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Stephen Spielberg by John Baxter (HarperCollins, pounds 8.99) Baxter's biography reminds us that Spielberg's effortless rise from suburban geek to Tinseltown titan was not without hiccups. At one stage, Jaws went three times over budget, while a plane crash for the turkey 1941 was reshot three times at $1 million a time. Though capable of substantial works like Empire of the Sun, this obsessional tycoon is happier with the cartoon style of Jurassic Park. Despite his sentimental oeuvre, Spielberg emerges as graceless and cold.

The Travels of a Fat Bulldog by George Courtauld (Abacus, pounds 7.99) Once a salesman for the Loveable Bra Co, the author is now a Queen's Messenger and roams the world (first class) at our expense. Never has this country made a wiser investment. His travel diary is stylish, droll, acute, fast- moving (from Barbados via Kenya to China inside 20 pages). A lover of graveyards, Courtauld is also an avid collector of recondite gen: how to murder your husband (powdered glass in his demerara sugar); a Mongolian curse ("May your wife's armpits be full of lice").

R D Laing: a divided self by John Clay (Sceptre, pounds 7.99) Though occasionally invaded by the opacities of the trade, this portrait of the Sixties guru by a fellow analyst is an enthralling read. The Puckish shrink - seductive (he fathered 10 children), combative and grotesquely egocentric - springs to life in these pages, whether sinking a bottle of vodka in five minutes or lobbing a brick through the window of a sect's HQ. While his views "are now generally discredited", it is evident that Laing had a profound rapport with his patients.

Georgiana by Brian Masters (Allison & Busby, pounds 10.99) Before the author devoted his energies to chronicling grand guignol, he conjured up this engaging account of Georgiana Spencer (an ancestor of our own Diana) who, aged 17, married the lumpish Duke of Devonshire in 1774. With an aristocratic disdain for convention, they established a menage a trois with Lady Elizabeth Foster which lasted happily for two decades. Georgiana's circle ranged from Charles James Fox to Marie-Antoinette. But behind the dazzle, she gambled away pounds 60,000 a year. Masters maintains a zippy pace, while guiding the reader through the maze of high society.

The Wisdom of Bones by Alan Walker and Pat Shipman (Phoenix, pounds 7.99) This book about paleaoanthropology (the interpretation of ancient human bones) demonstrates the danger of popularisation. The authors' introduction is marred by weak dialogue, character sketches and academic bitchiness. The book takes off in the second half with Walker's thrilling account of his major Kenyan discoveries: a female hominid who poisoned herself 1.7 million years ago and a male skeleton which proved that early humans lacked the power of speech.

Kindling does for Firewood by Richard King (Allen & Unwin, pounds 6.99) Two young urbanites meet in a Melbourne bookstore and take turns telling the story of their short-lived relationship. Their recollections are littered with references to sexual performance and Winona Ryder's pubic hair. Smart, funny dialogue and not one mention of surfing or the beach. Winner of the 1995 Australian/Vogel literary prize.

The Lagoon by Janet Frame (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99) First published in 1951, Janet Frame's debut collection saved her from the neuro-surgeon's knife. Her stories of sister-love, bright New Zealand gardens, a pair of cherished childhood pyjamas and mean-spirited loony bins are startlingly contemporary; it's hard to believe they were written over 40 years ago.

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