Book Reviews

04 dezembro, 2008

206) Os melhores livros de 2008, segundo The Economist

Books of the year
Pick of the pile

The Economist, December 4th 2008

The best books of 2008 covered the Iraq war, Chinese capitalism, Mississippi blues, fishing in Sweden, ayatollahs, human waste and the secret life of words
Politics and current affairs

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State
By Noah Feldman
Princeton University Press; 200 pages; $22.95 and £13.50
A short, incisive and elegant book by a Harvard specialist in Islamic political thought, which analyses the dilemma posed by the huge popular support, among many Muslims, for explicitly Islamic forms of government.

A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East
By Lawrence Freedman.
PublicAffairs; 624 pages; $29.95. Weidenfeld & Nicolson; £20
The region's key events provide ample material for this subtle re-examination: the fall of the shah, the three wars in the Persian Gulf, jihad in Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter's half-success at peacemaking at Camp David in 1978 and Bill Clinton's failure there two decades later.

Britain Since 1918: The Strange Career of British Democracy
By David Marquand.
Weienfeld & Nicolson; 496 pages; £25
A rich, compelling and convincing account of recent British political history by a man who has experienced it as a member of parliament, a journalist and a distinguished academic historian.

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict
By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
Norton; 311 pages; $22.95. Allen Lane; £20
With the patience of auditors and the passion of polemicists, two academics, one a Nobel prize-winning economist and the other a public-finance expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, take an unflinching look at the hidden cost of invading Iraq.

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer
Doubleday; 400 pages; $27.50 and £22.85
A comprehensive and compelling examination of how a handful of officials, working in extreme secrecy, even from their colleagues, prosecuted the war on terror, undermining America's civil liberties.

Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror
By Benjamin Wittes
Penguin Press; 305 pages; $25.95
How the Bush administration came to adopt the tactics that became the hallmark of its struggle against al-Qaeda and its ilk.

India: The Emerging Giant
By Arvind Panagariya
Oxford University Press; 544 pages; $39.95 and £19.99
An analysis of how Manmohan Singh, first as finance minister and now as prime minister, sought to fight India's poverty with sweeping reforms aimed at promoting rapid economic growth.

Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant
By Heidi Holland
Penguin; 280 pages; $30 and £17.99
The most intimate account yet published of Robert Mugabe's transformation from liberation hero to reviled despot.


Economics and business

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash
By Charles R. Morris
PublicAffairs; 224 pages; $22.95 and £13.99
The first big book on the credit crunch saw the crisis coming three years ago. Freak-out-onomics for I-told-you-sos.

Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State
By Yasheng Huang
Cambridge University Press; 366 pages; $30 and £15.99
Convincingly overturns the usual analyses of the nature of China's economy, and brilliantly predicts, a year ahead of other commentators, its steep decline.

When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change
By Mohamed El-Erian
McGraw Hill; 304 pages; $27.95 and £15.99
Ignore the in-your-face cover. This is a fluent and intelligent account of the credit crisis: why it happened and how to survive it. Winner of the 2008 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs business book of the year award.

The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World
By Amar Bhidé
Princeton University Press; 520 pages; $35 and £19.95
A counterintuitive view of technology and globalisation that will delight those who believe that American innovation is insulated from economic ups and downs.

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World
By Tim Harford
Random House; 272 pages; $25. Little, Brown; £18.95
Neither too lofty nor dumbed down, this is a fascinating study of how society is shaped by hidden pay-offs and punishments.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World
By Don Tapscott
McGraw-Hill; 384 pages; $27.95 and £15.99
A management guru explains why the net generation, who grew up playing video games and spending time on the internet, are not all messed up, as many people suspect, but have actually been improved by the experience.

Globality: Competing with Everyone from Everywhere for Everything
By Hal Sirkin, Jim Hemerling and Arindam Bhattacharya
Business Plus; 304 pages; $26.99 and £18.99
Hal Sirkin and two colleagues explore how rich-country multinationals face increasingly effective competition from new emerging-market corporate champions, which compete not just on lower costs but also on greater ingenuity and efficiency.

The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs
By Charles D. Ellis
Penguin Press; 752 pages; $37.95. Allen Lane; £25
Goldman Sachs has long set the gold standard in finance, even though the current crisis nearly brought it down. With unprecedented access to insiders, Charles Ellis provides the best account yet of the rise of this investment bank and what makes it tick.



The Return of History and the End of Dreams
By Robert Kagan
Knopf; 128 pages; $19.95. Atlantic Books; £12.99
A short, simple book arguing that we are now back in a world of clashing national ambitions and interests; not so different from the 19th century.

