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In brief: The World Before Us; Cunning Women; When Time Stopped – reviews

Alexander Larman
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images

The World Before Us

Tom Higham
Viking, £20, pp296

It is received wisdom that humanity is descended from the Neanderthals, and that they were the only prehistoric humanoid race. As archaeology professor Tom Higham convincingly argues in this fascinating and deeply researched book, this is a simplification of the facts that verges on the misleading. Instead, Higham draws on new information to describe a previously unknown race of humans – the Denisovans – and their contemporaries, an eclectic variety of beings who include, wonderfully, a tiny island-dwelling race known as “the hobbits”. Higham conveys the thrill of archaeological discovery eruditely and accessibly.

Cunning Women

Elizabeth Lee
Windmill, £14.99, pp368

In 1620s Lancashire, Sarah Haworth and her family are believed to be “cunning”, a euphemism for witches. Their neighbours publicly shun them while privately seeking their counsel and medical expertise. Yet the Pendle witch trials, organised by the zealous forces of the patriarchal law, seek to expose anyone “other”, and so Sarah and those she loves are confronted with a terrifying reckoning. Elizabeth Lee’s debut novel is timely in its depiction of hysteria and persecution, and beautifully evokes a historical period poised between dark ignorance and long-overdue enlightenment.

When Time Stopped

Ariana Neumann
Scribner, £8.99, pp353

Ariana Neumann’s memoir is based around a simple but vital question: how far can we really know our own families? When her father, Hans, died, he left behind a collection of papers that led her to discover his past as a Czechoslovakian Jew, and the extraordinarily resourceful manner in which he escaped the deportation and murder that befell most of his family. Neumann’s father presented himself as a willing collaborator, while taking care to sabotage the German war effort from within. This fascinating and moving book is a fine testament to him.

To order The World Before Us, Cunning Women or When Time Stopped go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply