! Men of Blood: Murder in Modern England by Elliott Leyton, Penguin pounds 7.99. "By all the conventional criminological indices - of urbanisation, economic disparity, industrial collapse, ethnic and racial tension - England should have a very high murder rate," says Professor Leyton at the start of this study. In fact it is "among the very lowest in the industrial world". Why? Leyton, a Canadian criminologist, puts it down to social values embedded in the country's culture, which he repeatedly praises as a great civilisation. Using statistics, case histories and the statements of convicted murderers, he sets out to prove that the very characteristics by which England is mocked from abroad - reserve and emotional inhibition - are responsible for its people's "parsimonious" use of murder as a way of resolving conflicts. He has a frankly Hobbesian view of society, in which humanity's awesome propensity for violence is tamed by effective socialisation, and believes that in England this has been particularly effective. This interesting picture is, of course, one which tabloid readers will scarcely recognise.
! A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, Flamingo pounds 9.99. "The first time you was caught trying to read you was whipped with a cow-hide, the next with a cat-o-nine-tails and the third they cut the first joint off your forefinger." An American slave who taught others to read could be hanged. Literacy, whether seen as weapon, badge of rank or passport to knowledge, was something to fear. In the modern era it has become a moral activity, with dangers to balance its virtues in the eyes of censors like Mary Whitehouse, but an absolute good in the liberal tradition. This is not so much a history as a commonplace book of stories and reflections. Perhaps that's inevitable. A true History of Reading might be an impossible undertaking, liable to turn at the flip of a page into A History of Everything. And that, of course, would be unreadable.Reuse content