Cover Stories: Robert Harris; 20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century; Reading groups continue to thrive

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The Independent Culture

*Innumerable politicians turned out to the Terrace Bar at the Commons to help launch Imperium, the latest Roman fiction by the former political editor Robert Harris. Tony Blair's pollster Philip Gould, Lord Gould of Brookwood, was there, with his wife Gail Rebuck, chief executive of Harris's publishers Random House - currently in a wheelchair with a badly broken ankle. Having stood up to make a brief speech, she managed a nervous laugh when Harris said that all political lives ended in tears. No doubt a seven-figure cheque for his memoirs would assuage Blair's grief - but there are rumours that he will desert Rebuck to take the Murdoch shilling via HarperCollins.

*Haus Publishing, founded by Barbara Schwepke, is embarking on a new biographical series: 20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century. Haus has hit on a ruse to ballot each party conference to decide on the best PM. Delegates will be handed Haus's magazine and, with it, a coded ballot paper, so that it will be possible to check party loyalty. Given their mood, it seems unlikely that Labour members will vote for Blair - but perhaps the Tories might. Roy Hattersley writes on Liberal Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Dr Denis MacShane MP on Edward Heath, and Clare Beckett on the blessed Margaret. The series is edited by Francis Beckett, who takes on Macmillan.

*Reading groups continue to thrive, with Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner named as Penguin/Orange Reading Group Book of the Year. And today the Parish Reading Group, 10 women from the Leicester villages of Goadby and Marwood, is named Group of the Year. Their prize includes a visit by the author Marina Lewycka. Runner-up was the 100-strong Wivenhoe Bookshop Group in Essex.

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