Off the shelf

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 January, 1994, 12:00am

AUTOBIOGRAPHIES are notoriously fickle. Diana Ross' memoirs, Secrets of a Sparrow (Headline $205), contains few secrets. The woman who has been at the forefront of popular music since Where Did Our Love Go, her first hit single with the Supremes, was released in 1963, meanders around on a sentimental journey, unwilling to chase shadows. ''I have always had a gift of seeing the good bits. I had lots of fun. It was wonderful,'' she writes.

David J. Garrow's biography of the assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Bearing The Cross (Vintage $118) presents a great leader in all his valour and all his frailty. Mr Garrow, a professor of political science in New York has written two other books about King. He won the Pulitzer Prize for this mammoth work (800 pages in paperback).

Victoria Glendinning won the Whitbread Biography of the Year Award in 1992 for Trollope (Pimlico $85), now out in paperback. The Sunday Times of London called it the finest of the many lives of Anthony Trollope and made it one of its books of the year.

Less brilliant is The Warburgs (Chatto & Windus $295), Ron Chernow's heavyweight biographical saga of the pre-eminent Jewish banking dynasty in Germany earlier this century.

Mr Chernow has all the material at his disposal for an entertaining and enlightening work - drama, money, family feuds - but fails to present it with panache.

The Fate of the Elephant (Viking $298) by Douglas Chadwick is a report on the state of the world, or at least its natural dimension. It is an extensive account of one of the largest and cleverest creatures to have walked the planet and its clash with Man.

Deepak Chopra's self-help book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: A Practical Alternative to Growing Old (Rider $105) tries to explain how we can use what he says is the ''limitless potential'' of mind and body wisdom to realise our lives as fully as possible.

According to The Great Reckoning (Pan $136) the future for humankind is rather less hopeful. In this exploration of how the world will change before the year 2000, James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg foresee rocketing taxes, the collapse of the welfare state worldwide and the decriminalisation of many drugs to preserve social order.

Robin Cook, author of all those campy medical thrillers such as Coma, Fever, Mutation and Brain, is back in paperback with Terminal (Pan $72). This time a doctor finds a cure for cancer but is unwilling to share it with the world. A young medic investigates and finds the penalty for liberating the extraordinary findings is death.

Also out in paperback isEric Lustbader's Master of the Orient: The Kaisho (HarperCollins, $72) the latest in the author's series of Nicholas Linnear novels. Linnear is summoned to Venice and helps out his old friend Mikio Okami; but Okami has been keeping a terrible secret from Linnear.

Angel (HarperCollins $60) is the best-seller from Barbara Taylor Bradford - author of A Woman of Substance and To Be The Best, among others. Four friends swear allegiance to each other when they are young and go on to carve glittering careers for themselves. Until their lives are disrupted by a shadow from their shared past.