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! Franco by Paul Preston, Fontana £9.99. The career of the last of Europe's inter-war dictators ended in 1975 after a long slide into senility. It is best summed up by an illuminating comparison made by Salvador de Madariaga between two contemporary European leaders. For de Gaulle, the highest priority was France, but for Franco it was Franco. That the caudillo cared little for the Spanish people is shown on page after page of this exceptional biography, most of all in the way he artificially prolonged the Civil War in order to eliminate his rivals on the Right and gain supreme power. His mind was utterly banal but he possessed an inspired peasant ambivalence, the galleguismo or Galician cunning which he boasted was his birthright. Francoist propaganda - successfully demolished by Preston - held that he used this skill to keep Spain out of the war. In fact, Hitler took a look at the knackered Spanish economy and decided it was better to leave Franco on the sidelines.

! Mandarin: the Diaries of an Ambassador by Nicholas Henderson, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £14.99. Ambassador Henderson, who retired in 1982, was in Bonn just as we were trying to enter the EC, then Paris during the Giscard years and, finally, Washington in time to be in charge of keeping the US on-side during the Falklands War. He is an upbeat diarist, unpompously guiding us through official business and personal (if not intimate) pleasures. Towards the end, a few shadows steal across the scene. Visiting the Foreign Office in the early '80s he finds ''the lifts not working, half-empty milk bottles everywhere, and a pervading air of dishevelment and decay''. After the comforts of embassy life, it must have been a shock to come home and find London with ''a third world look about it''.

! Away by Jane Urquart, Penguin £6.99. This novel has all the ambition of a brick-shaped historical saga but without the stamina, it being only an average-size book, carefully researched but also closely written. At times, in this story of the O'Malley family's 19th-century escape to Canada from rural Ireland, the Irishry is laid on as thickly as butter on soda bread. The O'Malleys pursue their New World destinies, but drag behind them an increasingly mythologised and sentimental Celtic heritage - the injustice of the potato famine and the English ascendancy are never really left behind. It is their descendants today who are the stalwarts of Noraid.

! Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley, Penguin £7.99. Herodotus thought that the women of Egypt were as free as the men, and comported themselves in (to him) highly unusual ways. His observations are the starting point for this fascinating and learned account. Details of a woman's work, clothing, legal status and sexual habits are explored, but not all of it is gender history. Did you know that households used specially-trained "security monkeys" to ward off intruders?

! Simla: The Summer Capital of British India by Raja Bhasin, Penguin £5.99. With its climate "peculiarly adapted to the European constitution", its spectacular sunsets and "languidly strolling mists", Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, was for the British Raj a perfect substitute for Bournemouth. From a few huts in the 1820s, it became, according to Simla-born Bhasin, the town "where the Raj had culminated into its finest, grandest and queerest". The official buildings looked like railway hotels (which some of them were) or "a Bram Stoker impor-tation from Transylvania"; the wooden ones were ramshackle and verandahed. I would have liked more old photographs, but the text is full of in-terest: local history with world significance.

! The Drama of Being a Child by Alice Miller, trs Ruth Ward, Virago £7.99. Alice Miller has been influential on our view of child-rearing and the effect of early experience on adult life. Her thesis, eloquently construed in her writings, is simply stated: "the repression of injuries endured during childhood is the root cause of psychic disorders and criminality". But since she first developed this line, Miller has herself been changing, which has led to this rewritten edition of her most famous work, originally published 17 years ago. The author has now rejected psychoanalysis, which she still hoped in 1978 would provide a way out of "the repression of memory and feeling". She now says that "this hope has once and for all proved to be an illusion", and believes creative activities offers greater hope. Which, in her own case, means painting.

! Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers ed Jane Robinson, Oxford £8.99. After last year's Oxford Book Of Exploration's inclusion of only three female writers, it's good to find OUP making amends with this collection. All intelligent travel - meaning any you'd wish to read about - is really exploration. This anthology is replete with dangers, often recollected in astounding tranquillity. "My host had been murdered a few minutes before," writes Emily Innes coolly of her Chinese trip, while Lady Mary Hodgson's experience is that "skirts are an impediment when fleeing for your life in Ashantiland". The extracts are short and arranged geographically, and while most ladies are of the intrepid Victorian variety, there are a few contemporaries.