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The Independent Culture
Life on Mars by Alexander Stuart (Black Swan, pounds 6.99) After being commissioned in 1990 to profile boxer Nigel Benn in Florida, Stuart never got round to using the return air ticket. His highly enjoyable memoir of Miami is charged with the steamy eccentricity and sexiness of this most unAmerican of US cities. Stuart's new chums include a drag star and a reflective part-time gangster. But far more scary than the fleshpots of Miami Beach is a phantasmagoric visit to Disneyworld.

Dinosaur In a Haystack by Stephen Jay Gould (Penguin, pounds 9.99) The 34 essays in Gould's seventh collection maintain an astonishing level of polymathic curiosity. In three neighbouring examples, Gould explores an unexpected best-seller by Edgar Allan Poe called The Conchologist's First Book; explains why printers traditionally portray right-handed shells the wrong way round; and trashes Jurassic Park. From the most arcane research, he reveals the astonishing diversity of nature and the fallibility of its interpreters.

Bradman by Charles Williams (Abacus, pounds 7.99) This acclaimed biography of cricket's greatest star will enthral even those who are perplexed by the game. Williams combines his subtle portrait of this shy, reluctant hero with a vivid account of Australia coming of age. Central to the story is the heated sporting rivalry with the mother-country. Victorious so often, the "Don" was thwarted during the "Bodyline" series of 1933. "We nearly didn't do it," admitted the English captain Jardine. "That little man was bloody good."

The Innocence of Roast Chicken by Jo-Anne Richards (Review, pounds 6.99) Honeyed porridge and swimming pools is how Kate remembers her Sixties childhood in the Eastern Cape. But 20 years on, and even with the end of apartheid in sight, life has never quite matched up. Refusing to wear ANC T-shirts, or share her husband's euphoria at the new era's arrival, she almost pushes her marriage to the edge. As coming of age stories go, this isn't one of the greats, but it's nice to see South Africa through the eyes of a younger generation.

Flamingo Book of New Scottish Writing 1997 (pounds 5.99) Luckily not all the stories in this year's collection are quite as spunky as John Aberdien's "Spermy McClung" - of which ah dinna git a single snappit oot until ah red oot loud. More direct are Paula Fitzpatrick's story about a woman told to "bugger off" when she attempts small talk in a maternity ward, and Leslie Hill's tale of an old dear who ends it all, Thelma and Louise style, by driving off the end of a pier into the sea.

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