Paperbacks

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Where are the Renaissance minds of the 1990s? asks Robin Dunbar in his challenging collection of essays, The Trouble with Science (Faber Pounds 7.99). Where are the chemists and engineers who can quote Shakespeare? Where are the novelists who can understand Chaos theory? Professor Dunbar is concerned that the number of undergraduates studying science has been declining rapidly since the early 1980s, and that the rise of the anti-science lobby is impoverishing us economically and intellectually.

He argues persuasively that we must find ways to improve the "image" of science and make it more accessible. One solution, he suggests, would be to set up a sort of "scientific national service", in which all school-leavers would be expected to work for a while in a laboratory, or on a field study or conservation programme. He also says that the way science is taught in secondary schools should be radically changed, by concentrating on the "soft" sciences (such as animal behaviour, ecology, psychology) and leaving the mathematical and physical sciences to universities.

Professor Dunbar would no doubt be appalled that no scientists are included by Piers Brendon in his Eminent Edwardians (Andre Deutsch Pounds 9.99). Brendon traces the lives of four monumental personalities of the time. So we see Lord Northcliffe, the press magnate, earning a guinea a column for writing on subjects such as "Organ Grinders and Their Earnings"; Mrs Pankhurst rousing "the great spirit of women"; General Baden-Powell setting up camp on Brownsea Island; and Lord Balfour leading the initiative to create a promised land for the Jews.

A selection of crucial figures of the late 20th century might well include Doris Lessing, whose novels influenced a generation of women with their ever-questioning stance on the war between the sexes. In Putting the Questions Differently (Flamingo Pounds 7.99), Earl G Ingersoll has collected 30 years of interviews with this literary amazon. She talks about how she sent herself "mad" by starving and depriving herself of sleep for a couple of weeks - just to see what it felt like; and reveals herself to be a fan of Star Trek's Mr Spock.

Lessing has a reputation for being a "difficult" interviewee - but she is a mere lamb in comparison with the subject of Caroline Blackwood's The Last of the Duchess (Picador Pounds 5.99). Ms Blackwood set out in 1980 to talk to the Duchess of Windsor. What began as a newspaper profile turned into an obsession, and resulted in this most unusual book, less a biography than a dark and mysterious thriller cast in the mould of the ironic Dashiell Hammett.

"I looked out of the window. I couldn't believe it - it was as if a movie was going past me!" says one of Deborah Manley's fellow travellers on a boat up the Nile. Ms Manley's trip inspired her to produce The Nile: A Traveller's Anthology (Cassell Pounds 10.99), which takes us on a journey from Alexandria to Aswan and beyond, in the company of tourists as varied as Herodotus and Pliny, Cecil Beaton, Harriet Martineau (complete with ear trumpet) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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