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World
By William J. Bernstein
Atlantic Monthly Press; 467 pages; $30. Atlantic Books; £22
Globalisation often gets a bad press, so it is interesting to read this hymn to commercial exchange that shows how, largely for better, sometimes for worse, our world has been defined by trade.

Freedom for the Thought that We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment
By Anthony Lewis
Basic Books; 240 pages; $25 and £14.99
A concise and wise presentation of the history and scope of freedom of thought in the United States, with conclusions that are well worth pondering.

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science
By Richard Holmes
Harper Press; 380 pages; £20. To be published in America by Pantheon Books in July
A dazzling cornucopia exploring the impact of discovery upon such great Romantic writers as Mary Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron and John Keats.

Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West
By Andrew Roberts
Allen Lane; 720 pages; £25. To be published in America by Harper in May
Andrew Roberts lays claim to the title of Britain's finest contemporary military historian with this important analysis of grand strategy during the second world war, which, among other delights, vindicates that much maligned British way of doing things: the committee.

Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China
By Philip P. Pan
Simon & Schuster; 368 pages; $28. Picador; £14.99
Detailed profiles of 11 Chinese, mostly present day, which together provide a not very pretty snapshot of China's political development. One of the best descriptions of what life has been like for many Chinese citizens during the past 15 years.

Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present
By Jonathan Fenby
Ecco Books; 816 pages; $34.95. Published in Britain as "The Penguin History of Modern China"; Allen Lane; £30
The extraordinary growth in China's population, economic productivity and military grasp has not been matched, to anything like the same extent, by developments in the way the country is governed. Jonathan Fenby has written a much-needed new history that points to a coming crisis.

The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919
By Mark Thompson
Faber & Faber; 464 pages; £25. To be published in America by Basic Books in March
A startling indictment of the Italian state's conduct during the first world war, which shows how Italy's nationalist dream of expansion would turn into the Fascist nightmare.

The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum

By Sarah Wise
The Bodley Head; 240 pages; £20
An affecting history of life in the crowded slums of 19th-century London which traces, with great restraint, the links between poor housing, poverty and criminality.

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Centre of the World
By Roger Crowley
Random House; 368 pages; $30. Faber and Faber; £20
How the clash of civilisations between Christianity and Islam came to be fought out during the Ottoman sieges of Rhodes and Malta and the battle of Lepanto, with some fairly familiar faults on both sides already becoming visible more than 500 years ago.

American Rifle: A Biography
By Alexander Rose
Delacorte Press; 512 pages; $30
How and why American soldiers have learnt to shoot straight.


Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
By Rick Perlstein
Scribner; 896 pages; $37.50 and £25
Americans supported Richard Nixon because of his anger and resentment, not despite it. Rick Perlstein offers compelling evidence for a simple but convincing thesis about Nixon's appeal.

The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of V.S. Naipaul
By Patrick French
Knopf; 576 pages; $30. Picador; £20
An elegant and insightful study of the Trinidad-born Nobel laureate who made his name as a novelist and chronicler of India and the Islamic world. A singular example of how good authorised biographies can, and should, be.

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare
By Jonathan Bate
Random House; 496 pages; $35. Viking; £25
It is almost impossible to write something fresh about William Shakespeare. Yet Jonathan Bate has succeeded, with a sparkling and arresting portrait of the Bard and his world as discovered in his writings.

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson
By Brenda Wineapple
Knopf; 432 pages; $27.95 and £27.95
A portrait of a friendship that is also a sweeping cultural and political history of the lead-in to the American civil war and its aftermath.

Chagall: A Biography
By Jackie Wullschlager
Knopf; 608 pages; $40. Allen Lane; £30
Manages to be both magical and utterly credible in describing an artist who put fiddlers on the roof and made lovers fly through the air.


Science and technology

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters
By Rose George
Metropolitan Books; 304 pages; $26. Portobello Books; £12.99
A frank and illuminating look at a generally neglected, but very important, aspect of human life.

The Princeton Companion to Mathematics
Edited by Timothy Gowers, June Barrow-Green and Imre Leader
Princeton University Press; 1,008 pages; $99 and £60
This is a panoramic view of modern mathematics. It is tough going in some places, but much of it is surprisingly accessible. A must for budding number-crunchers.

Bad Science
By Ben Goldacre
Fourth Estate; 352 pages; £12
A fine lesson in how to skewer the enemies of reason and the peddlers of cant and half-truths.

