! Wagner by Michael Tanner, Flamingo pounds 6.99. For Wagnerian apologists, their man presents formidable problems, not least that he was an out-and- out Aryan supremacist. Of Parsifal, Tanner admits, there are those who feel the music "needs to be firmly separated from the repulsive drama": but isn't this an impossible task? Far from existing outside politics, the music-dramas stir Wagner's ugly world-view into a solvent of intensely skilful musical persuasion. The result, in Tanner's enthusiastic eyes, is an almost hallucinogenic hit, a "mixture of something like sex and religion", "the prolonged artistic equivalent of an orgasm". Considering the use of the Valkyries by US Marines in Vietnam, synthetic testosterone seems to be an ingredient. Another, if Tanner is right, must be equally addictive, something capable of removing all "the tortures of being a self". Tanner's apologia, like many of its kind, will play better to the converted than to the sceptical.

! The Psalm Killer by Chris Petit, Pan pounds 5.99. Divided cities, dirty wars, extortion rackets, unauthorised weaponry, madness: place these alongside a "normal" life of cornflake breakfasts and school-runs and you have the stock-in-trade of the thriller writer. Petit, for a long time a reviewer of the genre, has himself become an exponent with this highly readable story set in Belfast. Cross, his hero, is a familiar type - the emotionally restricted policeman who buries himself in work to avoid thinking about his disintegrating marriage. But the novel has a sure grasp of the city at the height of the 1980s violence, and is also willing to cast back and examine the roots of the conflict, finding personal greed and political machination as much as civil inequity. In this way Cross's professional round is shown in deep-focus as he tries to track a serial killer in a city poisoned by a cocktail of hatred, cordite and blood. Mixing fiction with fact (including the death of the protestant paramilitary leader Tommy Herron and a shadowy army figure called Baker) Petit has struck on a powerful way of telling the truth about cities like Belfast, where veracity is not so much a victim as a commodity traded in a secret marketplace.

! Companion to the Cosmos by John Gribbin, Phoenix pounds 11.99. Gribbin, one of our most prolific pop scientists, has a real, anorakless gift for putting over the fascination of science. This 600-pager is arranged alphabetically, from absolute zero to ZZ Ceti stars, and includes a timeline for the history of cosmic science. For browsing or reference it is a useful thing to have about the house, with abundant astronomical jargon that will impress your friends (blue stragglers, the free lunch universe, the Heinz soup parameter) as well as lucid mini-essays on astronomy and astrophysics and biogs of all the significant boffins.

! The House Guest by Barbara Anderson, Vintage pounds 6.99. English lecturer Robin Drumgoole gives up his thesis on "Henry James as the Unreliable Narrator" to set off on the posthumous trail of Alice O'Leary, a runaway American novelist who died in his native New Zealand. Literary sleuthing is a common enough theme in fiction but, in this case, the answer to the puzzle of why O'Leary's work dried up a decade before her death turns out to be woven into the texture of Robin's own life, giving an unusual integration between the sleuth and his quarry. Anderson herself is a highly reliable narrator, whose light, witty style ensures that her plot - though it revolves continually around grief and sudden loss - keeps clear of bathos and melodrama.

! Steven Spielberg: A Biography by John Baxter, HarperCollins pounds 8.99. Spielberg's name translates as "game-mountain", superbly appropriate to a man who has so made such gargantuan celebrations of the things he enjoyed as a kid. The name lies easily alongside those others among Kennedy's children (Gates, Madonna, Branson - complete your own list) in whom maverick personal style has combined with unprecedented drive towards global success. Baxter, already the successful biographer of Fellini, Ken Russell and Bunuel, has done his customary excellent job, making sense of Spielberg's childhood and early TV career, analysing the film successes and failures (especially 1941, which "I'll spend the rest of my life disowning") and detailing aspects of film making which publicity machines never spew out. Is Spielberg's art significant and enduring? For the moment, while he uses a forklift truck to count his money, the question seems hardly to matter. J G Ballard (who wrote Empire of the Sun, which SS filmed) called him the Puccini of film. That judgement sounds spot-on to me.

! Culture & Consensus: England, Art and Politics since 1940 by Robert Hewison, Methuen pounds 12.99. What is "the shaping moral medium of all social activities"? Once the readiest answer to this poser would have been religion; today we have the similarly abstract noun, culture. Using it, with all the brisk energy of an adult education lecturer, as a lens through which to scan postwar England, Hewison charts the shifting definitions of art- culture and the political battles fought over it, whether in the name of national identity, social equality, business opportunity or raw anarchy. He argues that in future we need a common and critical culture which is organic rather than commercially manufactured: not exactly a new position, nor a very clear one. But what Hewison's history does show is that, in replacing Thatcherite negation, we don't want a muddled compromise between Fifties paternalism and a time-diluted version of Sixties counter-culture. Chris Smith: please note.

Sun pours into a cistern at the fortress of Masada in Judea, defended by rebel Jews for three years after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD. The great excavation (1963-65) is vividly remembered by its chief archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, in Masada: Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand (Phoenix pounds 12.99)

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea