Recommended books

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The Independent Culture
The Civilisation of Europe in the Renaissance by John Hale, HarperCollins, pounds 25. Panoramic description of a brilliant and bloody century. Review by Robert Winder, 31 December.

Paddy and Mr Punch by R F Foster, Allen Lane, pounds 22.50. A rich and humane collection of essays on diverse cultural connections between English and Irish culture. Review by G J Watson, 1 January.

Radio Activity by John Murray, Sunk Island, pounds 7.99. A distinctive and idiosyncratic comic novel that neatly sends up the Cumbrian nuclear industry. Review by D J Taylor, 11 December.