Rethink by Steven Poole (Penguin, £9.99)
Steven Poole is concerned with ideas that wouldn’t die. Or as he more diplomatically puts it, “ideas whose time has come”. Like the electric car, for instance, which is finally beginning to come into its own. It’s worth knowing, though, that 30,000 electric cars were registered in the USA before the internal combustion engine put them out to pasture. Poole doesn’t restrict himself to mechanical solutions: Lamarckian ideas of evolution were once vigorously denied, but recent research in the field of epigenetics is prompting a belated reassessment. We’ve seen cavalry charges in Afghanistan, leeches and maggots returning to medicine and the influence of Stoicism in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Research suggests that we might even live to see the rehabilitation of alchemy. Along with numerous examples of bad ideas which have turned out to be good ones, this fascinating book also asks which of today’s ridiculous notions could turn out to be the basis for the future.
The Correspondence by JD Daniels (Jonathan Cape, £10.99)
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The Correspondence is a strange beast, a slim volume classified by its publisher as “essays/memoir” and comprising four essays posing as letters which read like short stories, followed by two pieces which are definitely short stories. I think. Actually, it may be three of each. What I do know is that Daniels writes in a splendidly self-deprecating way while describing how martial arts took over his life (Brazilian jiu-jitsu, if you must know), about leaving the teaching profession because “I wanted to kill and eat the children who had been entrusted to my care” and of his reintroduction to his home state of Kentucky. Some would call him glib, but it’s an ironic pseudo-glibness which acknowledges pain and regret but isn’t going to let them get in the way of a good story. The Correspondence may be a tricky book to define, but what’s easier to discern from it is the emergence of a distinctive new voice worth listening to.
Company K by William March (Apollo, £10)
Originally published in 1933, Company K has earned its place as one of the best novels written about the First World War. Rooted in William March’s own experiences in France, it takes the form of short vignettes, each no more than a couple of pages in length, told by the 113 men of an American company sent to fight on the Western Front. Independent yet interconnected, these vignettes tell the story of soldiers leaving basic training to fight on a strange continent, the lucky ones surviving to face the additional challenge of adjusting to life back home afterwards. All aspects of warfare are worthy of inclusion, from inedible rations and pus-filled blisters to the horrors of bombardment, close combat, shooting prisoners or being caught up in a command decision that goes catastrophically wrong. From these small fragments, March creates a stunning mosaic that has the truthfulness of a genuine oral history but is guided by the hand of an accomplished author.