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The Independent Culture
The Hills of Adonis by Colin Thubron (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

In this 500-mile hike around Lebanon, already fraying into civil war when it was written in 1967, Thubron explores forts, Druse palaces and Phoenician ports. Much learning about this beautiful, riven country is lightly imparted: a change from the jokey laddism that now dominates travel writing.

Louis MacNeice by Jon Stallworthy (Faber, pounds 12)

An absorbing biography about a superb poet who belonged to the real world. MacNeice loved stout and football along with language. His love affairs and boozing are well detailed, but unlike many in London's bohemia, he maintained a high output. Stallworthy quotes generously from his poetry. Schrodinger's Kittens by John Gribbin (Phoenix, pounds 6.99)

No one writes about the wild shores of quantum theory with greater clarity than Gribbin. His latest exploration is concerned with the nature of light and concepts such as the "tachyon" and "teleportation" (as in "Beam me up, Scotty"), which is a possibility. More fascinating than fathomable.

The Oxford Book of Money ed by Kevin Jackson (pounds 8.99)

A topic that affects all and obsesses many, in which Dickens has the most column inches but, surprisingly, Wilde isn't far behind. Read wisely, this book will spare you a fate noted by Flann O'Brien: "A permanent abode in that populous thoroughfare,Queer Street."

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler (Vintage, pounds 5.99)

Dressed in nothing more than a swim suit, Delia Grinstead escapes her family's annual vacation by hitching a ride with a local plumber. In the sleepy town of Bay Borough, she buys a new dress, finds a room, and starts over. Another winner from Anne Tyler.

Lost in Place by Mark Salzman (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)

Scenes from a Seventies childhood - but "Dazed and Confused" this ain't; Salzman is just your average middle-class kid who makes it to Yale, has a breakdown and ends up growing marijuana among his father's house plants. "Whoa! Bummer!"

Beirut Blues by Hanan Al-Shaykh (Vintage, pounds 6.99)

In a series of letters to her grandmother, best friend and Billie Holiday, a Lebanese woman in her thirties reflects on her existence in war-weary Beirut. It's a city where tap water and satisfactory love affairs are in equally short supply.

To War With Whitaker (Mandarin, pounds 5.99)

Hermione was only 26 when hubby, the dashing Dan Ranfurly, was dispatched to the Middle East. But that didn't stop her or Whitaker - his Lordship's cheery retainer - from tagging along. Wartime diaries that make you wonder how we ever managed to win.

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