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The Independent Culture
A Fool and his Money: Life in a Partitioned Medieval Town by Ann Wroe (Cape, pounds 14.99). Imaginative, sympathetic reconstruction of life in 14th-century Languedoc. Popular history at the highest level.

Marie Curie: A Life by Susan Quinn (Heinemann, pounds 17.99). Panoramic and humane biography of the brilliant discoverer of radium.

The Borough by Michael Connon (Serpent's Tail, pounds 8.99). Bigotry, murder and violence in a Glasgow tenement. A truly engaging first novel, deft and urbane in style.

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax (Cape, pounds 15.99). Moving, unsentimental memoir by ex-PoW who spent the war in a Japanese prison camp and returned 50 years later to confront the guard who tortured him.

Collected Poems Volume I by Peter Reading (Bloodaxe, pounds 9.95). Reading's vision is dark and uncompromising, but his technical brilliance is unmatched.

Whispers in the Graveyard (Methuen, pounds 9.99). Humanity and compassion win out over the supernatural in this novel for older children. Winner of the 1995 Carnegie Medal.

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