Paperbacks: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang<br/> The Fall of Rome<br/> Big Bosoms and Square Jaws<br/> Myths and Legends of the Celts<br/> Edge of Empire<br/> Booking Passage<br/> Either Side of Winter

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The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang, edited by Grant Barrett (OUP £9.99 (302pp) )

Though we've snaffled such terms as big cheese ("influential person, big shot, often used derisively"), gerrymander ("from surname of Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, 1744-1812") and rubber chicken circuit ("cf mashed potato circuit") from across the pond, this entertaining collection offers numerous potential borrowings for commentators wishing to inject a little transatlantic pizzazz into their scribblings. Examples of bafflegab ("confusing or unintelligible speech") and prebuttal ("prepared response that anticipates an opponent") are heard constantly from home-grown politicians. The rainmaker ("an influential political operative, typically one who can attract large donations") is an essential part of New Labour. However, it seems unlikely that we will utilise such compounds as raptivist ("politically active hip-hop performer") or feminazi ("a committed feminist or strong-willed woman"). In some cases, the Americans could even borrow from us. Limousine liberal is a weaker equivalent of our "Bollinger Bolshevik". Oddly, the redolent phrase "smoke-filled room" is omitted. CH

The Fall of Rome, by Bryan Ward-Perkins (OUP £8.99 (239pp) )

Recent accounts have described the arrival of the Germanic tribes that precipitated the end of the Roman Empire as "a shy newcomer at a vicarage tea party," insists Ward-Perkins. "There is a brief moment of awkwardness but conversation soon flows on." The reality involved "horrors and dislocation". The post-Roman world "reverted to levels of economic simplicity" lower than pre-Roman times. Ward-Perkins concludes his prize-winning polemic with a warning for our own time. "Romans were certain their world would continue." CH

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, by Jimmy McDonough (VINTAGE £7.99 (301pp))

Though known only to a specialist section of the film-going public, Russ Meyer's oeuvre includes such deathless titles as Mondo Topless, Up! and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. McDonough's account of the sexploitation legend takes the same subtle approach: "Her name was Kitten and she was one hot tamale." Though Meyer's films were devoted to the "hippie chicks with no damn brassieres on", industry bigshot Richard Zanuck praises him as "very direct, very honest". Moralists may relish Meyer's comeuppance in his final fling with feisty centrefold Melissa Mounds. CH

Myths and Legends of the Celts, by James MacKillop (PENGUIN £9.99 (388pp))

The word "Celt" derives from the Greek Keltoi meaning "hidden people". MacKillop deftly guides us through the most obscure thickets of Celtic lore. We encounter gods such as the unpleasant Taranis, who demanded victims burned alive, and heroes such as Angus, whose "invisibility cloak" antedated Harry Potter by an aeon. One of the minor joys of MacKillop's masterly account is his slapping down of latterday seers, including "theoretical maverick" Robert Graves and W B Yeats. CH

Edge of Empire, by Maya Jasanoff (HARPERPERENNIAL £8.99 (404pp))

Historian Maya Jasanoff puts the colour back into imperial tales. Through her focus on collecting and collectors in India and Egypt from 1750 to 1850, she uncovers passions and paradoxes a world away from black-and-white sloganising history. Herself a product of two-way traffic (parents from Bengal and Brooklyn), she writes with flair and zest about the odd characters - French, British, Indian and Egyptian - whose far-flung quests for arts, gems, manuscripts, statues (and people) partnered but also subverted the drive to impose colonial control. From the Rosetta stone to Calcutta's Marble Palace, she proves a wittily erudite guide to a mixed-up era. BT

Booking Passage, by Thomas Lynch (VINTAGE £7.99 (301pp))

This collection of Irish vignettes from the Michigan poet/funeral director stems from the first visit he made to his ancestral homeland aged 21 in 1970: "Nothing had prepared me for such beauty." Two decades later, he returns to see the dying Nora, "the mightiness gone out of her". Inheriting her house, he ponders on headlines ("Missing man found dead in pub toilet"). A quirky, evocative and thoughtful book. CH

Either Side of Winter, by Benjamin Markovits (FABER £7.99 (235pp))

If you're looking for high action and a barrel of laughs, this is not the book for you. If, however, you enjoy exquisitely nuanced shades of melancholy, you will adore these linked tales, set over the course of a year, of love, loss and mid-life crises in contemporary New York. Markovits's characters are less than instantly sympathetic, but he draws us subtly into their inner worlds. CP

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