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Biography

Mysterious and powerful: ‘Event on the Downs’ (1934)

Paul Nash, by Andrew Causey - review

22 June 2013
Paul Nash: Landscape and the Life of Objects Andrew Causey

Lund Humphries, pp.168, £35, ISBN: 9781848220966

Andrew Causey opens his book on a slightly defensive note: Paul Nash, he says is often identified as Britain’s outstanding 20th-century landscape painter, as if painting the natural scene was… Read more

Unnerving as Bill Sikes in Carol Reed’s Oliver!

What Fresh Lunacy is This?, by Robert Sellers - review

22 June 2013
What Fresh Lunacy is This? The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed Robert Sellers

Constable, pp.500, £20, ISBN: 9781472101129

Midway through this startling book, Robert Sellers asks himself a question with such apparent seriousness I barked with laughter: ‘Was Oliver Reed an alcoholic?’ A more pertinent enquiry would be:… Read more

Replacement-Connors

The Outsider, by Jimmy Connors - review

22 June 2013

As a teenager in the 1980s I liked Jimmy Connors. This meant parking my not inconsiderable jealousy that he’d once had Chris Evert as his girlfriend. Magnanimously, I agreed to… Read more

Diary_heath

My last chance to follow in Napoleon’s footsteps

15 June 2013

St Helena, the island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on which Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled and died, is so far away from anywhere else that even pirates never… Read more

Nijinski by Georges Barbier in ‘Le Festin /L’Oiseau d’or’ (1912)

Nijinsky, by Lucy Moore - review

15 June 2013
Nijinsky Lucy Moore

Profile, pp.320, £25, ISBN: 9781846686184

The first biography of Vaslav Nijinsky, which appeared in 1934, was written by his wife Romola with the help of two ghosts — the young Lincoln Kirstein and Little Blue… Read more

The Frontman, by Harry Browne - review

8 June 2013
The Frontman Harry Browne

Verso, pp.179, £9.99, ISBN: 9781781680827

According to a story which Harry Browne accepts is surely apocryphal, but which he includes in his book anyway, at a U2 gig in Glasgow the band’s singer silenced the… Read more

Portrait of Byron in Greek national dress by Thomas Phillips

Byron’s War, by Roderick Beaton - review

1 June 2013
Byron’s War: Romantic Rebellion, Greek Revolution Roderick Beaton

CUP, pp.338, £30, ISBN: 9781107033085

On 16 July 1823 a round-bottomed, bluff-bowed, dull-sailing collier-built tub of 120 tons called the Hercules made its slow, log-like way out of the port of Genoa. Roderick Beaton writes:… Read more

They really were in love: Scott, Zelda and their daughter Frances (‘Scottie’) in Paris

Z, by Therese Anne Fowler, Beautiful Fools, by R. Clifton Spargo, Careless People, by Sarah Churchill - review

1 June 2013
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Therese Anne Fowler

Two Roads, pp.376, £17.99, ISBN: 9781444761405

Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald R. Clifton Spargo

Duckworth, pp.366, £16.99, ISBN: 9780715645437

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby Sarah Churchwell

Virago, pp.438, £16.99, ISBN: 9781844087662

The Great Gatsby is one of those great works of literature, like Pride and Prejudice, that appeals as much to the general reader as to the literary bod. It’ll always… Read more

NEPAL-EVEREST

Everest, by Harriet Tuckey

1 June 2013
Everest: The First Ascent The Untold Story of Griffith Pugh, the Man Who Made it Possible Harriet Tuckey

Rider, pp.400, £20, ISBN: 9781846043482

This book, as the subtitle explains, makes a bold claim: Griffith Pugh was the ‘unsung hero’ of the 1953 ascent of Everest, his achievements neglected and nearly lost to posterity.… Read more

Royal Ascot - Day 1

Henry Cecil, by Brough Scott - review

1 June 2013
Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius Brough Scott

Racing Post, pp.368, £20, ISBN: 9781905156849

This is by far the best book on racing I have ever read. It combines a truly extraordinary story — one that no novelist would have dared to submit —… Read more

Rogues’ gallery: 
Georgiana was ‘a liar, cheat and exploiter of her friends’; her husband, the fifth Duke, was ‘an insensitive and autocratic brute’; while her son was ‘manically self-absorbed’

