15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 39

Nicholas Harman

Patrick O'Brian's The Yellow Admiral (HarperCollins, £6.99), perfect for bed- time, drove me back addicted to earlier books in his learned, cranky saga. Orlando Figes' A People's Tragedy: The Russian Rev- olution 1892-1925 (Pimlico, £12.50) was not a cheerful read, but helped me to be a little less baffled by what is going on there now. Equally, I felt I learned a lot about modern Africa from In My Father's House by Kwame Anthony Appiah (OUP), a fas- tidious Asante professor and grandee who is grandson to Sir Stafford Cripps. Cecil Woodham-Smith's relentless The Great Hunger was right for the 150th anniversary of the terrible Irish famine. The great Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty (Penguin, £4.99) is a hilarious fable about how good stories do not make good movies — a point they proved by making a bad movie of it. The Collins Field Guide to Trees of Britain and Northern Europe, by Alan Mitchell (£14.99), gave botanical roots to my new oak plantation.