Paperbacks: Old Gods Almost Dead<br/> Al-Jazeera<br/> Benedict XVI<br/> Hadrian's Empire<br/> Talking Movies <br/> Redgrove's Wife<br/> Decapolis

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The Independent Culture

Old Gods Almost Dead By Stephen Davis (AURUM £9.99 (596pp))

In case any fans who already own the book are thinking of splashing out on this "updated edition" of the Stones' biography, it should be pointed out that the updating runs to just four pages. Acclaimed by critics as the best Stones record in two decades, Bigger Bang gets only a fleeting mention. More space is given to Keith's unfortunate encounter with a palm tree in Fiji. Oddly, there is no reference to Sir Mick's 2003 knighthood ("A paltry honour," scoffed Richards), even though the index entry for Jagger includes nine references under "social climbing". This flimsy addendum is not worthy of an intelligent book (the great title comes from a Robert Graves poem) that contains something of interest on every page, starting with the legendary meeting of Mick and Keith on a Dartford train in 1960. "Like Robert Johnson at the crossroads," reflects Richards. "A deal that goes on and on." Davis gives an enthralling account of life with the Stones, but the great Ry Cooder is among those who came away disenchanted: "A reptilian bunch of people." Describing how Jagger's women always "end up crying on my shoulder", Richards explains his customary consolation: "I'm like, 'How do you think I feel? I'm stuck with him.'" CH

Al-Jazeera, by Hugh Miles (ABACUS £8.99 (452pp))

Al-Jazeera, whose English service was launched with David Frost's light grilling of Tony Blair, has long been recognised as a valuable conduit by both the British PM (he utilised the station to explain his Afghan air strikes in 2001) and Osama Bin Laden. In this absorbing book, which reveals much about the role of broadcasting in the Middle East, Miles notes that its journalists insist that they are free from censorship (Al-Jazeera means "the island"). Though the future of this loss-making enterprise is far from assured, Miles concludes that it has changed the Arab world forever. "The door has been opened and now no one can close it." CH

Benedict XVI, by Rupert Shortt (HODDER £8.99 (164pp))

In this astute account, Shortt notes that Benedict is "by some margin the most distinguished thinker to occupy Peter's chair in at least a century". However, the Pope's devotion to the numinous can lead into "ill-advised polemics", such as his 2003 attack on Harry Potter, and apparent contradictions. In 1989, he warned Catholics against Eastern meditation, yet three years later he financed a translation of the Buddhist text Lotus Sutra. Fond of cats, snazzy red shoes and tailored tracksuits, he emerges as a far more appealing man than his predecessor. Described as "resoundingly theological", Benedict repeatedly insists that love is the way to God. CH

Hadrian's Empire, by Danny Danziger & Nicholas Purcell (HODDER £8.99 (302pp))

Though doubt has been cast on the authors' view that Hadrian's Wall was "a harsh billet... cold and windswept" (legionnaires were recruited from much colder countries), this book provides a vivid picture of the Roman Empire at its peak. Ranging from Hadrian's still-impressive Pantheon (a "piece of ostentatious self-effacement") to Roman ladettes, this tour d'horizon is a curious combination of the homely and the alien. We may be shocked at their brutality, but they would be equally surprised that we find Hadrian's bisexuality in any way remarkable. CH

Talking Movies, by Jason Wood (WALLFLOWER £16.99 (224pp))

"Discussion with the most topical film-makers working today, [including] Stephen Frears, director of the critically-acclaimed success The Queen," declares a press release. Fine, except that the Frears interview took place in 2001 during a slump in his fortunes ("I'm knackered... It's hard to come up with new things") and an encounter with Hal Hartley dates from 1997. Nicolas Roeg's interview is more up to date (2005), but concentrates on past glories and only offers a tantalising mention of his forthcoming film Puffball. A bit of a ragbag, this book contains much of interest for the devoted cineaste. CH

Redgrove's Wife, by Penelope Shuttle (BLOODAXE £8.95 (94pp))

Poetry lends itself to grief, of course, but it is rarely as raw as in Penelope Shuttle's book-length lament for the death of her husband, the poet Peter Redgrove. "I wept in Tesco,/ Sainsbury's/ and in Boots", she confesses in her memorable sequence, "Missing You". "I used to be a planet,/ you discovered me// I used to be a river, you travelled to my source". Sensuous and playful, these are poems that celebrate even as they mourn. CP

Decapolis, Ed. Maria Crossan (COMMA £7.95 (130pp))

Out of Manchester comes this ambitious package of stories from 10 European cities - Reykjavik to Athens. An over-theorised preface tries to hammer the work into a rigid urban-Modernist mould, but the eclectic tales break the rules to build a fine street-wise cacophony. Amid the Euro-babble listen out especially for Amanda Michalopoulou in Athens, Emil Hakl in Prague, Larissa Boehning in Berlin and, quieter but compelling, David Constantine in early-1960s Manchester itself. BT

To order these books call: 0870 079 8897

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