Book reviews: Borderless Economics | The Romans and Their World | My Week With Marilyn

A look at this week’s literary releases

Borderless Economics

by Robert Guest

(Palgrave, £18.99) ****

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They come over here … and are barely unpacked before they’re Skyping their families, planning their next trip home; immigration isn’t the irrevocable separation it once was. Like previous generations, they send back money – but also ideas, attitudes, and consumer-cravings; they help establish networks across which knowledge and expertise can flow. It all, says Robert Guest, adds up to a globalisation of people and not only is it the future but it’s a good thing – for “us” as well as “them”. Far from feeling “swamped”, in Lady Thatcher’s words, we should ride the wave, says the Economist’s business editor. Guest gives a spirited, red-blooded economic justification for keeping the doors open to the new arrivals who are going to bring a better future for us all.

The Man of Numbers

by Keith Devlin

(Bloomsbury, £18.99) ***

The so-called “Fibonacci Sequence” has fascinated mathematicians, scientists and naturalists for centuries; yet the individual behind it – Leonardo of Pisa, or “Fibonacci” – has been to all intents and purposes unknown. He deserves far wider recognition, Keith Devlin believes, as it’s basically because of him that the West replaced Roman numerals with “Hindu-Arabic” ones and learned to count in tens, making possible … well, just about the whole of Renaissance and modern maths and science. Reconstructing his life at this historical distance is difficult, though – not least because Leonardo seems to have had no great egotistical sense of his own importance. Despite Devlin’s best efforts, this biography is sketchy about the man, but it makes a convincing case for the immense importance of the work.

The Romans and their World

by Brian Campbell

(Yale, £20) *****

For several centuries the Romans carried all before them, conquering and (in their fashion) civilising as they went. This invaluable introductory history takes in 1,000 years at a stroke, from Iron Age origins through Republic and Empire to final fall, setting out a clear chronology – and a persuasive logic for expansion and decline. One of the great joys of his unfailingly readable account is the readiness with which it returns to the Roman record, drawing on ancient sources to give a lively and immediate feel for Roman life and culture.

The Gun

by CJ Chivers

(Penguin, £9.99) ***

Chivers starts this excellent book by taking us to Russia at the start of the Cold War. The Russians were developing weapons. One was the nuclear bomb. Another was a cheap assault rifle that became known as the Kalashnikov AK-47. The first weapon stopped big wars without being used; the second was the perfect weapon for small wars. Over the next few decades, the AK-47 went viral; it was the weapon of the Viet Cong, of Fidel Castro, of Idi Amin, of Yasser Arafat and of bin Laden. So this is not just a book about a gun. It’s a book about history.

My Week With Marilyn

by Colin Clark

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(Harper Press, £8.99) ***

In 1956, Colin Clark, was Third Assistant Director – in other words, a gofer – on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. Laurence Olivier was the director, as well as being the male lead. Marilyn Monroe was his co-star. Larry wanted some of Marilyn’s star quality to rub off on him; she wanted a bit of his theatrical cachet. But things didn’t work out, and Clark chronicles the whole thing – the strife, secrets and flirtations of a film set – very fetchingly in this book now reissued as a movie tie-in.

The Duchess of Windsor

by Diana Mitford

(Gibson Square, £8.99) ****

Why was Edward, Prince of Wales – later, Edward VIII – so captivated by Wallis Simpson? Well, according to Diana Mitford, he was bright, very attractive and ultra-sensitive. He hated the fact that everyone around him was putting on a show. Then he met Wallis – not beautiful, not posh, but very sharp company, and, crucially, able to behave normally in front of a prince. He really fell for her, says Mitford. There’s some good stuff about his parents, George and Mary, and it’s packed with cracking photographs.