Book reviews roundup

On China by Henry Kissinger, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge and The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama

"The problem with Kissinger's account is that, in his zeal to convey China's 'singularity', his book comes alarmingly close to reading like an official Communist party version of the country's history." Frank Dikötter in the Sunday Times was alarmed at the omissions in Henry Kissinger's On China, not least the invasion of Tibet. "It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Kissinger is extraordinarily blinkered and apologetic about the People's Republic . . . An unabashed self-promoter, he clearly wishes to take advantage of the current interest in China to safeguard his place in history, but the book has neither the intimacy and directness of a memoir nor the balance and depth required of a more scholarly study." In the Telegraph, George Walden, a witness to the cultural revolution, was surprised that "Kissinger offers no definitive judgment on Mao's domestic policies". He concluded that the book "will satisfy neither America's sinophobes nor its panda-huggers (as sentimentalists about China are called)". According to Jack Straw in the Times, Kissinger's mission is "sympathetically to explain China's development and contemporary challenges . . . it is hard to resist the sense that this in part is because of an unwillingness to offend".

"It is a pleasure to record that The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress ranks among the finest of Bainbridge's fine works of fiction. The narrative is by turns sombre, terrifying and hilarious." Paul Bailey in the Independent argued that Beryl Bainbridge's posthumously published "road novel", set on the freeways of America in 1968, "reads like a summation" of her art: "It is carefully constructed, as always, but there is a sense in which the author is returning to her roots." For AN Wilson in the Spectator, the novel is "very gripping, very funny and deeply mysterious. She has abandoned the oblique historical miniatures with which her last decade had been occupied . . . and she has returned to that vein of comedy in which a self-projection becomes caught up in a series of grotesque, fantastical events . . . Beryl Bainbridge is an immortal." Derwent May in the Times agreed the "atmosphere of Bainbridge's early books returns in this last novel. What conclusion did Beryl intend? . . . We are left with a fascinating book that is like a new Mystery of Edwin Drood – and will no doubt offer as much work to imaginative scholars as Dickens's unfinished novel has done."

"It is as well to be clear at the outset that this book is a tour de force, readable, well-informed and provocative. It supplies a coherent, sustained and challenging narrative of the whole of human history up to the eve of the late 18th-century age of revolutions." Robin Blackburn, in the Independent, was taken with Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order: the author's "criteria have an undeniably conservative bent, but since he is focusing on the requirements of order, this has a certain logic". The Spectator's Vernon Bogdanor was straightforward and positive", hailing a magisterial work by an influential scholar, drawing on massive research in the social sciences as well as history and evolutionary biology." For Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times, "Anyone who wants to understand why China has been especially resistant to the liberal-democratic virus" will find the book "indispensable". "Fukuyama has slightly toned down his Whiggish claims about the inevitable triumph of liberal democracy, just at the moment when a part of the world hitherto written off as almost immune to that trend has burst into a series of pro-democracy uprisings."

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