Wine and War by Don & Petie Kladstrup (Coronet, £7.99, 328pp)
Gobbels liked fine Burgundy, Göring preferred great Bordeaux (with a particular partiality for Château Lafite-Rothschild), but famous vintages were a closed book for their boss. After sipping one great wine, the Führer opined: "Nothing but vulgar vinegar." Nevertheless, a vast quantity of fine French wine, both looted and paid for, was acquired by the Nazis during their occupation. Intriguing and lively, this vinous footnote to Second World War history describes the cat-and-mouse relationship between winemakers and occupiers.
Soon after the occupation, half a million bottles of champagne per week were dispatched to Germany, though makers tried to palm off their worst cuvées. After requesting cement from the invaders, Pol Roger promptly walled away its best bottles. Caught assisting the Resistance, Moët was taken over by the Germans. The same happened to Piper-Heidsieck when the owner narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo. (They snatched his daughter, 15, but were forced to release her.) In Burgundy, Felix Kir, the priest who gave his name to the apéritif, insisted the Germans were charged twice the going rate.
In Bordeaux, coopering skills were employed for the transportation of Resistance leaders in barrels. Ironically, the greatest ally of the Bordelais was a sympathetic German placed in charge of exports, who "relieved them of massive stocks of poor-quality wine accumulated in the Thirties". Pleasingly, the 1945 vintage proved to be "one of the best ever recorded".
Selkirk's Island by Diana Souhami (Phoenix, £7.99, 239pp)
After protesting that the privateer Cinque Ports was unseaworthy, Alexander Selkirk was marooned by the captain on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez off the Chilean coast. This book not only illuminates Selkirk's five years as a solitary castaway the experience inspired Robinson Crusoe, though Defoe did not include any reference to sexual congress with goats but also probes the circumstances that led the disputatious Selkirk to this predicament and what happened to him afterwards. (He died at 41 off the Gold Coast.) But he was right about the Cinque Ports. It sank a month after he was ditched.
Beautiful Exile by Carl Rollyson (Aurum £7.99, 284pp)
This enjoyable, far-from-official biography of Martha Gellhorn caused a stink when it appeared, but it is hard to see why. Though Carl Rollyson accused his subject of "refashioning" her past, this doesn't seem the greatest sin in someone who remained adventurous, radical and combative up to her death on the verge of 90 in 1998. He also revealed that she was free with her sexual favours, but Gellhorn herself described sex as "a 'dessert' you had to offer occasionally to make the meal a success". An exceptional war correspondent, Gellhorn would hate to be remembered merely as the wife of Ernest Hemingway.
An A-Z of food and drink by John Ayto (Oxford, £87.99, 375pp)
Written with wit and gusto ("The kipper has a mysterious past"), this book was first published as The Glutton's Glossary. Even in politer guise, it remains such an enjoyable feast that it is hard to stop gorging entry after entry. Did you know that the Mandarin word for tea is cha or that "clod" is a "rather gristly cut of beef from the neck"? Ayto suggests that the derivation of "rumblethumps", a Scots dish of baked potato and cabbage, "may be onomatopoeic, suggesting the effect on digestion". Noting the ambiguous meaning of faggot, he recalls an advertising slogan from the Seventies: "Surprise your husband with a faggot!"
The Weather by Anthony Smith (Arrow, £7.99, 285pp)
If you imagine that this book will be a gentle breeze through cumulus and hoarfrost, think again. Smith plunges the reader headlong into destruction and death. Some of the climatic mishaps he describes are minor two Thai girls struck by lightning in Hyde Park in 1999 died because their wired bras acted as conductors but others are near-apocalyptic. The El Niño weather system killed 23,000 in 1997-8. Weaving a host of facts into an addictive, if dismaying narrative, Smith insists that the increase in global warming caused by burning fossil fuels in the past century has a vastly disproportionate effect on our environment.Reuse content