The Exodus by Richard Elliott Friedman (HarperOne, £20). Friedman, a renowned biblical scholar, is well known for his brilliant investigation into the Old Testament, Who Wrote the Bible? This follow-up attempts to disentangle the various bits of myth and history in the story of the Exodus. Exhibiting a high level of scholarship, Friedman opts for a position midway between the outright deniers and the literalists. His contention is that a small group of Hebrews, the Levites, were the ones who escaped from Egyptian slavery and brought monotheism to the land of Canaan, becoming Israel’s priestly caste in the process.
The History of England Volume IV: Revolution by Peter Ackroyd (Pan, £10.99). Ackroyd, who began his career as an historical novelist, has more recently drifted towards non-fiction, including his pithy biography of Thomas More and this ambitious multi-volume history of England. Revolution has all the good stuff: King George III and his madness; the loss of England’s American colonies; Walpole and the founding of the stock exchange. Ackroyd has a wonderful turn of phrase and an enviable mastery of historical narrative. This is a fascinating look at early modern England.
City Under Siege by Mark Amorose (Angelico Press, £12.50). This slim book of sonnets shows subtlety and strength. The “city” referred to is the City of Rome – ie, the Christian civilisation, now under siege from postmodern atheism, political correctness, media conformity and all the other influences that prevent man from looking deep within his heart. A sure sense of rhythm and the elastic properties of rhyme, coupled with humour, perceptiveness and irony make this collection a delight to read. The poems’ underlying seriousness jolts and cajoles the reader, forcing him to address old nostrums and attitudes in new ways.
Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilisation by Brian Fagan (Yale University Press, £25). “Much history vanishes with those who lived it,” says Fagan, professor of ancient history at the University of California. Yet in this gripping work he tries to map out how the sea and its culinary riches were one of the main factors that catapulted us from hunter-gatherers to settled communities. He begins with evidence of Neanderthal and Stone Age fishing, which was always opportunistic, to the more settled ways of early Mesopotamian fishing villages. There are also interesting anecdotes about Catholic meat-free days and the expansion of fish in human diets.
The Earth Gazers by Christopher Potter (Head of Zeus, £25). Next year marks the 50th anniversary of man’s first escape from the gravity of Earth. It was also the first time that we saw our home planet from space. Christopher Potter is interested in how this fundamentally changed the way we see ourselves, too. This intriguing and original book charts the epic, dangerous and sometimes heroic attempts to launch the first man into space, taking in along the way such wayward visionaries as Wernher von Braun and Charles Lindbergh.
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