The Devonshires, by Roy Hattersley - review

4 May 2013
The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation Roy Hattersley

Chatto, pp.466, £25, ISBN: 9780701186241

Recalling being taken as a teenager on repeated outings to see Chatsworth, Roy Hattersley disarmingly confesses that in those days ‘I was impressed by neither the pictures nor the furniture’.… Read more

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, by Charles Moore, and Not for Turning, by Robin Harris - review

4 May 2013
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One Not for Turning Charles Moore

Allen Lane, pp.859, £30, ISBN: 978071399282

Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher Robin Harris

Bantam, pp.493, £20, ISBN: 9780593058916

It is a measure of Lady Thatcher’s standing that her death has been followed not only by the mealy-mouthed compliments from political opponents which are normally forthcoming on such occasions… Read more

The Spectator’s Notes

27 April 2013

The first volume of my biography of Margaret Thatcher was published on Tuesday. Since Lady Thatcher had stipulated that the book could appear only after her death, we were, in… Read more

The Spectator’s Notes

13 April 2013

It is strange how we are never ready for events which are, in principle, certain. The media have prepared for Margaret Thatcher’s death for years, and yet there was a… Read more

Group portrait of the Du Maurier sisters with their dog Brutus by Frederic Whiting (1918). From left to right: Daphne, Jeanne and Angela

'Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing', by Jane Dunn - review

9 March 2013
Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing Jane Dunn

Harper Press, pp.423, £25, ISBN: 9780007347089

Jane Dunn is something of a specialist on sisterhood. She has — we learn from the dedication — five sisters of her own; she has already written a book about… Read more

'O My America!', by Sara Wheeler - review

9 March 2013
O My America! Sara Wheeler

Cape, pp.267, £18.99, ISBN: 9780241145364

You might not expect Sara Wheeler, the intrepid literary traveller, to be anxious about passing the half-century point. Surely a person who can survive the mental and physical rigours of… Read more

Fanny (left) and Stella —‘the more presentable of the two’

'Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England', by Neil McKenna - review

9 March 2013
Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England Neil McKenna

Faber, pp.396, £16.99, ISBN: 9780571231904

Mick Jagger, the Danny La Rue of rock, impersonates a woman on the cover of the 1978 Stones album Some Girls. Vaudeville performers in the Jagger mould love to put… Read more

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'Diana Vreeland', by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart - review

9 March 2013
Diana Vreeland Amanda Mackenzie Stuart

Thames and Hudson, pp.329, £19.95, ISBN: 9780500516812

Over 80 and almost blind, Diana Vreeland was wheeled around a forthcoming costume exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, issuing instructions all along the way about hats, shoes, lights and mannequins.… Read more

Journalist, novelist, patriot, spy

2 March 2013
The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham Michael Jago

Biteback Publishing, pp.308, £20, ISBN: 9781849545136

When I was a new MI5 recruit, working in Leconfield House in 1970, there was a group of middle-aged men who came and went at unusual times of the day,… Read more

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Hero or villein?

Tolstoy A.N. Wilson

Atlantic, pp.572, 25

‘Not one word’, exclaimed Turgenev of Tolstoy, ‘not one movement of his is natural! He is eternally posing before us!’ The recurrent underlying theme of A.N. Wilson’s prize-winning biography of… Read more

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The pen was mightier than the brush

2 June 2012
Joanna, George and Henry: A Pre-Raphaelite Tale of Art, Love and Friendship Sue Bradbury

Boydell, pp.336, £25

Of the making of books about the Pre-Raphaelites, it appears, there is no end. Like the Bloomsberries, most of the PRB are more interesting to read about than the study… Read more

Going to the fair

28 April 2012
Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell Tom Bower

Faber, pp.422, 18.99

Why would anyone want to buy this dreadful book? The frightful Simon Cowell appears to have co-operated with the author, and it is littered with repellent photographs — chiefly of… Read more

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Hero of his own drama

17 March 2012
Strindberg: A Life Sue Prideaux

Yale, pp.371, 25

Sam Leith is enthralled by the larger-than-life genius, August Strindberg — playwright, horticulturalist, painter, alchemist and father of modern literature When I’m reading a book for review, it’s my habit… Read more

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Bookends: A life of gay abandon

17 March 2012

Sometimes, only the purest smut will do. Scotty Bowers’s memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove Press, £16.99) is 24 carat,… Read more

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Godfather of rap

28 January 2012
The Last Holiday: A Memoir Gil Scott-Heron

Canongate, pp.319, 20

At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe ‘King’ Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century… Read more