard Finlay (PROFILE £12 (424pp))
Admirably free of cliché, this absorbing history works to counter the Scottish tendency to "idealisation and myth-making". Describing the "listlessness, lack of hope and despair" in the Thirties, Finlay notes that descriptions of the "self-replicating" underclass of that era have "a remarkable and chilling modern ring".
Finlay impressively assesses Scotland's cultural achievements - it is gratifying to encounter a history professor who quotes lyrics by The Proclaimers - but he also emphasises "the contrast between the success of individual Scots and the failure of Scottish society." CH
Clara's Grand Tour, by Glynis Ridley (ATLANTIC £8.99 (222pp))
Clara was an unusual figure in 18th-century Europe, partly because of her fondness for beer and tobacco, but mainly because she was a three-ton Indian rhinoceros. In 1641, she was acquired by a Dutch sea captain, who taught her to walk indoors among furniture and eat from a plate.
In this charming book, Ridley pursues the creature's tortuous travels. Louis XV tried to acquire Clara, but her owner set too high a price. Ridley also explores Clara's cultural impact. When Dr Johnson was described as laughing "like a rhinoceros", he was being compared to Clara. CH
Aspirin, by Diarmuid Jeffreys (BLOOMSBURY £8.99 (335pp))
The name came only in 1899 - from Spiraea or meadowsweet from which salicylic acid can be derived - but the same substance, more commonly produced from willow, has been used as a medicine since at least 5000 BC.
The Sumerians used it for coughs, ear infections and a general pick-me-up. Its modern use started in 1866 when a Dundee doctor used it to treat rheumatic fever. In this detailed, yet enthralling account, Jeffreys unravels the fascinating story of the greatest wonder drug of them all. Though aspirin could double our chances of living to 90, it is still under-prescribed for people over 50. CH
Last Post, by John Keay (MURRAY £9.99 (388pp))
Now regarded as "heritage", the imperial legacy in the Far East has become something to be treasured. Ho Chi Minh City is reverting to Saigon. Singapore reveres Raffles.
This treasure trove of a book is packed with great stories on the imperial finale. None is more surprising than a revelation from 1946 about how the British co-opted the recently defeated Japanese as allies in their battle against Indonesian nationalists.
The leader of the British forces was accompanied by a "luscious blonde" and an ADC called Dirk Bogarde, who brought along a panther called Ursula. Those were the days. CH
Kids' Stuff, by Henry Sutton (SERPENT'S TAIL £7.99 (252pp))
Sutton's debut, Gorlestone, was a dark comedy set amongst retirees on the Norfolk coast. His fifth novel is no less bleak about inter-personal relations. Mark, a petty criminal, lives a quiet life in Norwich with his second wife and baby daughter. A reunion with the child from his first marriage unleashes old patterns of behaviour. Sutton lovingly ropes us in to a little corner of domestic hell. EH
Nobody Loves a Ginger Baby, by Laura Marney (BLACK SWAN £6.99 (318pp))
Marney gives chicklit a shot of adrenalin, with a novel featuring one of literature's most repulsive love objects. Donnie refuses to watch any non-football related TV, and throws up home cooking. Daphne shaves the "twizzly ginger hairs" on the back of his neck, but still ends up getting chucked. Hard-core romance for the bitter and twisted. EH
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