23 DECEMBER 1972, Page 19

Late gift books

Mysterious Britain Janet and Colin Bord (Garnstone Press £5.90) Some marvellous photographs together with a somewhat eccentric text describe, rather than solve, the mysteries of some of the principal stone monuments, earthworks, and 'leys ' (straight lines, or lays,' on maps, apparently joining earthworks, stone monuments and, often, church sites) of the British Isles. A good deal of archaeological knowledge and speculation is mixed up with notions of telekinesis and the 'impressions' formed in the head of ' psychometrist ' Olive Pixley when she stood on some of the more celebrated prehistoric sites of the country. Warmly recommended for those who love the land and whose imagination is made lively by contemplation of druidic circles, Arthurian legend, Lyonnesse, hill carvings and so forth. Those who have an open mind on such matters as flying saucers and the Loch Ness monster will also receive comfort and pleasure from the Bords' book. It is most convincing in one respect: that there is a great deal that is unexplained and odd about the past in these islands, and that the pre-Roman time was not necessarily savage at all. G.S.G.

Three Centuries of Furniture in Colour H. D. Molesworth and John KenworthyBrowne (Michael Joseph £7.50) This is an adaptation for English readers of an original Italian work, II Mobile net Secoli by Alvar Gonzalez Palacios, from which all the illustrations have been taken. This detracts from its value; for although there were constant interactions in taste, and especially in interior decorations and furnishings, between the European countries, Britain and the United States in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, in general the various differences of national traditions and expressions in furniture are of more interest than secular classifications. This may sound excessively churlish. The two authors of the English text have selected a good deal of English furniture for illustration. Once again, the restraint of the best English furniture of the eighteenth century shows to advantage when set alongside the frequently excessively luxurious vulgarities of much continental work. Some may dispute this view. What is indisputable is that workmanship that we see illustrated here, and the demand for the ornate for the ornate's sake which sustained that workmanship, have now both gone. It expired in Hollywood, I suppose; but fortunately the book stops around 1860 (by which time the English taste was as unrestrained as the continental: as the clever juxtaposition of a splendidly vulgar English cabinet and mirror with the contemporary bedroom suite of Queen Isabella II makes clear). For those who love rich furniture, a book to set them drooling. G.S.G.

American Civilisation Edited by Daniel J. Boorstin (Thames & Hudson £8.40) Thirteen essays, 565 illustrations, 426 photographs, engravings and maps. Very pleasant to romp through the illustrations, which demonstrate (as if we didn't know) the huge vitality and diversity of the United 'States. There are some splendid old posters, photographs and paintings: marvellous evocations of such periods as the 1860s and the 1920s. The essays are altogether more pedestrian; and the book certainly doesn't live up to its title; come to that, how could it? But for what it is — a lavish, hard-backed magazine of bits and pieces of American life and manners — great fun. It is not really to be taken too seriously, not will it be (except, perhaps, by one of two of its more solemn contributors, such as Harold Rosenberg, whose essay 'Aesthetic America, The Problem of reality,' is a notable example of the kind of stuff that is written by someone who really thinks the emperor is wearing clothes). Daniel J. Boorstin's introduction does not exactly inspire confidence, either: "Among the many themes that emerge from this thirteen-part inventory, at least two might command the special interest of the student of civilisations. They are Transformation and Popularisation." To use one of the more vigorous phrases of American civilisation, Oh yeah? G.S.G.

Westminster Abbey A. L. Rowse, George Zarnecki, John Pope-Hennessy, with Prologue by John Betjeman and Epilogue by Kenneth Clark (The Annenberg School Press, with Weidenfeld & Nicolson £10) This is the book which Walter Annenberg, the present American Ambassador in London, has had made. He writes, "In the early months of my tour of service in this country I found Westminster Abbey to be a sanctuary of peace and comfort. . . . It became my overwhelming ambition to honour what to me is a debt of gratitude." This book certainly honours that debt. It is beautifully designed by George Daulby, photoset by BAS Printers Limited, Wallop, Hampshire, and printed—lamentably not in England—in Italy by Amilcare Pizzi. It is a coffee-table book (for a sound coffee-table); and it is Ambassador Annenberg's act of piety; and it is a most handsome production. It might well have been nothing more (and nothing the worse for that) but the Illustrations are finely chosen; and the text, particularly A. L. Rowse's substantial essay on 'The Abbey in the history of the Nation,' lifts it into a different category altogether. It is commemorative, and it does what Annenberg wanted it to do. The great Benedictine abbey, founded by Edward the Confessor, is well-served. I have one quibble. Who edited this large book, who put it together? At the end, under Acknowledgments, it is written "The author and publishers would like to thank . . ." Who is this unknown author? Who did the work, producing this great and handsome work? I can find no sign, no name, of someone to praise. G.S.G.

The Mediterranean Richard Carrington (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 3.75) Not to be confused, of course, with Fernand Braudel's epic work of sixteenth-century history; nor, either, with any of the holiday-makers' guides that doubtless share the same succinct title, though Richard Carrington's book is, in a sense, an extension of this latter category. Mr Carrington explores the ancient world historically, geographically, geologically, zoologically, only to illuminate its visible remains in the modern world. His evocations are loving but light. This is a sort of " mid-way " book (beautifully and lavishly illustrated; Ithaca, home of Ulysses pictured on the front of the dustjacket, the ruins of Leptis Magna on the back), to be read ideally after a first visit to the scenes of the old Roman and Greek civilisations and before returning with a mind prepared and open to further inquiry. K.H.

Shiva's Pigeons Jon and Rumer Godden (Chatto and Windus £5). The Godden sisters and Stella Snead the photographer pool their considerable knowledge of India to produce a beautiful and profoundly informative series of reflections upon the Indian people, their customs and the land they live in, interpreted within the framework of the Hindu religion. An outstandingly good introduction to the sub-continent for some; -for others a fascinating reminder. C.H.