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Biography

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A horrid story of intellectual corruption

14 January 2012
Monopolizing the Master Michael Anesko

Stanford University Press, pp.208, £30.50

The death of a great author often causes interminable displays of corrosive envy. Heirs, acolytes, interpreters and academics resent one another’s claims on the literary estate or cultural heritage. They… Read more

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Bookends: An unreal world

31 December 2011

Even by Hollywood standards, Carrie Fisher is pretty crazy. She was born a Hollywood princess, and remembers her parents — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — as ‘not really people… Read more

Settling old scores

10 December 2011
Outsider: Almost Always, Never Quite Brian Sewell

Quartet, pp.343, 25

As a boy, Brian Sewell was unimpressed by opera but enraptured by pantomime which, he reveals in Outsider, sowed in him ‘an undying ambition, never fulfilled, to play the Widow… Read more

Forthright to a fault

3 December 2011
Edy Was a Lady Ann Rachlin

Matador, pp.194, 16.99

Her mother was Ellen Terry, the most admired actress of the day. Her brother was Edward Gordon Craig, the celebrated stage designer. Little wonder then that Edith Craig was overshadowed… Read more

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Lust for life

3 December 2011
Hockney: The Biography, Volume I, A Rake’s Progess Christopher Simon Sykes

Century, pp.363, 25

Seduced by the hayseed hair and the Yorkshire accent it’s tempting to see the young David Hockney as the Freddie Flintoff of the painting world: lovable, simple, brilliant, undoubtedly a… Read more

A man who quite liked women

19 November 2011
Wits and Wives: Dr Johnson in the Company of Women Kate Chisholm

Chatto, pp.40, 25

It is noticeable that the kind of young woman that a clever public man most likes talking to is intelligent but totally unchallenging. This is pleasant for both. She gets… Read more

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Martin Amis: The Biography by Richard Bradford

5 November 2011
Martin Amis: The Biography Richard Bradford

Constable & Robinson, pp.418, 20

Where’s Invasion of the Space Invaders? That’s what I want to know. Only by consulting Richard Bradford’s bibliography would you know that in 1982 Martin Amis published a book —… Read more

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson

5 November 2011
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography Walter Isaacson

Little Brown, pp.656, 25

America has always idolised its entrepreneurs, even when it has proved a thankless task — if you can glamorise Bill Gates, you can glamorise anyone. Especially Steve Jobs, whose death… Read more

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller

5 November 2011
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller

Simon & Schuster, pp.238, 14.99

There is always a special risk, says Alexandra Fuller, when putting real-life people into books. Not all those who recognised themselves in her terrific memoir of 1960s and 1970s white-ruled… Read more

Low Life: One Middle-Aged Man in Search of the Point by Jeremy Clarke

29 October 2011
Low Life: One Middle-Aged Man in Search of the Point Jeremy Clarke

Short Books, pp.285, 12.99

Some may question whether a review of a columnist’s work in the magazine in which that columnist’s work appears can ever be impartial. It can, and not just because this… Read more

Pakistan: A Personal History by Imran Khan

29 October 2011
Pakistan: A Personal History Imran Khan

Bantam, pp.400, 20

Imran Khan’s Pakistan: A Personal History describes his journey from playboy cricketer through believer and charity worker to politician. His story is interwoven with highlights from Pakistan’s history. At times… Read more

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Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester

29 October 2011
Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller Jennifer Kloester

Heinemann, pp.464, 20

Those of us who have spent an embarrassing number of hours immersed in the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer have learned to live dangerously. We have been overturned in high… Read more

What is it about Stieg Larsson?

13 August 2011
Stieg & Me: Memories of my life with Stieg Larsson Eva Gabrielsson (with Marie-Fran

Orion Books, pp.211, £12.99

Stieg Larsson was a rather unsuccessful left-wing Swedish journalist who lived off coffee, cigarettes, junk food and booze, and died aged 50 after climbing seven flights of stairs, having recently… Read more

The short life of Tara Browne

13 August 2011

I received a call from the Irish writer Paul Howard, who, as Ross O’Carro-Kelly (‘Rock’) has written a number of popular satires about Ross and the Celtic Tiger, a series… Read more

Lucky miss

9 July 2011
The Other Barack: The Bold and Reckless Life of President Obama’s Father Sally H. Jacobs

Public Affairs, pp.297, 20

In Dreams From My Father, his exploration of race and roots, Barack Obama recalled the tales heard in childhood about the man who gave him his name. His father, they… Read more

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The gay Lambeth way

9 July 2011
As Good as God, As Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson Rodney Bolt

Atlantic, pp.362, 22

Archbishop Edward Benson was the ideal of a Victorian churchman. Stern and unbending, he was a brilliant Cambridge scholar and a dreamily beautiful youth. Older men fell over themselves to… Read more

The biography of a nobody

2 July 2011
Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre

Biteback, pp.336, 17.99

A biography of Ed Miliband has to try hard not to be the sort of thing one buys as a present for someone one avidly dislikes. This effort, the first… Read more

A far cry from Dr Finlay

2 July 2011
A.J.Cronin Alan Davies

Alma Books, pp.384, 20

If he is remembered at all, A.J. Cronin is known now for Dr Finlay’s Casebook, which ran for many years on both BBC television and radio, and today resonates with… Read more

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Scenes from the Mad Hatter’s tea party

2 July 2011
And God Created Burton Tom Rubython

The Myrtle Press, pp.812, 20

I only ever heard my mother admit twice to fancying other men. One, remarkably, was Saddam Hussein, the other was Richard Burton, and of each she said, ‘He’s a good-looking… Read more

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A heart made to be broken

18 June 2011
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde Franny Moyle

John Murray,, pp.374, 20

Very useful in modern conversation, Oscar Wilde. Not for the quotable quips — everyone knows those already. His real value comes when you’re trying to guess someone’s sexuality. ‘He can’t… Read more

Backs to the wall

28 May 2011
Call of the Litany Bird Susan Gibbs

Loose Chippings, pp.272, 17.99

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage. She ends with her farewell to Africa and her… Read more

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Sixties mystic

28 May 2011
Memoirs of a Dervish Robert Irwin

Profile, pp.239, 14.99

The misery memoir is the fad of the moment. We seem to have a limitless desire to delve into other people’s hardships. Robert Irwin has gladly shown the way to… Read more

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Dreaming of cowsheds

21 May 2011
The Smell of Summer Grass Adam Nicolson

Harper Press, pp.306, 20

In 1999, Adam Nicolson published a very good book called Perch Hill: A New Life, about his escape from London and a break-down, after his divorce and a nasty mugging,… Read more

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Bookends: Unbalanced chorus

14 May 2011

Imagine a 77-year-old woman hanging around, say, Leicester bus station, telling people about her life. She confides her belief that she is under surveillance by the military. She maintains that… Read more

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The choppy sea of family life

7 May 2011
The Children of Lovers Judy Golding

Faber, pp.256, 16.99

This is a lovely book. Judy Golding writes of her father —indeed of both her parents — with candour, humour and great insight and perception This is a lovely book.… Read more