London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing, by Travis Elborough, Jonathan Cape, RRP£14.99, 277 pages
Travis Elborough’s debut charted London’s love affair with the double-decker bus. His latest book sheds light on a similarly eccentric story: the sale of London Bridge in 1971 to a flamboyant US oil baron and chainsaw magnate.
The bridge’s journey from rainy London to dust-dry Lake Havasu City began in 1967, when the Corporation of London put it up for sale. Built in 1831 with posterity in mind, the bridge, made from 130,000 tons of granite, was already sinking by the 1960s. Britain was emerging from postwar austerity and there was a strong desire to sweep away “ugly Victoriana”. Along came Robert P McCulloch, who wanted the bridge as the centrepiece for a city he was building in the desert.
The amassing of detail could have killed this book, but Elborough includes just enough history, anecdote and cultural reference. Indeed, as he writes, “the most absurd things work perfectly wonderfully when combined in the right places”.
Review by John Sunyer
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, by Mei-Ling Hopgood, Macmillan, RRP£12.99, 304 pages
As a Taiwanese-American mother living in Argentina, Mei-Ling Hopgood found herself facing a dilemma: in Buenos Aires, where “late nights are in the city’s cultural genes”, should she follow the lead of local friends and take her daughter, Sofia, out to restaurants and parties until midnight (or beyond), or stick to the “bed-by-8pm” regime favoured by most Americans? This was the prompt for How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, Hopgood’s investigation into parenting practices around the world.
Each chapter examines an indigenous tradition at odds with western child-rearing methods, from the hands-on dads of the Aka Pygmies (who offer their nipples as a stand-in for mum) to the buggy-free lives of babies in Nairobi.
Entertaining and thought-provoking, if a little predictable in its conclusion, this is a liberating read for any parent bogged down by western parenting advice.
Review by Sally Raikes