Quick reads: Book reviews

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre
The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre
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The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre. MacLehose Press, £18.99 (ebook £5.99). Review by Emma Herdman

The Great Swindle should come with the same warnings as Lemaitre’s previous books: if you’re faint of heart, this is not for you. This novel, winner of the 2013 Prix Goncourt (France’s highest literary prize), is ostensibly far from his previous crime novels, but it shares their complexity of character and richness.

As the First World War comes to a close, two soldiers unwittingly discover that their lieutenant has murdered two of his company – and pushed a witness into a deep pit where he nearly suffocates, before being saved at the last minute.

Bound together by this moment, the story follows their own ‘great swindle’ in a gratifying and complex novel.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. Little, Brown, £16.99 (ebook £8.99). Review by Michael Anderson

King David’s life was long and bloody: whether defeating Goliath, evading deranged King Saul, or fiercely consolidating his power, he is never far from gore-soaked battles or back-stabbing politics. In her new novelisation of his life, Pulitzer-winning Geraldine Brooks does not flinch in depicting mutilation, massacre and horrific rape. Initially the book is a thrilling surprise, but later chapters are repetitious. While understandable, its mildly reverential quest for historical accuracy is The Secret Chord’s downfall, ensuring David and family remain fixed points rather than breathing characters, and leaving the book – like its hero – flawed.

Every Thing We Touch: A 24-hour Inventory Of Our Lives by Paula Zuccotti. Penguin, £20. Review by Sophie Herdman

One night, Paula Zuccotti told a friend she wanted to take a collection of people and photograph every object they touched during the day. Her friend was so excited by the idea she agreed to be the first case study. Having travelled the world taking photographs of objects and interviewing her subjects, Zucotti co-produced this beautiful book. It makes for a fascinating and fun read but one problem is that an overwhelming majority of the subjects are designers, artists and chefs and it would have been much more interesting to have a mix of professions. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful and interesting book that would make a lovely Christmas present.

100 Documents That Changed The World: From Magna Carta To WikiLeaks by Scott Christianson. Batsford, £14.99 (ebook £8). Review by Anthony Looch

One hundred of the most significant documents in human history, dating from 2800 BC to AD 2011, are presented in this beautifully illustrated and well-written book. Award-winning author and investigative journalist Scott Christianson shows how the Western world progressed towards today’s liberalism. We get Hitler’s sinister 1920 programme for what became the Nazi party and Darwin’s theory of natural selection, enthusiastically adopted by Hitler a century later to justify extermination. Most people probably only have, at best, a sketchy idea of what these documents are about. This book rectifies that situation admirably.