Issue section: 

Flushing out the detox books - Why civilisations collapse - Sharon and My Mother-in-Law - Profiting from Iraq - US politicians - Ursula Le Guin - Paul Foot on the vote

January is traditionally not a good time for new books. Publishers reason that we will be miserable at being back at work with enormous post-Xmas debt and having grossly over-indulged. Well, we could all do with a good clear out. Over 1 million detox books have been sold in Britain. Go through your house and presents. Find them in your bathroom, under the sofa, on the coffee table and maybe even lurking in your recipe books. Bag them all up with any stray sweet wrappers and tinsel that the cat has been worrying for weeks, and chuck them out. You'll feel better.

In Collapse (Allen Lane £20) Jared Diamond, author of the excellent Guns, Germs and Steel (Vintage £8.99), investigates why civilisations collapse. He argues that environmental crises underpinned the failure of societies such as the Mayans in Mexico, Easter Island and the Viking colonisers in Greenland. We have the technology now to extrapolate from these experiences and correct the worst damage before it kills us. OTHERWISE WE'RE ALL DOOMED!

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law (Granta £12.99) by Suad Amiry is a very funny diary kept during the occupation of Ramallah in March 2002. It's full of the minutiae of neighbourhood life, shopping and gossip, being trapped with her relations and the insanity of finding that her dog needed a passport to go to Jerusalem but that unlike so many Palestinians the dog could get one.

Since Sharon and Bush are so close I will have to mention just one little book about Iraq. Iraq Inc.: a Profitable Occupation (Seven Stories £7.99) highlights an aspect of the war that may have escaped people who don't share their vision of a safer world. It is fairly common knowledge that most of the money for reconstruction in Iraq is actually going to mercenaries to protect assorted parasites and collaborators but there's lots more potential here. If you're supplying the troops with thousands of dinners why not claim for millions of dollars? I mean dinners. There is still room for the mind to boggle.

In Bushwacked (Allison & Busby £7.99) three times Pulitzer Prize finalist Molly Ivins points out how destructive Bush has been for working class Americans since he became governor of Texas. Who Let the Dogs in? Incredible Political Animals I Have Known (Allison & Busby £7.99) is a collection of essays about some of America's most powerful politicians of the last 20 years, who seem collectively to be hell-bent on proving the old adage that anyone who's capable of getting themselves elected is not fit to hold office.

For fans of Ursula Le Guin there is a smaller, cheaper paperback version of Changing Planes (Gollancz £6.99) Her heroine, Sita Dulip, 'while stuck in an airport unable to go anywhere, discovers how to change planes - literally. With a twist and a slipping bend, easier to do than describe, she could go anywhere - be anywhere because she was already between planes.' In an age of being fingerprinted on holiday and taking your shoes off to get on a plane at all, this sounds like light relief.

Look out next month for Paul Foot's The Vote, How it was Won and How it was Undermined (Viking). There should be plenty of time for any aspiring Iraqi politicians to learn its lessons before they get to go to the polls.

In last month's Bookbriefs we suggested that Harold Pinter wrote teaching resources. This should have read Harold Rosen. Socialist Review would like to point out that this was our mistake not Sarah Ensor's.