Paperbacks: Real Mosquitos Don't Eat Meat<br/>The Perfect Egg<br/>Lifelines<br/>The Temple of Jerusalem<br/>Power and Profit<br/>The History of Love<br/>The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme

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The Independent Culture

Real Mosquitos Don't Eat Meat, by Brad Wetzler (NORTON £9.99 (184pp))

Tackling such teasers as "How fat would you have to be to be bullet-proof?", the New Scientist's query column recently generated the surprise best-seller Does Anything Eat Wasps? (Profile). Real Mosquitoes emerges from a similar Q&A column in the American adventure magazine Outside. Though it doesn't quite match the UK science community in the weirdness dept., there is some pretty odd stuff here. Q. Do pigs kill more people than sharks? A. Just about, but deer kill far more than both (car crashes). Q. Are scuba divers safe from lightning? A. Yes if they're below 10 feet, but swimmers will fry since the charge spreads across the surface. This book dispatches a host of fallacies. Tea does not cool you in hot weather. Only 10 per cent of human heat is lost through the head. It is never too cold to snow. Coconut juice cannot be used as a blood substitute (though it can replace saline). We also learn that a man-sized humming bird would need to eat 82,000 calories per day, woodpeckers blink to stop their eyes popping out and eyelashes stop growing because they're programmed to grow to a quarter of an inch. And, yes, most mosquitoes do not eat meat, though the females require blood to make eggs. Incidentally, a new species has been found in the London Tube. CH

The Perfect Egg, by Aldo Buzzi (BLOOMSBURY £5.99 (152pp))

This soufflé-light work contains more nutrition than cookbooks a hundred times its size. First published in 1979 with illustrations by the great Saul Steinberg, these erudite culinary musings combine sound opinion ("the writer who never talks about eating... arouses my suspicion"), factual revelation (Fellini advocated the addition of a spoonful of whisky to soup) and recipes, though some of these are more for reading than performing. Picula ad caval, for example, is a rich horsemeat sauce to accompany polenta. "A distant, almost imperceptible whinny will warn when the dish is cooked." CH

Lifelines, by Steven Rose (VINTAGE £8.99 (334pp))

"Oh brave new world that has such creatures in't." Rose is not afraid to turn to poetry in his persuasive rebuttal of ultra-Darwinism, characterised by Richard Dawkins's view: "We are robot machines blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes." Rose, who insists on "placing the organism, rather than the gene, at the centre of life," accuses the ultra-Darwinists of Cartesian duality. They maintain that we are driven by the selfish gene and rebel against it. Ironically, in view of Dawkins's strident atheism, this is close to Christianity. Rose's view that "we have the ability to construct our own futures" is not only more appealing but also more coherent. CH

The Temple of Jerusalem, by Simon Goldhill (PROFILE £8.99 (194pp))

Built "in a grandiose act of self-promotion" by Herod, the Temple was "simply staggering" in its dimensions. So impressive, in fact, that the Roman commander Titus tried to preserve it when he quelled a Jewish rebellion 90 years later. Apparently destroyed by accident, the building became "a potent symbol of the human search for a lost idea". Goldhill's dazzling exegesis incorporates a host of surprising elements ranging from the etymology of "barrister" (from Temple Bar) to the immense significance of the contents of a Bata shoebox. CH

Power and Profit, by Peter Spufford (THAMES & HUDSON £5.95 (432pp))

Aside from the pet monkey, the French jewellery shop depicted in a drawing of 1470 could be seen on any modern high street. A couple pore over a ring, while the shelves are laden with gold necklaces and pewter jugs. In this fascinating account of the medieval merchant, Spufford explores the first flowering of capitalism in a world still dominated by aristocracy and religion. The acquisitive instinct in newly wealthy capitals such as London, Paris and Naples was satisfied by a mercantile class whose trading initiated hotels, bridges, shipping and, in Florence in 1360, the first surviving cheque. CH

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss (PENGUIN £7.99 (252pp))

This Russian-doll tale of love, loss and plagiarism won its author huge sales and massive international acclaim. It is certainly bold, an idiosyncratic and at times moving melange of contemporary loneliness, Holocaust grief and the impulse, in spite of it all, to survive. There are times, however, when Krauss's warmth and kooky charm give way to the tricksy, the fey - and even the sentimental. CP

The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, by Andreï Makine (SCEPTRE £7.99 (184pp))

A Russian-émigré French writer first acclaimed for Le Testament Français, Makine packs great steppes-full of history and passion into compact, bewjewelled boxes of prose. So it is here, as the exiled narrator's quest for the story of a French pilot and his lover at Stalingrad captures both a personal journey and three stages of Russian life. An epic novel in - perfect - miniature. BT

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