Friday, 19 August 2016

Book Reviews: 19th August

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


books-PossessionPossession: The Curious History Of Private Collectors From Antiquity To The Present by Erin L Thompson (Yale University Press, £20)
‘Almost everyone has formed a collection, however small,’ writes American academic Thompson in this fascinating exploration of the subject. From Fabergé eggs to coins, paintings and even nail clippings, there are few things that people haven’t collected (or pilfered, or forged). But she also explains that we know more about the collecting impulses of birds than those of humans: male bowerbirds decorate their nests with brightly coloured twigs and pebbles to attract mates.

Thompson studies history’s famous and often eccentric collectors, from Tiberius and Nero, who stripped art from public collections to adorn their palaces, and Isabella d’Este, who coveted fragments of a unicorn’s horn, to oil billionaire Jean Paul Getty, whose passion for antiquities stemmed partly from his belief that he was a reincarnation of the emperor Hadrian. Getty bequeathed most of his fortune to his museum (much to the disappointment of his many mistresses). Architect Sir John Soane transformed his London home into a museum, building an Egyptian crypt as a memorial to his deceased wife and child. On a more frivolous note, Soane’s contemporary Sir William Hamilton encouraged Emma, his young mistress, to perform poses from his Greek vases to entertain their jaded friends.

Thompson concludes that collecting art is an ideal way for individuals to connect to the past and acquire a certain identity and social prestige. Perfect reading for art lovers – ideal for dipping into, as reading all at once would be too exhausting.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

books-Fighting-FitFighting Fit: The Wartime Battle For Britain’s Health by Laura Dawes (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £18.99)
As the Second World War loomed, Churchill worried whether the British people would be healthy enough to survive it. Fearing that thousands would succumb to epidemics huddled in overcrowded air-raid shelters, or starve if Germany blockaded the Atlantic shipping lanes, his wartime government intervened in health and home life on an unprecedented scale, imposing rationing and setting up national blood banks and vaccination programmes.

Churchill needn’t have worried: everyone pulled together as never before, digging up flower beds to grow vegetables, gathering seaweed to make medicines and giving up sweets and junk food. The rationing of sugar, butter and bacon resulted in people eating a lower-fat, healthier diet. Obesity and type 2 diabetes were unheard of, while depressives were distracted from their condition by being put to work as fire watchers.

This led to many people feeling better, while confronted by the very real possibility of being wiped out. Despite the destruction of Britain’s hospitals and homes and the disruption of the water and sewage systems, death rates dropped to a surprising record low.

Although a little dry in places, this beautifully written book is a gripping study of how keeping ‘fighting fit’ helped Britain win the war and paved the way for the NHS and the welfare state. Highly recommended for medics, history lovers and hypochondriacs alike.

books-book-of-the-weekBOOK OF THE WEEK

A mind in free fall
DADLAND by Keggie Carew (Chatto & Windus, £16.99)

When Keggie Carew started to investigate her father’s past, she knew she was in a race against time. Dementia was slowly stealing his mind away, but the good news was that the life of Lieutenant Colonel Tom Carew had been well documented. Dubbed ‘the mad Irishman’ by colleagues and ‘Lawrence of Burma’ by journalists, Dublin-born Tom Carew joined the Special Operations Executive in 1943. As part of its elite Jedburgh unit, he was parachuted into occupied France and then Burma, becoming the youngest officer ever to be awarded a DSO.

However, civilian life after the war suited Carew rather less: with scant regard for rules and an instinct for mischief, he was soon deeply in debt. And as his second marriage broke down, the introduction of a new wife cast a long shadow over the author’s childhood years.

Keggie Carew’s animosity towards her stepmother is undisguised, while her vivid accounts of her father’s past exploits are punctuated with painful bulletins detailing his mental decline. Yet this is no misery memoir: when the 85-year-old Carew falls down a flight of stairs, he goes automatically into a parachute roll, emerging unscathed to enjoy the incredulity of bystanders. And even after his death, one last, stranger-than-fiction episode remained: a fitting final twist to an extraordinary life, and a sui generis debut.
Stephanie Cross



BIRDS: Myth, Lore And Legend by Rachel Warren Chadd and Marianne Taylor (Bloomsbury, £25)
Winged and feathered creatures have sent the human imagination soaring since the earliest civilisations, with birds featuring in countless myths, proverbs and legends. This exquisite book explores how avian characteristics and behaviours have inspired their varied roles in literature, superstition and mythology, taking in examples from all corners of the world. While many links are well known (peacocks and vanity, pelicans and piety), there are flocks of fascinatingly obscure facts and stories – the Aztecs had a hummingbird sun god; the now-Christmassy robin was once a bad omen. A perfect blend of natural and cultural history, lavishly illustrated with photography and art – a splendid gift for bird lovers.
Juanita Coulson



SKYFARING: A Journey With A Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker (Vintage, £8.99)
An unusual work of travel writing with little regard for earthly destinations, Skyfaring eulogises instead the wonder and romance of flight, from the science of thrust to the art of the propeller and the transcendence of motion. This is a guidebook to a country in the sky, with its own people and language, mountains of cloud and rivers of air – a country most of us jaded travellers traverse without much thought or appreciation.

Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 pilot, conveys the experience of flying in appropriately rarefied prose and with the boundless enthusiasm of one who’s fortunate enough to fulfil a childhood fantasy every working day.
Richard Tarrant

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (Daunt Books, £8.99)
After the mysterious disappearance of world-famous Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda, her American translator, Emma, flies to Rio to aid investigations. There she’s assisted by Beatriz’s two children, and the unlikely trio discover there is far more to the case than meets the eye. Emma finds out that Beatriz has left a number of unexpected loose ends, and looks to her novels for evidence, clues and cryptic messages.

Novey’s intriguing debut novel will delight and utterly transport the reader to the madness and beauty of modern Brazil. After a slow start, the pace soon picks up. A colourful gem of a novel.
Helena Gumley- Mason


Be inspired by the Rio Olympics and explore Brazil’s exciting cuisine.

BRAZILIAN FOOD by Thiago Castanho and Luciana Bianchi (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99)
Dashing young chef Thiago Castanho, who helped in his father’s village restaurant from the age of 12, writes passionately about the culinary traditions of his native Brazil, especially the ‘terroir cuisine’ of the Amazon region where he lives. Exotic-sounding local produce takes centre stage (the superfood açai berries, bacuri, cassavas and yams), but he also offers readily available alternatives. Featuring recipes by renowned guest chefs, the book has sections on small bites, street food, fish and seafood, and ‘Meat and poultry for fire and grill’. With vibrant photography, this glorious celebration of a varied and exciting cuisine will inspire you to create tropical feasts at home.

CARNIVAL! 60 Recipes For A Brasilian Street Party by David Ponte, Lizzy Barber and Jamie Barber (Quadrille, £10)
No one does street parties quite like the Brazilians: football, the Olympics, carnivals – any excuse will do. And food is a key element of these often spontaneous celebrations. Aided by the latter’s sister, Ponte and Jamie Barber, the team behind the Cabana chain of Brazilian restaurants, bring us a cheery and colourful guide to recreating the buzzing atmosphere and zinging flavours at home. With everything from the perfect caipirinha to sweet-potato fries and pulled-pork sliders, this handy, affordable little book is a reissue of their earlier Cabana cookbook, adding new recipes to old favourites. Get some friends together and celebrate Team GB’s medal haul Carioca-style.

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