Paperbacks: The Right Nation<br/> Hiding the Elephant<br/> Close Up<br/> Tell Me No Lies<br/> The Naked Woman<br/> Happy Accidents<br/> The Shadow

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The Independent Culture

The Right Nation, by John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge
PENGUIN £8.99 (466pp)

It is perhaps the most intriguing question in Western politics: why has America, the country that voted Kennedy, Carter and Clinton into power, lurched so decisively to the right? The Republican Party has won seven of the past 10 presidential elections and controls both houses of Congress. Micklethwait and Wooldridge, American correspondents for The Economist, argue that "the stage is set... to make the Republicans the natural party of government in the same way that the Democrats once were". Noting that US conservatism is far from elitist, the authors suggest that the rise of the right "goes to the heart of what it means to be American". Its resurgence stems from such factors as a desire for reinvention that prompted a population shift to the Sun Belt and a religious morality that predisposes America to see the world in terms of individual virtue: "For the right, terrorism is a simple thing; for the rest of the world it is a complex debate." The right not only has faith, it organises. Though George W Bush, in 2000, lost the popular vote for president by 500,000 votes, he got back into the White House due to the cohesion of the right. Perhaps most worrying is the assertion that a Democratic victory in 2004 "would barely have changed America's basic conservative stance".

Hiding the Elephant, by Jim Steinmeyer
ARROW £7.99 (362pp)

The Disappearing Elephant is akin to the Chocolate Soldier, the Corsican Trap, the and the Obliging Kettle. All rely on smoke and mirrors. The Obliging Kettle successively poured whisky, gin, claret, Benedictine, crème de menthe, kümmel and a large glass of milk. As mind-boggling as the tricks he describes, Steinmeyer's enthralling book plunges us into the ceaselessly inventive world of 19th-century illusionists. Apparently, Houdini's Vanishing Elephant was a "completely unimpressive trick", but this book is full of magic.

Close Up, by John Fraser
OBERON £8.99 (308pp)

Though he starred in Repulsion, John Fraser has mixed feelings about its director: "Roman Polanski is short. Too close to the ground to be sanitary." This above-average thesp autobiography covers Fraser's tough Scottish childhood and eventful love life, which encompassed Nureyev and French actress Dany Robin ("not remotely boyish"), but the highlights are his encounters with the screen's sacred monsters: Bette Davis, foul-mouthed and furious, placated by an introduction to Ringo Starr; the preening Dirk Bogarde, "full of umbrage and dudgeon", roaring secretly in his "play room" on a fixed motorbike.

Tell Me No Lies, by John Pilger
VINTAGE £8.99 (626pp)

This bumper book of investigative journalism is less earnest than both its editor and its title (surely, listening to lies is the whole point of the genre) might lead you to expect. Pilger disinters the black humour of Jessica Mitford's American Way of Death and James Cameron's sardonic view of Vietnam: "Hanoi, which the Americans will say is full of devils and the Communists say is full of heroes, seemed to me to be very full of people." Packed with fine, angry journalism, ranging from Martha Gellhorn on Dachau to Eric Schlosser on American obesity and Robert Fisk on Iraq, this is an invigorating collection.

The Naked Woman, by Desmond Morris
VINTAGE £8.99 (275pp)

From hair to feet ("Sucking a female toe provides the amorous male with the sensation that he is closing his lips over a giant nipple"), the celebrated zoologist covers every external aspect of the human female in 20 chapters. Every page is packed with insights, though they are often less to do with the female form than with the psyche of Dr Morris. In his chapter on the female back, he singles out "a popular joke tattoo" of a hunting scene "with the fox's tail disappearing between the buttocks". Sadly, this form of female decoration is excluded from Dr Morris's illustrations.

Happy Accidents, by Tiffany Murray

"My mum's a loony, like Grandpa" says Kate Happy, the 11-year-old narrator of Tiffany Murray's charming first novel. Abandoned by her hippie mother, who has gone from quirky to barking after running over her father, Kate lives on a farm with her glamorous grandmother and a grandfather who thinks he's on a ship. Brimming with secrets and surprises, this deliciously funny novel is a delight.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
PHOENIX £7.99 (510pp)

A sensation across Europe, Zafón's thriller of books, plots and ghosts in a grim, Franco-era Barcelona ticks so many boxes. It's a page-turning mystery, packed with as many secret passageways as the Barrio Gotic. It's a coming-of-age tale: young Daniel's obsession with the elusive author Julian Carax opens into understanding of his family and city. And it's a hymn of praise to all the joys of reading, stylishly caught in Lucia Graves's entrancing translation.