Book reviews: Into the Silence | The Brain is Wider than the Sky | Mother, Brother, Lover

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WILLIAM Leith casts an eye over the latest paperbacks.

Into the Silence

by Wade Davis

(Vintage, £12.99)

Rating: * * * *

this monumental work – winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction earlier this month – combines the First World War and Mount Everest. Davis’s descriptions of the trenches – the bodies, the smell, the madness – are some of the best I’ve read. He tells us about the men who died, and some who survived, including George Mallory. After the war, Mallory and other survivors decided to climb Everest. Davis gets to the heart of Mallory; his obsessiveness, and his uncanny ability as a climber.

The Brain is Wider Than the Sky

by Brian Appleyard

(Vintage, £9.99)

Rating; * * *

human beings are, in lots of ways, warring against the things we make. Our artificial systems – finance, or media, or mathematics – that are starting to mould us. Appleyard is good at explaining: he talks about Bill Gates, software, brain scans, cancer, money markets, and Alan Turing. His idea that celebrities are like robots is superb. He explains that, in our complex world, weird things are bound to happen. Read this book; it will open your mind.

Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics

by Jarvis Cocker

(Faber, £8.99)

Rating: * * * *

As a lyricist, Cocker falls between John Cooper Clarke and Philip Larkin. His voice is that of a self-elevated loner, a geek who wants to join in with people he knows, in his heart, are stupider than him. The lyrics are evocative. I love “Brought up on broken biscuits”. He has a gift for compressing language. You should listen to the music, too. Wonderful.