Paperbacks: Brunelleschi's Dome<br/>The Oxford Book of Exploration<br/>In Search of a Beginning: My life with Graham Greene<br/>Our Hidden Lives<br/>The Zigzag Way<br/>An Iraqi in Paris<br/>The Book

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Enthralling in its detail, both human and technical, this account of the raising of the great dome of Florence's cathedral is the perfect Easter read.

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King (PIMLICO £7.99 (184pp))

Enthralling in its detail, both human and technical, this account of the raising of the great dome of Florence's cathedral is the perfect Easter read. Enriched by their textile industry (which largely relied on English wool), the Florentines decided to build a grandiose duomo. Though the foundation stone was laid in 1296, the structure was still without its ambitious dome 120 years later. "For 50 years," writes King, "it had been obvious that no one... had any clear idea about how to construct it." No dome even approaching its 143ft span had been constructed since antiquity. A competition to resolve this problem was held in 1418. The winner was Filippo Brunelleschi, an ambitious jeweller whose genius at invention was matched by his clam-like secretiveness. His revolutionary proposal for building a dome without a temporary armature was only the first of his innovations in this massive project. Of equal significance were the cranes he developed for raising building materials to the starting height of 170ft. As you might expect in medieval Florence, his endeavours were continually hampered by the machinations of rivals. Ross King's judicious and elegant narrative makes you want to dash to Tuscany for a fresh glimpse of Brunelleschi's "mountainous cupola". CH

The Oxford Book of Exploration. Ed. Robin Hanbury-Tenison (OUP £16.99 (576pp))

Boasting a glorious cover - a tie-wearing English explorer peers into the crater of a Japanese mountain in 1905 - this revised edition boasts nine new entries from living explorers. Though a passage on hydrothermal vents will give armchair adventurers a delicious shiver ("the worms rely on bacteria living inside them to survive"), the Victorians remain the real heroes. Here's John Hanning Speke with a beetle stuck in his ear: "I applied a penknife that did more harm than good; though a few thrusts kept him quiet, the point also wounded my ear..." CH

In Search of a Beginning: My life with Graham Greene by Yvonne Cloetta (BLOOMSBURY £8.99 (209pp))

Greene's companion touchingly recalls the 32 years they spent together, from the gloom he sometimes felt when writing ("I felt so depressed that I had to vomit") to his appearance in Truffaut's Day For Night. He refused to back down when menaced by the Nice gangsters he attacked in J'Accuse, and got a magistrate to investigate by threatening to return his Légion d'Honneur. Though Greene made fun of espionage, Cloetta insists that he "lived and breathed that atmosphere... To the very end, he worked with the British Services." CH

Our Hidden Lives. Ed. Simon Garfield (EBURY £6.99 (536pp))

This is one of the most engaging historical works ever published. Of course, the five diarists anthologised here were not writing for posterity, but the resulting portrait of post-1945 Britain is lively, detailed and packed with tiny delights. Working at a dye-makers, George Taylor notes: "Khaki is not a popular colour now... lavender has taken its place." The writer Maggie Joy Blunt records a prescient remark of her fishmonger: "Soon the North Sea will be dry of fish." Herbert Brush, a pensioner, notes that Tarzan and the Huntress was "very good as an animal picture but rotten in other ways". CH

The Zigzag Way by Anita Desai (VINTAGE £6.99 (179pp))

"The ancient Chinese," says Anita Desai at the start of this, her eleventh novel, "believed time is not a ladder one ascends into the future but a ladder one descends into the past". It's the structural basis for this ambitious but slender journey from Harvard to Mexico to Cornwall, which culminates in a literal festival of ghosts. Drippy wannabe writer Eric follows his bossy girlfriend Em on a field trip to Mexico. While she disappears into the wilderness, he goes in search of the grave of his Cornish grandmother, who died in childbirth. It's beautifully crafted and written, of course, but somehow lacks the soul of Desai's work at its Tolstoyan best. CP

An Iraqi in Paris by Samuel Shimon (BANIPAL £11.99 (250pp))

After he fled Baghdad in 1979, Samuel Shimon ended up - with his Hollywood dreams - as one more poor Arab exile in Paris. Hence this startlingly funny, rude but touching novel-cum-autobiography about days of sex and movies, politics and poverty, on the 1980s Left Bank. It's an Arabic answer to Miller's Tropic of Cancer - occasionally shocking; always witty and humane. Also included is his delightful memoir of an Iraqi childhood - filtered through the films of his idol, John Ford. BT

The Book by Christopher de Hamel (PHAIDON £19.95 (352pp))

From the editing feats of St Jerome to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this history of the texts and books that came to be called "The Bible" delights the senses as much as the soul. A glorious feast of colour illustrations partners the scholarly but readable prose. De Hamel traces the evolution of versions of the Good Book across tongues, times and technologies. He ranges from Gutenberg's world-shaking workshop to the mass-market Gospels of the colonial era, which took the word of "Jizos Kris" into African languages. BT

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