The Scotsman

Books in brief

Reviews by MICHAEL KERRIGAN

THE UNFOLDING OF LANGUAGE *****
BY GUY DEUTSCHER (Heinemann, 20)

THIS sprightly introduction to historical linguistics reveals the complexities the least articulate of us masters in a lifetime, and the number of ways the world's societies have found to skin a communicative cat. From Hittite to Hungarian, languages evolve in utter haphazardness yet still manage to function like well-oiled machines. The precondition of all human endeavour, languages are our greatest invention, says Deutscher - except, of course, that no-one actually invented them. This is, by its nature, not always easy reading, but Deutscher does a remarkable job in a book which is full of lively interest.

AUGUSTINE, SINNER AND SAINT ****
BY JAMES J O'DONNELL (Profile, 25)

"I HAD become a mystery to myself ..." The inaugurator of a long, lurid tradition of spiritual struggle, Augustine has been more of a mystery to us than is generally realised. His views are often travestied, says O'Donnell - although in some areas (such as predestination) he was every bit as uncompromising as his caricature. He was also a mover and shaker, by no means entirely felicitously. This absorbing new biography makes sense of a fascinating life and a complex, often confused posterity.