Eat Me: the Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin (Knopf, $24.95) by Kenny Shopsin and Carolynn Carreno may look like just a cookbook but it's secretly an experimental autobiography, formed from the words of Kenny Shopsin, who owned the Lower East Side culinary institution, Shopsin's. His greasy spoon had an eccentric list of rules on its menu and Kenny had a penchant for throwing out customers he didn't like. The recipes are fun to read and follow, as are Shopsin's entertaining musings on family, customer service and eggs. It's a formally and culinarily inspiring book.
Richard Curtis A
Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains (Pan, [pounds sterling]9.99) about the abolition of slavery is the only history book I've read since school and a primer for anyone interested in changing the world--all the ups and downs, the need for epic patience, the use of civil and parliamentary pressure. At the centre of it is the fabulous figure of Thomas Clarkson, a giant redhead, who one day stopped by a roadside having written an essay at university on the issue of slavery and said to himself: "If the contents of the essay are true, it is time some person should see these calamities to their end." And then spent his life doing just that.
The true story of the rise, perilous fall and spectacular rise again of anything makes for a good read. When the subject is Lego, it makes it universally compelling. As a mum, a global education activist and a manager, I have every reason to need Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Toy Industry by David Robertson (Random House, [pounds sterling]18.99). As the number one toy in the world, the Lego "biography" has to appeal to everyone this summer in between the political tomes and the hot beach reads.
This summer's most sizzling beach read is unquestionably The UN Environmental Programme: the First Forty Years by Stanley P Johnson (UNEP, $30).
A few months ago, I finally sat down with Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley (Vintage, [pounds sterling]8.99), wanting to read something paced quickly, yet not entirely driven by plot. It fulfilled my expectations; it moves swiftly but Ripley grows in complexity, becoming enigmatic even as his motives grow more transparent. The novel is also a warped travel book, a twisted version of the ever-potent theme of Americans abroad, and, most of all, a wonderful variation on the idea of reinventing the modern self. All the grand tourist sights and experiences are here but shot through with anxiety, violence and friendships laced with self-interest and cruelty.
The war of American independence has been relatively ignored by British history courses and historians, probably because Britain was defeated. Andrew O'Shaughnessy's The Men Who Lost America (Oneworld, [pounds sterling]30) is an important reminder that this was not the result of any failure of generalship but the arrogance and ignorance of a ruling class unable to comprehend how fiercely people will fight for their rights. The valour of the patriots comes out all too clearly in Nathaniel Philbrick's Bunker Hill: a City, a Siege, a Revolution (Doubleday, [pounds sterling]14.99), which would make a good companion volume.
Edward Stourton's Cruel Crossing: Escaping Hitler across the Pyrenees (Doubleday, [pounds sterling]20) is a brilliantly researched tale of personal bravery, risk, Nazi brutality and occasional acts of French perfidy. It is moving, too, as we hear first-hand accounts from a dying generation who lived through extraordinary times and whose memories we should harvest and cherish as Stourton so clearly does. He also encourages us to ask the question: what would we have done if faced with an escaper who needed our help? Many of those who did help were women who took extraordinary risks and who often paid the ultimate price. …