The bravest polemicist of them all

Alex Deane
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The World turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power
by Melanie Phillips
Encounter, £13.99

Melanie Phillips is one of the most important public intellectuals in Britain today. Her trenchant columns speak for a significant tranche of people in our country who feel themselves cut adrift from “mainstream” thinking, left with the uneasy sense that it’s the (so-called) mainstream that’s wrong, but without the ability to point to evidence for that conclusion beyond common sense.

In this important book, Phillips sets out to arm like-minded thinkers with that ammunition. The key to her effort in aiming for that end, which she emphatically achieves, is her dispassionate and objective approach to each issue she tackles. From the Israel/Palestine question to global warming, from the cult of Obama to the Iraq war, at each turn she dissects the given wisdom held by the so-called “intelligentsia” and holds it up to verifiable facts.

In each case, the soft-left intellectual consensus she analyses is revealed to be based on assertion and puff, rather than facts – the success of which has been distorting our public life immeasurably. Phillips reveals telling links between the muddle-headed and the ill-intentioned – between left-wing “progressives”, environmentalists and fascists, militant atheists and fanatical religious believers – and she rightly laments the power of self-appointed “victim groups” who have turned right and wrong inside out in Britain, using their “right” not to be insulted in any way as a positive weapon against our increasingly cowed population. Political correctness has no more powerful critic than Phillips – not because she speaks more loudly than others, but because she thinks more clearly.

Phillips is the inheritor of an identifiable and admirable tradition of robust writing on the broad right of politics – both her approach and her conclusions would be embraced, by example, by William F Buckley Jnr, who said (using “liberals” in the American sense) that “liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” That is precisely the problem with Britain’s cultural discourse today, and it is precisely what Phillips skewers so gratifyingly and so well. Alex Deane

Alex Deane is a barrister and director of Big Brother Watch think tank.

The Last Letter From Your Lover
by Jojo Moyes
Hodder, £12.99

This paper does not always look kindly on pink-jacketed pieces of chick lit. But Moyes is that delicious thing: a chick lit authoress more interested in how things are than in Hallmark card-style cliché. Consequently this book, inspired by a dangerously corny topic, is far better than it sounds – and looks. Indeed, hauled in right away by the oh-too-real scenario of friends analysing inconclusive text messages from a married cheater over a few drinks, you’ll be glued to it right through.

The story alternates between journalist Ellie – who stumbles upon a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Jennifer, the letter’s recipiemt.

The latter wakes up in hospital after a car accident in 1960 and can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends or anything. Then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for. Delicious? Certainly. Tear-jerking? You’ll see. Zoe Strimpel

The Phantoms of Breslau
by marek krajewski
Maclehose, £17.99

IT’S not every day that one encounters interwar Polish noir written with literary flair by one of Europe’s best crime writers. British readers are more likely to have heard of Henning Mankell’s Wallander or Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander than Marek Krajewski’s Eberhard Mock. But not for long – the whorehouses and prisons, aristocratic mansions and hovels, debauchery and violence of this dark European setting can’t but entrance.

This is the vice-loving Mock’s third outing. When he arrives at the scene to investigate the hideously battered bodies of four young sailors, he finds a note addressed to himself, asking him to confess his sins and become a believer. As he tries to understand what the note means, and to piece together the brutal crime by combing the brothels and dens of the city, he is drawn into a sinister game – everyone he questions in his investigation becomes the murderer’s next victim.

Juicy and macabre, this is a book that will make a lasting impression, and brilliantly paints a portrait of a city and time that is atmospheric and odd. ZS