As our environment gets ever more colourful, are we the beneficiaries of a revolution in style or the victims of visual pollution? Michael Lancaster's Colourscape (Academy Editions pounds 21.95) uses perception studies, landscape architecture and sociology to probe the effects of all this brilliance. Above: Norman Foster's elegant buttercup-yellow Renault building, Swindon

Cross Channel by Julian Barnes, Picador pounds 5.99. If only we and the French were more alike, Britain's imagination would begin to have room for the rest of the world. But polarisation starts at Calais, where the English are so sharply stung by difference that France at once becomes the essence of abroad, the indispensible reference point for national identity. This is the role she plays in these stories of past and present: each, in its way, is a boundary flag outlining English regard for that country where cricket is not so much unplayed as unthinkable, British cultural giants are practically anonymous, sex is a sport and sport an intellectual pursuit. In an illuminating passage from the final tale - itself a summation of what has gone before - a Barnes alter ego stands xenophobia on its head, musing that other countries "existed to supply idealism: they were a version of pastoral". Barnes is shot through with like cleverness; his words glide through landscapes of ideas as easily as a hand-built Rolls-Royce cruises along a ruler-straight, cypress-lined route nationale.

Tchaikovsky by Anthony Holden, Bantam pounds 9.99. For no composer of the classical/romantic era was sex so disastrous. A committed homosexual, Tchaikovsky was - in the predominant though not universal modern view - unable to square the idea of himself as a public figure with his addiction to sordid, impersonal gay sex. The attempted cure, marriage to a fruit- cake called Antonina Milyukova, plunged the composer into the comic-heroic misery that provoked Ken Russell into making The Music Lovers. In the end, sex almost certainly killed Tchaikovsky. Holden gives extensive detail of the self-appointed "court of honour" of old classmates who, 34 years after they had all gone out into the world, ordered the composer to kill himself for the good name of the old school. This, Holden suggests, he did by taking arsenic, whose symptoms mimic those of the official cause of his death, cholera. Oh, and the bloke also wrote some great music, apparently.

The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig, Headline pounds 6.99. John Buchan was the fountainhead of the modern thriller and it is pleasant to find such a literate contemporary tribute. Buchan's 1925 John Macnab had a trio of bored men throwing down a poaching challenge in Scotland. In Greig's re-make they become a motley threesome - former SAS man, Trotskyite and depressed copywriter - joined by a (female and beautiful) struck-off solicitor who falls uneasily in love with the adman. Of the three sporting estates that are told they'd be losing a salmon, a brace of grouse and a deer, the last is Balmoral. So, when HRH arrives to take up the gauntlet, Military Intelligence and Special Forces enter the equation. The denouement, in which the heir to the throne invites the Trot to call him Frank ("one has always wanted to be called Frank"), is one of several excellent episodes.

Leading the Blind: A Century of Guidebook Travel 1815-1911 by Alan Sillitoe, Papermac pounds 9. Today we have bucket shop air fares and Rough Guides, and anyone with a backpack can hit the hippy trail. Then they had railways and Murray's Handbooks (started 1836) or Baedecker's guides (1839) and the object was exactly the same - to move among strange peoples without getting scared half to death. Sillitoe's chapters unfold geographically, each moving further from the comforts of England, as far as Constantinople and Russia. A successful entertainment rather than a history, the book still manages to show that the essentials of tourism are eternal: what to take, see and eat and how to avoid pests. One also notes the assumed superiority with which the guidebooks were imbued - still to be found unconsciously lurking in the backpacking guides of today.

Nano! by Ed Regis, Bantam pounds 7.99. Nanotechnology may be the ultimate extension of the original project of natural science (champion: Francis Bacon) - to understand nature so well that you can enslave it. It is about subvisible molecular machines, capable of building, destroying, calculating, thinking. These, Regis predicts, will change our lives irreversibly a decade from now. His book tries to avoid sensational futurology, but the implications are certainly sensational. Molecular engineering makes organ transplants, microsurgery and other so-called miracle procedures laughably outmoded. It will be the last possible word in mechanistic medicine. It will also produce a molecular computer, even a designer life-form, with optional self-replication. In the end it will bring an end to human work. Incredible opportunity or moral disaster? Regis sets out pluses and minuses, but this is really a buffy sort of book that gets devoured in one goggle-eyed session or tossed aside after 20 pages.

Driving My Father by Susan Wicks, Faber pounds 6.99. As children we love our parents for the unconditional safety they can give us. But what happens to that love when the roles reverse and they become dependent on us? This memoir - or prose elegy? - tries to answer that question. Susan Wicks's father began a sad new life when her mother died and, despite the claims of her own husband and children, she must try to compensate for his irrevocable loss. The story is told in ordinary narration broken up by fragments of memory which come up as if randomly. Adult memory handles childhood, Susan Wicks knows, by chopping it into self-contained bits: delicate spoonfuls of recollection, some of them tasty and luxuriously complete in themselves. In these pages the pathos of her father in decline, using a walking frame, crying at the sink, is meliorated by those sweet lickings.

The First Time by Lara Harte, Phoenix pounds 5.99. With Euro-song, summer schools and whiskey, First Novelists are a major part of the Irish GNP these days. Harte's themes are friendship and alienation, which Catcher in the Rye forever defined as the central preoccupations of coming-of- age fiction. Fourteen-year-old Cassandra's posh school near Dublin is a pirhana-pool of envy and backbiting. Leeching onto new classmate Emma, she is disastrously misled into believing in the friendship as it draws her, half aware, through a succession of firsts - drink, smoke, snog, kick in the teeth. Never mind that the author was only 18 when she posted it, unsolicited, to a London publisher, this stands out as an exceptionally truthful and fluent first novel.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test