Paperbacks

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Books about television news tend to fall into two groups. There are those written from outside the business which tend to see distortion in every edit and those written from inside which celebrate its triumphs. Despite Geoffrey Cox's undisputed objectivity as a journalist, his Pioneering Television News (John Libbey Pounds 15) is very much in the latter camp.

Although it puts the birth of ITN in its context of cinema newsreels and BBC Television's then woeful news service, it concentrates almost exclusively on the development of ITN and especially Sir Geoffrey's own time as the company's editor (1956-68) which saw the founding of News at Ten.

Yes, ITN did do much to revolutionise the business of newsgathering and to demolish an unhealthy deference to politicians but this remains a partial (if well-told) story. Despite its being an updated version of an earlier book, it still says nothing about the threat to News at Ten from populist schedulers nor anything about the programme's own lurch towards a tabloid style.

Less technical but equally complex forms of communication are explored by John Edwards in his Multilingualism (Penguin Pounds 7.99). If parts will be of interest mainly to students of language and linguistics, the chapter on education should be read by everyone teaching in a multilingual or multicultural school.

Professor Edwards considers the relationship between language and culture, the issues of pluralism and assimilation and also the matter of language and gender. Women's speech is apparently "more standard" than men's ("Perhaps they are less socially secure than men") but men hesitate more than women, are more likely to swear and to drop their h's.

The defeat of Giant Ignorance was one of the main aims of the founders of the welfare state. Their other battles were against Giants Want, Disease, Squalor and Idleness and the story of that post-war campaign to banish those ogres for all time is told by Nicholas Timmins in his "biography" of the welfare state The Five Giants (Fontana Pounds 9.99). It is a detailed account but its strong narrative thrust helps the reader along. A story of idealism and realities, it usefully shatters several myths held at both ends of the political spectrum.

One of the other great post-war revolutions (and one mercifully not yet undone) has been the destruction of Afrikaner-controlled apartheid. "The inside story of South Africa's negotiated revolution" is told by the campaigning Cape journalist Allister Sparks in his Tomorrow is Another Country (Mandarin Pounds 6.99).

While properly lauding Mandela's diplomacy and triumph, he also salutes the extraordinary steps taken by F W de Klerk not least in his Rubicon speech in 1990 which unbanned the black liberation movements and reversed 300 years of history.

Mandela might so easily have been in prison for life. Eighteen Americans justly incarcerated are the subjects (and interviewees) in The Violence of Our Lives by Tony Parker (HarperCollins Pounds 7.99). He introduces us to the woman who killed and then set fire to her pimp, the violent pederast, numerous street killers, brutal husbands . . . It is a vivid, important, sorry document and (in its resolutely non-judgmental attitude) disturbing.

It is a relief to turn to The Atlas of Sacred Places, a huge and lavish large-format paperback by James Harpur (Cassell Pounds 14.99). Similar illustrated guides to the Holy Land exist in quantity: I have not before seen such an excellent one-volume guide to the holy places of all the major world faiths. And besides Varanasi, Jerusalem and Mecca, we are also shown Megalithic sites, temples of the Greek gods and places sacred to the original inhabitants of the Americas and Australia. It is not only a sumptuous and useful book: it succeeds in performing a rare trick. It communicates the mystery of faith.

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