Hope and history rhyme

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Vietnam: Conflict and Change in Indochina. By Alan Pollock. Oxford Pounds 7.

Crime and Punishment through Time. By Christopher Culpin. Collins Education Pounds 7.99.

Ireland: A Divided Island. By Tony Rea and John Wright. Oxford Pounds 6.50.

The American West 1840-1895. By Mike Mellor. Cambridge Pounds 8.95.

These four titles support GCSE second paper options: modern world study, enquiry in depth and development over time.

Students raised on Hollywood blockbusters such as Good Morning Vietnam and Platoon will certainly need Alan Pollock's survey of French colonial rule, the rise of nationalism and revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements.

Each stage of the war is chronicled with first-hand accounts, interviews and newspaper extracts, but Vietnam without Don McCullin's photographs seems incomplete. Few students will have timefor the research topics, but revision is well supported by review questions, role-plays and terminology checks. Teachers will need to adapt this detailed text to focus on key issues and events.

Christopher Culpin, as might be expected, does a thorough job on crime, punishment and protest with a narrative account from Hammurabi to Michael Howard and investigations of issues such as young offenders and discrimination. Although protest is not in the title, it is in the syllabus and explored in the narrative through focused accounts of movements such as Kett's rebellion and the Chartists.

Questions require the pupil to think through the dilemmas that such topics present and to use the sources and the information-rich text. However, the formal layout, lack of colour and photographs - whichlook either under or over-exposed - will not win Collins a design award, and could deter pupils.

Ireland: A Divided Island shows how colour can be an important tool in reinforcing understanding as well as stimulating interest, and is as important in reproducing the sombre hues of Keating's "Men of the South" as it is in presenting the posters, playbills and urban artwork from both traditions.

The narrative starts with Henry II's invasion in 1169 (a summary page on the early history would have been useful) and continues to the start of the talks which led to the Good Friday agreement. The chapter on the Portadown marches of 1996-97 is a good example of historical prescience. This well-sourced, readable study of strong personalities, social division and relentless killing appropriately ends with Seamus Heaney's epilogue on the time when "justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme".

Guns blaze away and buffalo stampede on almost every page of Mike Mellor's lively and superbly illustrated The American West 1840-1895. Mellor comments that the wildness of the West has been exaggerated and that the number of violent deaths, apart from Indian conflicts and massacres, was small. But between McArdle's ferocious Alamo and the Johnson County War there is an absorbing social history in which emigrants ate glue and toasted fur and dogs, sod-house families burned buffalo dung, miners found gold, and silicosis and railroad workers connected the Atlantic to the Pacific.

There is a vivid account of unspeakable wickedness when Chivington slaughtered 400 Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek. A slightly less gory chapter on the Mormons helps to explain why Utah is known as "the beehive state".

Profiles of mountain men, Sioux chiefs, lawmen and outlaws show the contrasting human qualities which make this subject such an appealing option for pupils.

Mark Williamson

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