Though he doesn't stress Elgin's nationality, Hitchens makes the same point as Byron in 1812: "The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?/ Blush Caledonia! Such thy son could be." First published in 1987, this book forcefully underlines what should be self-evident. The stripping of 56 marble panels from the greatest building of the classical world was an "opportunist acquisition" accomplished with the connivance of Turkish occupiers. Its restitution would be "a homage to the indivisibility of art and... justice too." Sadly, the chances of a speedy return are slim. Chris Smith recently declared that the marbles are an "integral part" of the British Museum.
Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (Chatto, pounds 9.99)
New York columnist Anna Quindlen's bestselling autobiographical novel One True Thing was a compelling account of a woman's relationship with her dying mother. Black and Blue tells the intense story of another intense bond - that of mother and son on the run from an abusive husband. With the help of an underground organisation, Fran Benedetto abandons her former life as the respectable wife of a New York City police officer, and ends up in a ratty apartment in central Florida applying for jobs at K-Mart and living on Chicken McNuggets. In true "made-for-TV" movie style, a well-meaning Little League coach comes to Fran's rescue. Quindlen is best on mother and child moments, less good on the grown-ups.
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan (Bloomsbury, pounds 7.99)
"By now you'll probably have noticed a tendency of mine to rely heavily on words and theories in my dealings with the world." Yep, you could say that. While most of us might be pushed to fill a postcard about building a small hut, Pollan writes over 300 crowded pages. Once he's got some twaddle about feng shui out of his system, Pollan embarks on a fascinating exploration of architecture and the tradition of craftsmanship which still survives in the US. Gratifyingly for the inept, Pollan's architect remarks of his client's errors: "It's OK for a building to have a few holidays." To which a down-to-earth workman responds: "Holiday?! This building's a fucking Mardi Gras!"
Close Relations by Deborah Moggach (Arrow, pounds 5.99)
Deborah Moggach's story-telling skills make her a hit with television script editors. Like her recently adapted novel Seesaw, Close Relations - a story of three sisters and their precarious sex lives - resounds with convincing contemporary detail and well-timed titillation. Eldest sister Louise is not happy. Pretty, scatty and very married, she knows there's more to life than her Home Counties mansion and collection of exotic lingerie. Middle sister Prudence works in publishing, and is rather imprudently in love with her married boss; while Maddy, the baby of the family, is about to embark on a voyage of sapphic self-discovery. All three sisters are ignorant of the state of their parents' marriage, about to crumble after 40 apparently happy years. Somehow Moggach makes all this exciting.
Never a Normal Man by Daniel Farson (HarperCollins, pounds 8.99)
Son of the notorious lush and legendary newsman Negley Farson, the author opens his autobiography by acknowledging his inherited alcoholism, to which he says he added "the taint of homosexuality". Fortunately for us, Daniel also acquired his father's literary panache. His last book is an addictive read, fizzing with adventures from Turkey to Limehouse. But its locus is Soho, populated by a brilliant, skewed cast. His heroes include Francis Bacon ("the strongest man I have known"), John Deakin ("the funniest man I had known") and, somewhat surprisingly, Damien Hirst. Hilarious, kind-hearted, a world-class anecdotalist, Farson emerges as not a little heroic himself.
Famous British Battles by Geoffrey Regan (Omara, pounds 9.99)
Regan's brisk yomp through 35 battles, from Stamford Bridge to Goose Green, reveals there's nothing new under the sun. Psychological operations, in the form of a noisy but useless cannon, played a major part in the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field. The maxim that truth is the first casualty of warfare was certainly the case at Albuera where, after a subordinate lost half his army and inflicted negligible losses on the Spanish, Wellington insisted: "This won't do. Write me down a victory." It is impossible to read the nine terrible pages on the Somme, where the British suffered 20,000 deaths and 40,000 wounded on a single day, without feeling a shiver run down your spine.
With camel and handbag in Egypt, 1962, by Thomas Hoepker from Desert, one of a new series of anthologies of images selected from the archives of the Magnum agency (Terrail, pounds 5.99 each). The other titles in the first batch of Terrail Photo volumes are Birth, Night, Struggle, Walls and WritersReuse content