Compared to last year, the run-up to the Man Booker prize, which will be announced on Tuesday, has been mercifully placid and controversy-free.
The only hint of a brouhaha came when chairman Sir Peter Stothard laid into the standards of book criticism on the web, pointing out that “not everyone’s opinion is worth the same”, basically because professional book critics aren’t just fans with laptops, but people putting together a reasoned argument as objectively as they can.
Bookworm can’t possibly disagree with that, or with Stothard’s claim that the web’s mass of book chat is marginalising serious criticism. Nor can one doubt his literary credentials (former editor of the Times, current editor of TLS etc). All the same, isn’t it at least a bit odd that, according to a profile in the Independent, he reckons he has seen only six films in his six decades?
What is the world’s most dangerous book? While many will opt for Hitler’s Mein Kampf or the Protocols of the Order of Zion forgeries, American historian Christopher Krebs reaches past them to single out Tacitus’s Germania, which, about 1,800 years after it was written, fuelled the Teutonic fantasies of Nazi ideology.
As he points out in A Most Dangerous Book, just published by Norton, “ideas resemble viruses: they depend on minds as their host, replicate and mutate in content or form, and gang up together to form ideologies”. Because the new country of Germany (b 1870) longed for a “foundation document”, a description of its ancestors, it latched onto Tacitus’s second-hand and largely inaccurate account of the tribes living in a vast swathe of northern Europe. So great was the Nazis’ determination to secure a medieval manuscript of it that, as late in the Second World War as autumn 1943, Himmler ordered the SS to raid the homes of the Italian family suspected of owning it.
BOTTOM OF THE BARREL
What is the world’s most useless book? There’s plenty of competition, especially as publishers start cranking out their unwanted Christmas stocking fillers. But a strong case could surely be made for Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History of Toilet Paper, by Richard Smyth (Souvenir Press, £10), out this week and not even remotely funny.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west