Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz, trs Denys Johnson- Davies, Doubleday pounds 8.99. Mahfouz's novel begins on the last of the 1001 Nights, with the Sultan telling Shahrzad she is reprieved and can stop telling stories. Yet the ensuing spate of crimes and assassinations within the Sultanate, fomented by a mischievous Djinn, might easily come from the fabulous world of Shahrzad's tales, as if Mahfouz wants to show a confluence of the imaginative and the political. This is good storytelling but finally it is satire, less concerned with misused magic in the age of fable than the abuse of power in the age of politics. This Egyptian writer, recipient in his time of both the Nobel Prize and a fatwa, has been wonderfully served by his translator, making for a sparkling read.

Caesar by Christian Meier, trs David McLintock, Fontana Press pounds 9.99. The fascination of Caesar lies in his having one foot planted in prehistory - a man so charismatic that people believed him to be a god - while the other occupies political territory modern enough for you to know that he'd have totalled Bob Dole in the 1996 primaries. Meier is Germany's leading Roman historian and this belated translation of his classic study from 1982 convincingly argues that Caesar never meant to found a ruling dynasty. Yet he valued his dignity so vastly, and was so talented and charming, that he inevitably became the rumbling epicentre of historical change. Meier asserts that Caesar crossed the Rubicon saying not "the die is cast" but "the die must be cast" - not bowing to destiny but a gambler eager to begin the game.

Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic by Alexander Stille, Vintage pounds 8.99. "Sicily is a place where almost nothing is what it seems," writes Stille, whose heroes are two magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, killed by the Mafia three years ago because of their ability to penetrate the surface of Mafialand. Stille draws much on the records of their interrogations of arrested mafiosi, but his book bursts out of its publisher's glib categorisation. This is not True Crime but modern history, lucidly detailing the Italian civil war between the official government and the Mafia between 1978 and 1994. It culminates with the moment when, in a flux of revulsion, the Italian people rejected their political system when they realised that hundreds of politicians and magistrates had been fighting on both sides at once.

King David by Allan Massie, Sceptre pounds 6.99. In Massie's novelisation of the Book of Samuel, Israelite politics in King David's time are more about personalities than principles, the infighting of the tribe as it struggles to become a nation. But it is real politics for all that and David, handed the chance to rise on the whim of old Samuel himself, seizes it as avidly as any Lloyd George or Harold Wilson. Not merely a shrewd politician, he's also bold in war and a tireless collector of Philistine foreskins. Massie's source is itself one of the Old Testament's racier passages, throbbing with action of a kind to quicken the pulse of any old-time studio boss. But this is no wide-screen treatment: it is solid historical fiction in a direct line from Robert Graves and Mary Renault, pleasingly written, deeply meditated and authoritatively researched, though not averse to tailoring time scales and the order of events to the rhythm of the tale. Little Is the Light: Nostalgic Travels in the Mini States of Europe by Vitali Vitaliev, Touchstone pounds 6.99. Raised in a country of more than 22 million sq km - the only assertion about the USSR to be taken on trust - Vitaliev had always been drawn to statelets too tiny to allow much secrecy. So he travels to Liechtenstein (whose 13 prisoners were fed 3 times a day by Room Service from the nearby Liechtenstein Hotel), Mount Athos (whose all-male population observes the Julian calendar, 13 days behind ours), the Isle of Man, San Marino and other nifty nations, cracking jokes and digressing outrageously, hugely genial all the way. He ends with a useful glossary for those going after him, eg: "I am sorry, your seal is too large for my passport. Would you stamp my phrasebook instead?"

The Temporary by Rachel Cusk, Picador pounds 5.99. Boy, Ralph, meets girl, Francine, in modern London. They circle awkwardly around each other for a while, neither really knowing what they want. An office temp, she's pretty but thick as a plank; he seems to have had his personality removed with his adenoids as a child. They develop one of those desultory affairs that would expire with hardly a protest if something better should happen along. Then she finds herself missing a period ... I was hoping for something a little more gothic than this particular plot-point, so beloved of early- Sixties novelists to force their young characters into growing up. These things must still happen, I suppose, but the most intriguing aspect of the novel is the contrast between all this ordinariness and Cusk's polysyllabic prose.

Reflections of Eden: My Life With the Orangutans of Borneo by Birute M F Galdikas, Indigo pounds 7.99. What Jane Goodall is to the chimp and Dian Fossey to the mountain gorilla, Galdikas is to orangutans, the last surviving great apes of Asia. She has devoted 23 years to returning captive orangs to the wild (claiming 100 successes) and to studying the world's largest tree-living primate in its rainforest home. Once thought to be almost mentally retarded because of their semi-solitary life, these mysterious and secretive creatures display sophisticated social hierarchies, territorial controls, friendships and obligations which frame their everyday life, she reveals. The value of her account is enormously augmented by her ability to know her subjects as individuals and, as she would see it, friends.

Art critic Julian Stallabrass turns a cool eye on visual mass culture and the 'meaningless postmodern smorgasbord' in Gargantua (Verso pounds 12.95). Even a radical activity like graffiti (above, a Camden example) begins to resemble advertising, he argues, so concerned is it with brand names and prominent sites. His analysis also sweeps over shopping, cyberspace, cars and TV

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.

    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
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy