DIGGING OUT (McGraw-Hill, $4.50), by ANNE RICHARDSON, is a first novel of considerable interest. Like most of its kind, it appears to contain a large element of autobiography, an impression reinforced by narrative in the first person. The book is unusual in that the narrator spends little time on her private concerns. She is busy, through most of the story, in describing the large, rich Jewish clan to which she belongs, and from which she intends to secede at the first opportunity. This is the normal first-novel theme of personal independence in the young protagonist, but it is presented objectively, like a case in court (the evidence being the history and habits of a gaggle of intolerable relatives), and therefore acquires an illusion of novelty. The book has faults — too many characters, some vaguenesses resulting from excessive condensation, and a mild naïveté about the non-Jewish world. The author, or narrator, attributes the misconduct of her kin to their Jewishness, when in truth any number of Gentile families own identical nuisances. But the book is energetic and intelligent, and Miss Richardson has the storyteller’s weapons of interest in people and an ability to order events for dramatic effect. She also writes well, except for the persistent substitution of “convince” for “persuade.” This bumble is so common that protest is probably useless; nevertheless, I raise my little outcry in the wilderness.
SURTSEY (Viking, $6.00) is an exciting small picture book about the volcanic island which was recently formed off Iceland. The text is by the geologist SIGURDUR THORARINSSON, who watched and studied the whole development of Surtsey, arriving on the scene within three hours of the first report of an eruption at sea and continuing his observations until plants, birds, and a seal had established themselves on the island. The building of an island has never before been so thoroughly reported. Most of the text is perfectly comprehensible to the nongeologist, some of it is terrifying, and some (like the row over naming the new property) is comic. The photographs make a bewitching fireworks display.
In HERCULANEUM (Crowell, $6.95), JOSEPH JAY DEISS makes a plea for some kind of international effort to deal with what has been described as “archaeology’s most flagrant unfinished business.” To account for his proposal, Mr. Deiss naturally describes what has been uncovered in limited and very difficult digging at Herculaneum, a town swamped in lava at the same time that Pompeii was buried under ash and pumice. Surprisingly, the rising lava was less destructive than the falling debris. Mr. Deiss’s loving descriptions of what has emerged at Herculaneum, plus the handsome photographs of bronzes and wall paintings, ought to convince any reader that excavation there should be continued.
Although written with a haste that has not improved the author’s usually adroit choice of adjectives, GERALD DURRELL’S TWO IN THE BUSH (Viking, $4.95) is amusing and full of information about the odd wildlife of New Zealand, Australia, and Malaya. Mr. Durrell was the naturalist member of a BBC team which whisked through these countries making a television film. Such a position entitles a man to cheerfully bigoted opinions on all sorts of things besides wallabies, and Mr. Durrell takes advantage of it to denounce official entertainment, liquor laws, and the legend of sunlit Australia and all those charming honey bears. The poor deluded visitor was well bled by an enraged koala and nearly froze to death on a possum hunt.

RALPH MALONEY’S THE GREAT BONACKER WHISKY WAR (Atlantic— Little, Brown, $4.95) is accurately billed as “an entertainment.” It is a novel about salty shenanigans during Prohibition, when our coasts were enlivened not merely by professionally criminal smugglers, but by an armada of sportive amateur rumrunners. They sometimes got in each other’s way. Mr. Maloney examines such an episode, gleefully recording the triumph of anarchy, improvidence, and local enterprise. It is his particular gift to describe, with a meticulous, deadpan precision that suggests slow-motion film, events of immense confusion occurring at lightning speed. The effect is very funny indeed.