The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Duelling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York
By Matthew Goodman
Basic Books; 384 pages; $26 and £15.99
In retelling the story of how, in the 1830s, the New York Sun tried to persuade its readers there was life on the moon, Matthew Goodman vividly brings to life a town on the brink of becoming a world-class city.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
By Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Yale University Press; 304 pages; $26 and £18
How behavioural economics affects everything—from what we eat in restaurants to our investments and pension choices.

Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population
By Matthew Connelly
Harvard University Press/Belknap; 544 pages; $35 and £22.95
A vivid account of how the road to controlling population growth in the 20th century was paved with good intentions and unpleasant policies that did not work.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
By Sudhir Venkatesh
Penguin Press; 320 pages; $25.95. Allen Lane; £18.99
A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from vivid tales of some of the 30,000 residents of Robert Taylor Homes, America's biggest public housing scheme, on Chicago's South Side.

Culture and digressions

Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts
By Joseph Horowitz
HarperCollins; 480 pages; $27.50 and £27.50
A many-layered account, focusing on the interwar years, of the European immigrants, particularly those from Germany and Russia, who helped create American culture.

Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions that Made Art History: Volume I, 1863-1959
Edited by Bruce Altshuler
Phaidon; 410 pages; $90 and £45
The story of the medium through which most art lovers have experienced modern art: the big group show. A must for anyone interested in art, politics and taste in the 20th century.

The Secret Life of Words: How English Became English
By Henry Hitchings
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 440 pages; $27. John Murray; £16.99
A globe-trotting survey of the world's lingua franca, which includes such nuggets as the word "chagrin", derived from the Turkish for roughened leather, or scaly sharkskin, and "lens", which comes from the Latin for "lentil", or "window" meaning "eye of wind" in old Norse.

How Fiction Works
By James Wood
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 288 pages; $24. Jonathan Cape; £16.99
Displaying a playful exuberance wonderfully at odds with the dry, jargon-strewn tradition of academic criticism, this deft, slender volume analyses how novelists pull rabbits out of hats.

Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionised American Music
By Ted Gioia
Norton; 448 pages; $27.95 and £16.99
A way of life as much as music, the passionate blues singing of Mississippi's steamy cotton fields ultimately gave rise to rock 'n' roll. Ted Gioia expertly traces its colourful history and heroes.

Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes
By Ferdinand Mount
Bloomsbury; 384 pages; £15
A beautifully written, poignant and, at times, very funny memoir by a man who describes himself at different points in his life as idle, supercilious, incompetent and emotionally retarded.


Fiction and memoirs

Sea of Poppies: A Novel
By Amitav Ghosh
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 528 pages; $26. John Murray; £18.99
Set in India in 1838, this rich and panoramic adventure tells the intricate stories of a cast of hundreds in lustrous and mesmerising prose. The first of a promised trilogy from a master of fiction.

Breath: A Novel
By Tim Winton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 224 pages; $23. Picador; £14.99
Two teenagers get caught up with a dangerous surfer, his wife and the waves in this Australian coming-of-age novel that perfectly balances youthful romanticism and disillusion.

Lush Life
By Richard Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 464 pages; $26. Bloomsbury; £12.99
The wry bartenders, brusque cops and gritty rhythmic dialogue of Manhattan's Lower East Side turn this fast-paced murder-mystery into a whodunnit with literary heft.

The Secret Scripture
By Sebastian Barry
Viking; 304 pages; $24.95. Faber and Faber; £16.99
An elderly female inhabitant of a mental hospital and her psychiatrist tell their stories through their journals. A moving and memorable novel about conflicting versions of Ireland's past.

Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared
By Andrew Brown
Granta Books; 352 pages; £16.99
Fishing, journalism and the death throes of the Swedish social system are the unpromising ingredients of this thought-provoking and evocative autobiographical memoir.

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran
By Hooman Majd
Doubleday; 288 pages; $24.95
A Western-educated son of an ayatollah portrays the intricacies of Iranian society in this illuminating, critical and affectionate memoir of his homeland.

Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape
By Raja Shehadeh
Scribner; 200 pages; $15. Profile Books; £7.99
This superbly written and sad memoir tells the story of a lawyer's fight against Israel's seizure of Palestinian land and how he seeks solace by walking in the wild countryside of the West Bank.

The Three of Us: A Family Story
By Julia Blackburn
Pantheon; 313 pages; $26. Jonathan Cape; £16.99
A raw and moving story about a chaotic family and a lost childhood. Beautifully crafted and brave, this book is surprisingly full of forgiveness and humour.