"Human history," observes Professor David Abulafia in the introduction to his brilliantly panoramic, witty, wry and erudite book, "involves the study of the irrational as well as the rational. The roulette wheel spins and the outcome is unpredictable, but human hands spin the wheel."
Lady Caroline Lamb famously called Lord Byron "mad, bad and dangerous to know". How bad? How dangerous? These are the questions at the heart of Benjamin Markovits' trilogy about Byron. Perhaps the biggest surprise about Childish Loves is how different it is from the first two novels. How different and how much better.
There's a moment in Oz's new book of short stories when a woman comes into the village library and asks for a book by "the Israeli writer that everyone was talking about." There's a long waiting list: she might have to wait two months. "Two months?" she says. "In that time he'll have written another book."'
By Fred Burton and John Bruning Palgrave Macmillan, £16.99
An unsolved murder leads quickly to spies and secret agents, assassination, terrorism, obstructive officials and a doggedly persistent investigator. But Chasing Shadows, through thrilling, is not a thriller. Written by an expert in terrorism and a military historian, it is a factual account of actual events.
This book was dictated by Jan Karski to a bilingual (Polish-English) secretary in a Manhattan hotel room during the summer of 1944. It was published that November in the US and was an immediate best-seller. It is now published in the UK for the first time, a very worthy Penguin Classic.
Although more books are being published than ever before, it's not enough to write well and have led an interesting life for your memoir to end up in bookshops. You usually have to be famous, too, or at least have had a childhood mired in misery.
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is an unusual type of public intellectual. He is an outstanding teacher, with enormous personal authority; a more than prolific author; a source of advice for leading politicians; a moralist, a biblical and talmudic scholar and a philosopher.
Sitting on the train reading comedian Mark Thomas's book, Extreme Rambling: Walking Israel's Barrier, I'm approached by a young woman who wants to know where to get it. "I'm a fan," she says, "and so is my brother, who lives in Israel. I think it will be interesting, not that there'll be any surprises. He is so pro-Palestinian."