The Dig Tree, by Sarah Murgatroyd

Where the Stress Falls, by Susan Sontag

The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, by David Gilmour

Primo Levi, by Ian Thomson

Cigarettes, by Tara Parker-Pope

The Dig Tree, Sarah Murgatroyd, Bloomsbury, £7.99, 373pp

Though undeniably brave and charismatic, Robert Burke was not an ideal choice to lead the first trans-Australia expedition in 1860. As Sarah Murgatroyd points out in this thrilling yarn, the Melbourne policeman "was notorious for getting lost on his way home from the pub". His deputy John Wills, a quiet scientist, was more practical, but neither man was aware of conditions in "the driest region of the driest inhabited continent on earth". Their expedition was financed in some style by Melbourne citizenry (hence the choice of one of their own to lead it): 16 men and 25 camels set out. Their 12 tonnes of equipment included four enema kits and 12 dandruff brushes.

After a hellish time getting halfway across the endless Outback, Burke whittled his unwieldy force down to four. Burke and Wills made it to within 20 kilometres of the coast, but impassable mangrove swamps prevented them reaching the sea. Deserted by their waiting colleagues, Burke and Wills died on the return journey. The sole survivor died a few months after returning to Melbourne. The main reason for Burke's precipitate and ill-fated trek is that a rival expedition from Adelaide was hard on his heels. Led by John Stuart, an indomitable sourpuss, the Adelaide party made it to the north coast and back again, but it is the doomed Burke and Wills who are remembered. The death of Murgatroyd from breast cancer last year, aged 35, casts a sad shadow over this excellent book.

Where the Stress Falls, by Susan Sontag, Vintage, £7.99, 351pp

Ironic self-deprecation is not Susan Sontag's strong suit. Several items in her latest collection of essays might be Craig Brown parodies. From her catalogue for a Jasper Johns show: "The spoon is not quite grown-up in the way that the knife and fork are." Her account of directing Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo is particularly cringe-making: "The play now belonged to the actors and I knew it was in good hands ... my eyes began to sting with tears." Yet her essays are always passionate and perceptive. Many, such as the title piece about narrative pacing in novels, are unexpectedly enjoyable.

The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling, by David Gilmour, Pimlico, £15, 351pp

This is one of those rare biographies that leaves the reader clamouring for more. Gilmour's elegant account concentrates on Kipling the public figure. Much of what you learn is endearing. Kipling was free of humbug, writing openly about prostitution in 1895, when a quarter of the British army in India had syphilis. But he also harboured a mass of prejudices. He was against suffragettes, democracy and bungalows. His authorial identification with the glory of Empire switched to doom-mongering as the Imperial grip on India relaxed.

Primo Levi, by Ian Thomson, Vintage, £8.99, 626pp

Wonderfully perceptive on so many levels, it is all the more remarkable that this biography was written by a man who is neither Italian nor Jewish, born 16 years after Levi's release from Auschwitz. Thomson's account of the novelist's wartime experience – a scar as indelible as the number electrically tattooed on his arm – is graphic and chilling. Surprisingly, Levi's life after the war as a senior chemist, while writing The Periodic Table, was also profoundly stressful. Recurring depression prompted him to take his own life in 1987, yet this book is so beautifully written, so precise in its construction, that it is a joy to read.

Cigarettes, by Tara Parker-Pope, The New Press, £9.95, 192pp

Unlike Ian Gately's La Diva Nicotina, this is no paean to the dread weed, but neither is it an all-guns-blazing excoriation. The author is an ex-smoker who recognises that the tobacco industry is both remarkable and deadly. She snappily explores the history, promotion and risks of tobacco. A link was suggested between snuff and nose cancer as early as 1761. Today, tobacco is the "known or likely cause" of 25 diseases. Yet, as Parker-Pope points out, since smokers in the past have risked torture and execution, it is unlikely that lawyers, politicians or dire health warnings will kill the habit.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism