Blake, Robin, The Independent (London, England)
! The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry, Arrow pounds 5.99. Increase your word power by reading this novel. While tripping over "ataractic", "anile" and "soterial" you will also encounter such delightful additions to the Slang Thesaurus as "chutney ferret" and "badgery". The hero is Ted Wallace, a dried-up (but far from dried-out) famous poet whose cynicism is enlivened by his command of invective and magniloquence. Wallace is staying at the country house of tycoon Michael Logan, whose teenage son is up to mysterious things - miraculous healings with an exotic sexual and racial dimension - in which Wallace finds himself entangled. Laughter the best medicine? Funnily enough, the one thing Fry doesn't want us to laugh about is the faith-healing. And there is a closet sadness here that seems, in the light of recent events, to have its counterpart in the author's personality.
! The Engineer in the Garden by Colin Tudge, Cape pounds 10. Tudge has a deep love of science but knows that, in practice, it is enslaved to commerce and politics. These force it towards high-tech solutions whose risks it often too hastily discounts. The same condition causes our profound ambivalence towards scientists: we distrust them whilst expecting to benefit from their discoveries. Tudge's thought-provoking account of the advance of genetic engineering is titled after his belief that gene-manipulators should be more like gardeners than mechanical technicians. Improvements to machines can be planned on paper, but living organisms are far too complex. The outcomes of modern (and future) genetics are therefore unpredictable, and the discipline demands care and wise control; in short, it needs tending. The first half of the book, seeking to explain the nature and scope of genetic science, is relatively technical, the second half more philosophical. The whole is a very rewarding read.
! Churchill: An Unruly Life by Norman Rose, Simon & Schuster pounds 12.99. Those who desire fame now aim to be Media Icons, but in the 19th century one aspired to become a Monument. True to his time, Churchill aimed at greatness in that now-impossible (in some eyes repellent) sense and he hit the mark spectacularly, in spite of his lisp, looks, tendency to depression and leaky education. He would be the first to realise that, having set himself up, others would try to knock him down. But Norman Rose is not a knocker, and finds it hard not to warm to a man whose admitted faults were spice to his virtues. Churchill's Falstaffian sins - egoism, hedonism, bombast, recklessness - become forgivable by never quite overwhelming his basic decency, common sense and courage, the latter being essential to his moral code. And all the noise about class arrogance, racism, imperial adventuring cannot blot out Churchill's Whig sense of fairness. "Our concern," he once said, "is with the evil not the causes, with the fact of unemployment not with the character of the unemployed."
! Foreign Parts by Janice Galloway, Vintage pounds 5.99. To a male reader, the dedication is daunting: "For Alison, all my female friends and all female friends. …