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Biography

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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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Ruling the planet

4 September 2010
The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World David Kirkpatrick

Virgin, pp.153, 11.99

‘Facebook’, says the excitable author of this hero-gram, ‘may be the fastest-growing company of any type in history.’ ‘Facebook’, says the excitable author of this hero-gram, ‘may be the fastest-growing… Read more

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The motherland’s tight embrace

4 September 2010
A Mountain of Crumbs: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Elena Gorokhova

Windmill Books, pp.323, 8.99

At nursery school, along with her warm milk, little Lena Gorokhova imbibed the essence of survival in the post-war Soviet Union. It consisted of a game called vranyo — pretence:… Read more

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The laird and his legend

28 August 2010
Scott-Land: The Man who Invented a Nation Stuart Kelly

Polygon, pp.328, 16.99

‘Stuart Kelly’ the author’s note declares, ‘was born and brought up in the Scottish Borders.’ Not so, as he tells us; he was born in Falkirk, which is in central… Read more

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Kin, but less than kind

28 August 2010
Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family Jeremy Lewis

Cape, pp.580, 25

About 100 years ago two brothers settled in the same small English town and raised 12 children. Charles Greene was a scholar, destined for the Bar, who blundered into schoolmastering… Read more

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Young man on the make

28 August 2010
Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare

Cape, pp.554, 25

We are not going to agree about Bruce Chatwin. The five books he published in his lifetime are, to some readers, magnificent works of art, setting out grand ideas about… Read more

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Way out west

21 August 2010
Lighting Out For the Territory Roy Morris Jr

v, pp.282, 17.99

This year America celebrates the cent-enary of Mark Twain’s death. This year America celebrates the cent-enary of Mark Twain’s death. He is the nearest that country gets to a national… Read more

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Girls from the golden West

14 August 2010
Sisters of Fortune: Marianne, Bess, Louisa and Emily Caton Jehanne Wake

Chatto, pp.394, 25

Who was the first American to marry an English duke? Most students of the peerage would say it was Consuelo Yzagna who married the eldest son of the Duke of… Read more

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Jail birds

14 August 2010
The Road to Low Newton Adrian Clarke

West Pier Press, pp.84, 35

Next to his photographs of 40 women who have spent time in Low Newton prison, Adrian Clarke has juxtaposed short accounts from each of how she got there. Low Newton,… Read more

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Doing what it says on the tin

14 August 2010
Andy Warhol: His Controversial Life, Art and Colourful Times Tony Scherman and David Dalton

JR Books, pp.440, 25

If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it. Much… Read more

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Dramatic asides

14 August 2010
Scribble, Scribble, Scribble Simon Schama

Bodley Head, pp.427, 20

‘I Scribble, therefore I am’: this Cartesian quip is typical of Simon Schama, as is the comprehensive subtitle: ‘Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother,’ among other topics,… Read more

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Raining on their parade

7 August 2010
Antony and Cleopatra Adrian Goldsworthy

Weidenfeld, pp.470, 25

Julius Caesar’s deputy, Cleopatra’s second lover, Marcus Antonius is the perennial supporting act. Julius Caesar’s deputy, Cleopatra’s second lover, Marcus Antonius is the perennial supporting act. In books about Caesar… Read more

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The invisible man

31 July 2010
Attlee: A Life in Politics Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds

I.B. Tauris, pp.329, 25

Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds’s study of Clement Attlee is a specimen of that now relatively rare but still far from endangered species, the ‘political’ biography. Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds’s study of Clement Attlee is… Read more

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No body in the library

24 July 2010
Duchess of Death: The Unauthorised Biography of Agatha Christie Richard Hack

J.R. Books, pp.320, 18.99

The opening paragraph of Duchess of Death’s fourth chapter, in which its subject is about to have her first whodunit published, begins thus: The opening paragraph of Duchess of Death’s… Read more

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Tried and tested

24 July 2010
Young Mandela David James Smith

Weidenfeld, pp.368, 18.99

In June 1964, when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for acts of sabotage against the apartheid government of South Africa, he was, as photographs reveal, a burly, blackhaired… Read more

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Caught in the crossfire

24 July 2010
Curfewed Night Basharat Peer

HarperPress, pp.240, 16.99

Maqbool Sheikh dreaded hearing a knock at the door of his home. For he was the most intimate witness to one of the world’s most enduring and forgotten conflicts, the… Read more

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The perfect stranger

17 July 2010
My Bonnie John Suchet

Harper Collins, pp.311, 18.99

There are an estimated 417,000 people in the UK suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and double that number suffering from other forms of dementia. There are an estimated 417,000 people in… Read more

The lure of adventure

7 July 2010
My Friend the Mercenary James Brabazon

Canongate, pp.352, 16.99

A few minutes’ walk from Paddington Station is a drinking den and restaurant called the Frontline Club, a members’ club for foreign correspondents. A few minutes’ walk from Paddington Station… Read more

A cousin across the water

7 July 2010
Shane Leslie: Sublime Failure Otto Rauchbauer

Lilliput Press, pp.356, 35

Though he was to live at Castle Leslie in Co. Monaghan, Sir John Randalph (later Shane) Leslie, cousin of Winston Churchill, was born at Stratford House, London, in 1885 though… Read more

Hunting and working

7 July 2010
Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography Adam Sisman

Weindenfeld and Nicholson, pp.598, 25

Why are scholars so prone to melancholy? According to the expert, Robert Burton of Christ Church, it is because ‘they live a sedentary, solitary life… Why are scholars so prone… Read more

Learning to live with the bomb

7 July 2010
The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010 Peter Hennessy

Penguin, pp.470, 10.99

The call consisted of three short blows of breath. A minute later, the phone rang again. Once more: three short blows of breath. Mr Cowell, under diplomatic cover, was the… Read more

A flammable individual

30 June 2010
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane Andrew Graham-Dixon

Allen Lane, pp.514, 30

On the night of 18 October 1969, thieves broke into the Oratory of San Lorenzo, Palermo, and removed Caravaggio’s Nativity. On the night of 18 October 1969, thieves broke into… Read more

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Schlock teaser

30 June 2010
Gypsy: The Art of the Tease Rachel Shteir

Yale, pp.240, 12.99

The somewhat straightlaced theatre-going audiences of 1880s America, eager for performances by European artistes like Jenny Lind and solid, home-grown, classical actors such as Otis Skinner, were hardly prepared for… Read more

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More than a painter of Queens

30 June 2010
Philip De Laszlo: His Life and Art Duff Hart-Davis

Yale, pp.412, 30

The last words of Hungarian-born portraitist Philip de László, spoken to his nurse, were apparently, ‘It is a pity, because there is so much still to do.’ As Duff Hart-Davis’s… Read more

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High priest of bop

23 June 2010
Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original Robin D. G. Kelly

J.R. Books, pp.588, 20

In the Rainbow Grill in New York one evening in 1971, according to Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Southern California, Duke… Read more