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19 August 2020

NS Recommends: new books from Helen Macdonald, Vincent Bevins and Loyd Grossman

Macdonald's Vesper Flights, Bevins's The Jakarta Method and Grossman's An Elephant in Rome.

By New Statesman

Vesper Flights
Helen Macdonald

Those who have read Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk will be familiar with her ability to weave together natural, cultural and personal history and to tease out the deeper meanings of our encounters with the wild. In this collection of essays, some of which were first published in this magazine, she applies her bright, sensitive prose to encounters with swifts and a solitary boar; to the magic of woods in winter or a chalk quarry dotted with glow-worms on a hot summer’s night. Her capacity for wonder is infectious.

Jonathan Cape, 272pp, £16.99

The Jakarta Method
Vincent Bevins

Drawing on archives and interviews, the American journalist Vincent Bevins has deftly chronicled the genocide of Indonesian communists in 1965, during which anywhere between 500,000 and one million were killed. Not only does Bevins show how the US funded and supported the army that directed the massacres, he also reveals how the methods of murder used across the archipelago were imitated by
right-wing governments in Latin America during the 1970s. Bevins’s book is a brilliant history of the Cold War told through global anti-communist violence. 

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PublicAffairs, 320pp, £22.99

An Elephant in Rome
Loyd Grossman

This breezy history by the pasta sauce entrepreneur Loyd Grossman tells the story of the collaborations between Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Pope Alexander VII. It takes as its centrepiece Bernini’s odd statue of an obelisk-supporting elephant sited just to the side of the Pantheon, but it is really an account of how a great patron and an even greater artist transformed 17th-century Rome. It is not all high art – for example, Bernini once slashed the face of an unfaithful (married) mistress with a razor. Nevertheless, the pope and his cultural impresario gave Rome a still visible grandeur.

Pallas Athene, 320pp, £19.99