30th March 2001 at 01:00
CITIZEN GUIDES: What Happens in a Law Court. By Dan Lambeth. What Happens in a Town Hall. By Simon Adams.

What Happens at an Election. By Simon Adams. What Happens in the Stock Exchange. By Soraya Moeng. Watts pound;11.99 each.

It's always healthy to examine the enigmatic institutions by which the country is run. This series throws some light on arcane practices and provides young readers, aged between 10 and 14, with insights into the society they are soon to inherit.

The books all work in a similar way. They start with a brief but effective guide to historical context. Tracing the computerised dealings of the international markets back to the activities of brokers in 17th-century coffee houses is helpful and gives perspective.

So, too, wit the intricacies of the legal system; hearing how courts take some of their language as well as their formative ideas from customs and developments in Norman England is to understand why things are as they are and how they might be reformed.

The final section makes international comparisons. Our ways of doing things are contrasted with those in Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan.

In between, the books emphasise the "what happens" of their titles - we are taken through an election and a company flotation.

A discerning mixture of photographs and diagrams, with glossaries that will inform teachers and pupils, complete the books. They are not that spectacular but they fulfil their informative purpose well.

Tom Deveson

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