MIS­CEL­LANY

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - TONY MANIATY

Pi­geons: The Fas­ci­nat­ing Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Re­viled Bird By Andrew D. Blech­man Univer­sity of Queens­land Press, 239pp, $ 32.95 PI­GEONS were the an­cient world’s equiv­a­lent of email: the Greeks sent Olympic re­sults through them to city- states and Julius Cae­sar used them dur­ing his mil­i­tary cam­paigns. Andrew Blech­man’s sweep­ing study shows the much den­i­grated pi­geon not as the de­spoiler of na­tional mon­u­ments but as an ex­tra­or­di­nary fly­ing ma­chine able to stay aloft for 16 hours, and still used in un­der­cover ac­tiv­ity, from drug smug­gling to war­fare. ‘‘ Iraqi in­sur­gents,’’ he re­ports, ‘‘ rely heav­ily on pi­geons to ferry clan­des­tine in­for­ma­tion.’’ The Pol­i­tics of Heaven: Amer­ica in Fear­ful Times By Earl Shor­ris W. W. Nor­ton, 371pp, $ 37.95 ‘‘ DEMOC­RACY is an old and dis­or­derly way of go­ing about life,’’ Earl Shor­ris be­lieves, ‘‘ best when it moves slowly.’’ And, as the Athe­ni­ans knew, when it in­volves lots of dis­cus­sion. Yet in the US, ‘‘ the long siege of rea­son­able di­a­logue’’ is now seen as ‘‘ an im­ped­i­ment to gov­ern­ing and un­nec­es­sary to pol­i­tics’’. In­stead, guided by Ge­orge W. Bush’s ‘‘ sim­plis­tic mes­sianic mind­set’’, says Shor­ris in this wide- rang­ing and provoca­tive text, yes- or- no po­si­tions re­duce crit­i­cal de­bates to talk­back rightor- wrong rants. GOOD­BYE, rural Provence: now Morocco gets the home re­storer’s dream turned night­mare lit­er­ary treat­ment. Part­ners Suzanna Clarke and Sandy McCutcheon buy a di­lap­i­dated Arab- style riad, or court­yard house, in Fez (‘‘ What a ter­ri­bly 19th- cen­tury thing to do,’’ says a friend) and tackle sewer lines, beg­gars and ‘‘ preg­nant bel­lies’’: bulging, damp walls. ‘‘ An­noy­ingly per­fec­tion­ist’’ Clarke (‘‘ the Ce­cil B. De Mille of the show’’) su­per­vises the job while of­fer­ing a brisk com­men­tary on the pit­falls and plea­sures. A House in Fez: Build­ing a Life in the An­cient Heart of Morocco By Suzanna Clarke Vik­ing, 293pp, $ 49.95 Don’t Men­tion the War: The Bri­tish and the Ger­mans Since 1890 By John Rams­den Aba­cus, 444pp, $ 27.95 DE­SPITE the en­tan­gle­ment of their an­ces­tries, the Bri­tish and Ger­mans en­tered the 20th cen­tury with high mu­tual sus­pi­cions. ‘‘ We must go for the Ger­mans,’’ urged the Bri­tish mil­i­tary at­tache in Ber­lin, ‘‘ or they will go for us later.’’ The 1904 An­glo- French en­tente didn’t help, John Rams­den notes in his lively his­tory, and nor did Ger­many’s naval build- up, which led to a flood of in­va­sion nov­els ( in­clud­ing Ersk­ine Childers’s clas­sic The Rid­dle of the Sands ), many of which painted the Ger­mans as blood­thirsty and du­plic­i­tous.

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