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Autobiography

Portrait of George Eliot, aged 30, by François d’Albert-Durade, whose family she lived with while in Switzerland

Middlemarch: the novel that reads you

15 March 2014
The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot Rebecca Mead

Granta, pp.293, £16.99, ISBN: 9781847085153

The genesis of The Road to Middlemarch was a fine article in the New Yorker about  Rebecca Mead’s unsuccessful search for the origin of the remark, sometimes attributed to George… Read more

Flora-Thompson

Secrets of Candleford: the real Flora Thompson

1 March 2014
Dreams of the Good Life Richard Mabey

Allen Lane, pp.208, £16.99, ISBN: 9781846142789

When Richard Mabey was researching this biography of Flora Thompson, author of Lark Rise to Candleford, he happened to stay at a farmhouse B&B near Bath. Ambling around, he found… Read more

Lance Sieveking (right) with Colonel G.L. Thompson broadcasting a running commentary on the final bumping race from a tree in Rectory Meadow, Cambridge, June 1927

'One warm night in June 1917 I became the man who nearly killed the Kaiser'

1 March 2014
Airborne: Scenes from the Life of Lance Sieveking Paul Sieveking (ed., annotations)

Strange Attractor Press, pp.375, £25, ISBN: 97810907222269

The traditional story told about the first world war is that it changed everything: that it was the end of the old world and the beginning of the modern age,… Read more

The 18-year-old Anjelica Huston, directed by her father, 
makes her screen début in A Walk with Love and Death as the 
14th-century French aristocrat Claudia, fleeing the savagery of the Jacquerie

Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

4 January 2014
A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York Anjelica Huston

Simon & Schuster, pp.254, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857207425

Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist… Read more

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-WEST BROM

The vengeance of Alex Ferguson

23 November 2013
My Autobiography Alex Ferguson

Hodder & Stoughton, pp.402, £25, ISBN: 9780340919392

For a quarter of a century Sir Alex Ferguson bestrode football’s narrow world like a colossus. Like his predecessor knight-manager, Sir Matt Busby, he ensured that it was England’s third… Read more

(Picture: Karl Walter/Getty)

Morrissey can't even moan properly — here's a frontman who can

9 November 2013

There is much to be said for Schadenfreude. (If it was edible, it would be a meal in a very expensive restaurant, for which someone else was paying.) So it’s… Read more

cricket

My dear old thing! Forget the nasty bits

26 October 2013
Squeezing the Orange Henry Blofeld

Blue Door, pp.368, £20, ISBN: 9780007506392

There can be a strong strain of self-parody in even the greatest commentators. When Henry Blofeld describes the progress of a pigeon in his inimitably plummy tones, or greets a… Read more

Malala

Malala's voice is defiant — but how much can she change Pakistan? 

26 October 2013
I Am Malala Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

Weidenfeld, pp.288, £18.99, ISBN: 9780297870913

In 2012 a Taleban gunman, infuriated by Malala Yousafzai’s frequent television appearances insisting that girls had a right to education, shot her in the face. She survived and is now… Read more

Derek Jacobi in the title role of Becket at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1991

As Luck Would Have It, by Derek Jacobi - review

28 September 2013
As Luck Would Have It Derek Jacobi as told to Garry O’Connor

HarperCollins, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9780007458875

Alan Bennett once overheard an old lady say, ‘I think a knighthood was wasted on Derek Jacobi,’ and I know what she means. It’s strange how he has always been… Read more

An Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins - review

21 September 2013
An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist Richard Dawkins

Bantam, pp.320, £20, ISBN: 9780593070895

It is peculiarly apt that the author of this autobiography should be the man who coined that now fashionable term ‘meme’ — so long as it is written ‘me me’.… Read more

There and Then: Personal Terms 6, by Frederic Raphael - review

31 August 2013
There and Then: Personal Terms 6 Frederic Raphael

Carcanet, pp.201, £18.95, ISBN: 9781847771407

Frederic Raphael is forensic in his description of the failures of successful people. He is enviously superior and he is partial to the clever oxymoron: ‘predatory caution’, ‘reticent curiosity’, ‘intimidating… Read more

As Green as Grass, by Emma Smith - review

17 August 2013
As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During and After the Second World War Emma Smith

Bloomsbury, pp.214, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408833616

