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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine