Glamorous war reporter’s memoir of danger and love

Bloomsbury, £16.99

JANINE Di Giovanni is statuesque: a voluptuous brunette, she seems to tower over most of her peers. She seems larger than life but this is not just a physical thing: for twenty years she reported on the world’s grizzliest wars, returning again and again to Bosnia, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. She has seen so much that, as she testifies flatly: “Everything evil can and will happen.” She’s also impossibly glamorous, having written four previous books and worked for Vanity Fair, the Times, and CNN.

This is her memoir. Half is about the strangeness of the two decades she spent burying herself among death and destruction. “The truth is, I was not afraid when I was in the middle of chaos. It was real life with its vast responsibilities and wells of insecurities that frightened me…Bills, pensions, marriage, divorce, loneliness, debt could not reach you in a bush or on a front line.” Indeed.

The other half, or more, is about her love affair with Bruno, a typically romantic-seeming French cameraman with whom she instantly fell in love (this phrase is used generously throughout) in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo in 1993.

But it wasn’t plain sailing. It took them nearly twenty years to settle down, to start a life together in a peaceful country, having lived and loved always amid serious danger – each of them often in different warzones. They broke up for years, got back together, finally moving in together in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast, where they stayed together until the Civil War of 2002 drove them apart again.

Di Giovanni writes about having a late pregnancy and childbirth after three miscarriages; her struggle to unite her and Bruno once and for all. She writes about motherhood, wifehood and love with elegance but I can’t help but feel she paints a glamorous, rather than a realistic picture. Or at least, it’s a study of two lives lived in danger, but where everything seems rose-tinted: Bruno’s “beautiful”, she is “beautiful”, so is their sprawling Paris flat and Abidjan house strewn with mangoes; they are always drinking wine and whisky and taking in exotic smells from local bakeries or neighbours cooking sensational things. In other words: the book reads a bit like a study in perfected middle class bohemianism.

Its saving grace is the truly extraordinary careers of its heroes: indeed, I’d rather have had more on how Di Giovanni went about becoming a senior correspondent, for example, and how it was as a woman in those warzones. I could have done with a bit less about what it was like bearing Bruno’s son, however beautiful he, she, and their child are since that story has surely been told – and well – countless times before.

Quercus, £14.99

ANDREW Cracknell makes a slightly lame attempt to jump aboard the Mad Men bandwagon here. The thing is, he had no need to use it as more than the most minor hook – for, as it turns out for those not in the know, the history of advertising, particularly the 1950s and 1960s in New York, is rich and fascinating.

It was in this period that Madison Avenue went through a revolution, whereby the business changed beyond all recognition, from shouty, haranguing “science-based” missives to creative, relaxed and deeply original campaigns. Cracknell here is asking how this creative revolution happened and why, and spent two years interviewing the surviving big shots of that time.

The stars of the explosion were Bill Bernbach and his team of outsiders (including women and beatniks) who hit the big time with their company Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), which famously worked with Volkswagen. Selling Hitler’s car to post-war America took brains and guts. “The only common denominator in our ads,” said Bernbach, “is that each one has a fresh idea.”

Far more than just a look at ads, this is as good a history of a period of American history as any.

Bloomsbury, £20

IS it annoying that a mission to find out what makes the people of the Italian hilltop town of Campodimele radiate vitality into their 80s and 90s turns into a dewy eyed account of fresh, hand-picked vegetables and fragrant local stews?

Yes. Of course. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rather a juicy read, like so much food writing.

Known as “the village of eternal youth”, the central Italian mountaintop village has attracted significant scientific interest. The key to the longevity of its inhabitants, says Lawson, involves olive oil and great tomatoes, picked with love and care.

It’s a nicely written book though, and might even inspire you to start your own vegetable patch, even if you can’t up sticks and join the oldies in Campodimele.