The title, the subtitle, the author’s plain name, even the jacket’s photograph of a laughing old lady in sunglasses: none of these is particularly enticing. But the book itself is… Read more

ploughing

Country Boy, by Richard Hillyer - review

10 August 2013
Country Boy Richard Hillyer

Slightly Foxed Editions, pp.255, £16, ISBN: 9781906562519

Under his real name, Charles James Stranks, the author of this little masterpiece wrote on a number of ecclesiastical subjects: the Venerable Bede, Jeremy Taylor, Durham cathedral, where he was… Read more

Out of its time: Mick Jagger in Nicolas Roeg’s debut film, Performance (1970)

The World is Ever Changing, by Nicolas Roeg - a review

20 July 2013
The World is Ever Changing Nicolas Roeg

Faber and Faber, pp.256, £25, ISBN: 9780571310838

‘Value and worth in any of the arts has always been about timing,’ writes British director Nicolas Roeg at the age of 84. Few directors understand this better — this… Read more

Backing Into the Light, by Colin Spencer - review

22 June 2013
Backing into Light: My Father’s Son Colin Spencer

Quartet, pp.251, £25, ISBN: 9780704372962

Colin Spencer first came to my notice in the Swinging Sixties when a fellow undergraduate alerted me to his larky romp Poppy, Mandragora and the New Sex, the first novel… Read more

Strictly Ann, by Ann Widdecombe - review

8 June 2013
Strictly Ann Ann Widdecombe

Weidenfeld, pp.452, £20, ISBN: 9780297866435

An oddball. And proud to be one. Ann Widdecombe has sailed through life with the same brisk, no-nonsense style that she brings to this highly readable memoir. She attended a… Read more

‘The Nicky of today has become a high-concept gardener’

Folly de Grandeur, by Nicky Haslam- review

18 May 2013
Folly de Grandeur: Romance and Revival in an English Country House Nicky Haslam

Jacqui Small, pp.224, £40, ISBN: 9781906417857

Nicky Haslam is one of our best interior designers, a charmed and charming agent of style, a tastemaker for the sometimes directionless rich, a brighter star than most of his… Read more

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Bookends: Spirit of place

5 November 2011

A new book by Ronald Blythe is something of an event. In recent years the bard of Akenfield has mostly published collections of articles, which makes At the Yeoman’s House… Read more

Low life and high style

13 August 2011
Raised on Skiffle Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.179, £10

In 1977, Roy Kerridge was a lavatory cleaner; in 1979 he was a well-known contributor to The Spectator. Yet this was no rags-to-riches discovery of a literary talent. Apart from… Read more

A well-told lie

13 August 2011
The Cat’s Table Michael Ondaatje

Cape, pp.265, £16.99

Autobiography provides a sound foundation for a work mainly of fiction. A voyage in an ocean liner provides a sound framework of time and place. Michael Ondaatje was born in… Read more

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Pig in the middle

22 January 2011
The Stranger in the Mirror: A Memoir of Middle Age Jane Shilling

Chatto, pp.241, 16.99

Writing an autobiographical account of middle age is a brave undertaking, necessitating a great deal of self-scrutiny at a time of life when most of us would sooner look the… Read more

Red badge of courage

1 January 2011
Stalin’s Schoolboy Roy Kerridge

Custom Books, pp.306, 12.00

The author describes this book as an ‘auto- biographical novel’, but since it would be quite beyond me to distinguish fact from fiction in this hair-raising account of his childhood… Read more

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Cambridge and after

25 September 2010
The Fry Chronicles Stephen Fry

Michael Joseph, pp.448, 20

My dread was that someone would ask me my opinion of Lermontov or Superstring Theory or the Categorical Imperatives of Kant. I would be exposed as a dull-witted fake. Having… Read more

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A charismatic narcissist

11 September 2010
A Journey Tony Blair

Hutchinson, pp.624, 25

In equal measure, this book is fascinating and irritating. The ‘Hi, guys!’ style grates throughout. From this, it is tempting to conclude that Tony Blair is incorrigibly insincere. But that… Read more

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A foot in both camps

7 August 2010
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate Kai Bird

Simon & Schuster, pp.424, 17.99

As a five-year-old in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem in the 1950s, Kai Bird overheard an elderly American heiress offering $1 million to anyone who could solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.… Read more