Paperbacks: The End of the Line
The Island at the Centre of the World
The Bugatti Queen
Power, Politics and Culture
A Brief History of the Human Race
Persuasive and desperately disturbing, this book is the maritime equivalent of
Silent Spring, but there is one major difference.
The End of the Line by Charles Clover (EBURY £7.99 (314pp))
Persuasive and desperately disturbing, this book is the maritime equivalent of Silent Spring, but there is one major difference. While Rachel Carson's terrible warning inspired the environmental movement, it seems likely that our disastrous overfishing of the world's oceans will continue. Clover notes that the collapse of the cod on the Grand Banks, once the greatest stock of codfish in the world, has had virtually no effect on threatened fisheries elsewhere. Having fished out one area, the factory boats simply move on. Currently, the EU spends £127m per year buying access to waters as far afield as the Falklands. If starvation results from overfishing in west Africa, "Europe will bear the biggest part of the blame". Clover tells this sad, bad story with passion and urgency. Assisted by new technology, commercial fishing is "vastly more fatal" to fish stocks than pollution. It is little less than criminal that only 10 per cent of animals killed in the seas are eaten - the rest thrown away as by-catch or used as food in aquaculture. Our asset-stripping of oceans is assisted by many leading chefs. One company that emerges with some credit is McDonald's, which uses the plentiful Alaskan pollock for Filet-o-Fish. Unfortunately, the dish drowns the healthy fillets in an acid ooze of tartare sauce. CH
The Island at the Centre of the World by Russell Shorto (BLACK SWAN £7.99 (507pp))
From 1609, and the first trading party led by Henry Hudson, Shorto tells the story of early New York. We learn how "Manhartes" island was purchased by the Dutch government in 1626 for 60 guilders. Its main native pathway became Broadway, though it now follows the ancient thoroughfare only at its northern and southern ends. In this absorbing history, Shorto insists that the melting pot of New York stems from the first Manhattanites. Though "messy and haphazard', their community was "in a way, very modern". CH
The Bugatti Queen by Miranda Seymour (POCKET £7.99 (301pp))
Shaking together equal parts of sex, speed and scandal, Seymour has produced an irresistible cocktail of a book. When her career as a risqué dancer in Twenties Paris was terminated by a skiing accident, Hellé Nice capitalised on her love of speed. Sponsored by Bugatti, she notched up a host of racing victories. She survived a terrible crash that killed six, but her career was finished by allegations of Nazi collaboration. Though her previous biographies have concerned slightly less racy figures (Henry James, Ottoline Morrell) Seymour takes to the track with thrilling élan. CH
Power, Politics and Culture by Edward W Said (BLOOMSBURY £18.99 (485pp))
Many could generate an equally bulky collection of interviews, but few would be so insightful and interesting as these. Said noted 20 years ago that global terrorism "goes back to Conrad... as an aesthetic activity rather than a political thing". He was bravely outspoken about his native Palestine: "Arafat employs 80,000 bureaucrats - that's where his support comes from." But this volume also reveals the breadth and humanity of Said's thought. It is typical of him that a discussion of Islamic politics should prompt an anecdote about Marx (Groucho, not Karl). CH
A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook (GRANTA £9.99 (385pp))
Cook adroitly accomplishes what his title declares, but the real joy of this book is in the detail. We learn that the Inca state depended on statistical records in the form of knotted strings; that the worship of a single god by the Israelis from the 6th century BC continues to have repercussions ("it is in the nature of monotheism to pick a quarrel"); that the Islamic world was bound together by the efficiency of the Muslim calendar; that the 11th-century Chinese were obsessed with deciphering inscriptions on bronze vessels from 2000BC, but Attic vases were ignored in the West until the 16th century. CH
Ice Road by Gillian Slovo (VIRAGO £7.99 (544pp))
"Can the dead speak?" Stalin and Hitler, the twin puppet-masters behind this bold saga, thought not. Robustly, stirringly drawn, Gillian Slovo's characters prove them wrong as they bear witness to the tragic story of Leningrad from the onset of Soviet purges in 1934 to the relief of the Nazi siege, nine harsh years later. Slovo doesn't disgrace the memory of Doctor Zhivago as she transforms the Russian past into an epic novel of betrayal, survival and heroism. This is history with its overcoat frayed, its teeth chattering but its spirits unfrozen. BT
Old School by Tobias Wolff (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (195pp))
Set in a prestigious American public school, this novel provoked comparisons with Dead Poets' Society. That's a bit like comparing War and Peace with Saving Private Ryan. After visits from Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, the school prepares for an audience with Hemingway - a prospect which sets the cat among the pubescent pigeons. Wolff's clear-eyed portrayal of youthful literary aspiration and dishonour is both compelling and extremely moving. CP
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