Books: The NS Recommends

Geoff Dyer, Philip Oltermann and George Soros.

Zona: a Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room
Geoff Dyer
Canongate, 228pp, £16.99

The "film about a journey to a room" referred to in the subtitle of Geoff Dyer's new book is the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Released in 1979, Stalker takes us into the "Zone" (hence Dyer's title), a post-apocalyptic, post-industrial premonition of Chernobyl. Dyer writes that he initially planned to break the book up into 142 sections, corresponding to the 142 shots in the film ("a very low number of shots for a long film," he notes). But he "kept losing track of where one shot ended and another began".

The result is something altogether more digressive than he originally envisaged but that is more faithful to the experience of watching a film, integral to which is "forgetting and not noticing [things]".

Dyer is particularly sensitive to the discomforts that films can sometimes visit on the viewer. In one lengthy digression, he describes watching Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura as the "nearest I have ever come to pure cinematic agony".

Keeping Up With the Germans: a History of Anglo-German Encounters
Philip Oltermann
Faber & Faber, 320pp, £12.99

Philip Oltermann was born in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany and moved to England with his parents at the age of 15. He pitched up at a school in suburban Middlesex, where he soon learned an important truth about his classmates and, by extension, about the English: "Being 'pretentious' [is] the worst of crimes." He recounts this story in a chapter devoted to the two years the German philosopher Theodor Adorno spent at Merton College, Oxford. Adorno found that he had to conduct discussions of his work at a "child's level" and seems to have spent most of his time in Oxford asking the master of his college to print more of "those cards with the Merton blazon crest". This is one of eight "Anglo-German encounters" Oltermann discusses. Others include Kevin Keegan's tussle with Berti Vogts in the 1977 European Cup Final, Christopher Isherwood listening to Marlene Dietrich and the former Baader-Meinhof cadre Astrid Proll's anxiety at glimpsing Joe Strummer's Red Army Faction T-shirt.

Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States: Essays
George Soros
PublicAffairs, 208pp, £13.99

When George Soros began his career as a financier in the late 1940s, "banking and currencies," he writes, "were strictly regulated". Things began to change in the 1970s, with the gradual abandonment of the Bretton Woods system. The origins of the great crash of 2008 lie here, Soros argues. When the UK government intervened in 1975 to prevent unregulated "fringe banks" from endangering the existence of the major clearing banks, a pattern was set. That pattern was repeated in the autumn of 2008, when governments saved the global financial system from collapsing by putting it on "artificial life support". The problem, Soros thinks, is that the "imbalances" that grew during the long boom haven't been corrected and so "financial markets remain very far from equilibrium". Most economists are incapable of seeing this because they persist in believing that there are immutable laws governing the behaviour of markets, when this is, as Soros puts it, a "context-bound historical process".

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Boris vs Ken