Book reviews: London by Anna Maude | How to Read a Latin Poem by William Fitzgerald

BETWEEN the Great Fire of 1666 and the Great Exhibition (1851), medieval London burned away and a spacious and elegant metropolis arose from its ashes: one of the wonders of the modern world.


by Anna Maude

(British Museum, £9.99)

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This new London was to go largely unrecorded in the artistic mainstream until the Thamescapes of the Impressionist era – and even then, says Maude, the scene was generally swathed in fog. Yet, as she points out, one major painter, the Venetian Antonio Canaletto, had started revealing this brave new London to itself. Setting up shop in 1746, he portrayed the place from street-level: his works showed Londoners the London that they knew. A host of imitators followed. Others, like Rowlandson and Hogarth, found the view from street-level satirically liberating. The reader who is tired of Anna Maude’s London is tired of life.

How to Read a Latin Poem

by William Fitzgerald

(OUP, £20)

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It’s an agreeable vision – idyllic even – our apple-cheeked children sporting in the Goves of Academe, alternately parsing Pliny and declining nouns – though it airbrushes out the tawse that kept those ablative absolutes in line. Not that this is any reason to throw the infantem out with the bathwater: Mary Beard’s “Horrible Histories” approach has shown how much we have to learn from Roman life and culture. William Fitzgerald’s book on Latin poetry for those who “can’t read Latin yet” takes us right to the heart of Latin literature, in and between the lines of poets like Martial, Catullus, Tibullus, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Lucretius, Lucan, Seneca and more. Explaining important themes and elucidating imagery, he goes further, showing how metre creates a very different dynamic in Latin poetry from anything we’re used to, and how word-order helps create texture, mood and meaning. Fitzgerald’s book makes demands, but the dividends are immense.

The New Northwest Passage

by Cameron Dueck

(Sandstone, £8.99)

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First conquered in 1906 by Roald Amundsen, a truly epic undertaking, the fabled Northwest Passage been traversed several times since then – and with growing ease now that global warming has opened up clear water. The scramble for the Arctic has brought with it opportunity and turmoil. It’s also thrown into relief the kind of problems we may all be contending with sometime soon. In this account of a “voyage to the front line of climate change”, Cameron Dueck meets men and women who’ve made their lives in one of the world’s most inhospitable places, but who are going to have to be a whole lot more adaptable in the coming years.