Big issues made easy to grasp

8th September 1995 at 01:00
Global Issues, Violence in Society, By Nigel Smith - 0 7502 1512 7.

Terrorism, By Alison Jamieson, - 0 7502 1174 1.

United Nations - peacekeeper?, By Edward Johnson, - 0 7502 1172 5.

Genetic Engineering, By Jenny Bryan, - 0 7502 1171 7, Wayland Pounds 9. 99 each.

Age range 12 to 14.

The problem with most television news, nowadays the main source of information for young and old, is its preference for the here and now as opposed to a wider, more historical view. For the most part, the present seems severed from the past that made it, and we become bemused spectators at the parade that passes before us.

These four titles from the Global Issues series, intended for older children, should allay the tendency somewhat. In each case, the author takes an area of contemporary concern, offers a brief historical survey, and reviews recent developments. All the books contain copious pictures and, as well as frequent references to media coverage of relevant matters, there are numerous quotations and charts. Most important, though, is the writing: the authors have made every attempt to explain often fearsomely complex matters in the least complicated ways and, for the most part, they are entirely successful.

The exception here is United Nations - Peacekeeper? The author, focusing on the role of UN forces in such locations as the Middle East, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, stresses the constraints within which the troops work, and the compromises that invariably issue from these. Throughout, his analysis is sound, and his emphases (not least his hints that the United States is invariably ringmaster to the UN circus) thoroughly appropriate. But his language is occasionally rather difficult, and one is left with the impression that this subject is simply too tangled.

By contrast, the other three titles offer admirably accessible analyses. Alison Jamieson's Terrorism provides very readable accounts of the historical antecedents to such acts of banditry as the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the 1987 Enniskillen bombing, and she also encourages readers to question the language that is used to describe actions of which we disapprove or not: "If we think people are correct to use violence then we do not call them terrorists but 'freedom fighters', and talk about 'armed resistance'." Other difficult issues are confronted in prose that is always crisp, lucid and provocative.

Nigel Smith's Violence in Society and Jenny Bryan's Genetic Engineering share similar virtues. Like Jamieson, both authors explore pressing issues (with Smith, racial assaults and violence as entertainment, while Bryan concentrates on the moral arguments that underpin recent controversies on genetic engineering) in a style that simplifies but never condescends.

In an age in which many media products seem only too eager to do the opposite, these three books stand as models of their kind.

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