Biography

Where were you when you read John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’?

18 May 2019 9:00 am

Of how many magazine articles can you recall where you were and what you felt when you read them? If…

Fantasist, bigamist and cheat: the colourful career of Robert Parkin Peters

4 May 2019 9:00 am

In 2010, Adam Sisman published a masterly biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was not merely one of the best historians…

Fame made Gabriel García Márquez a pedantic bore

4 May 2019 9:00 am

Gerald Martin’s titanic biography of 2010, Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, was the product of 17 years of research and…

God save us from Søren Kierkegaard

27 April 2019 9:00 am

Surely God, if He existed, would find a major source of entertainment down the ages in the activities of theologians,…

Michael Tippett at home at Parkside, Corsham, Wilts with the score of his second piano sonata

Time for a Tippett revival

13 April 2019 9:00 am

Michael Tippett’s music has been too rarely performed since his death. It’s time for a revival, says Philip Hensher

Statue of Socrates at the Academy of Athens

Socrates the romantic hero?

30 March 2019 9:00 am

If western philosophy is no more than ‘footnotes to Plato’, so, arguably, is the myth of its founding hero, Socrates.…

Robert A. Heinlein: the ‘giant of SF’ was sexist, racist — and certainly no stylist

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Like someone who has bought a first computer, then reads the manual from front to back but never actually gets…

By September 1942, Hall was being hunted as one of the Allies’ ‘most dangerous’ agents

The Lady with the Limp: homage to the one-legged Virginia Hall, SOE’s ‘most dangerous’ agent

30 March 2019 9:00 am

‘This seems to be in your rough area. I mean, it contains wooden legs and everything…’ my commissioning editor at…

Eric Hobsbawm, photographed in 1996. He admitted late in life that he had developed in youth ‘a facility for deleting unpleasant or unacceptable data’

How Eric Hobsbawm remained a lifelong communist — despite the ‘unpleasant data’

2 February 2019 9:00 am

Left orphaned and impoverished at 14, Eric Hobsbawm was ripe for conversion to communism, says Richard Davenport-Hines

Hemingway with Martha Gellhorn on a shooting expedition, c.1940

The unimportance of Ernest Hemingway: why should we bother reading him anymore?

26 January 2019 9:00 am

What is the most repulsive sentence in English/American literature? Even as a 12-year-old American boy, I cringed when reading, in…

Teffi’s satire was always on target, but she balanced it with compassion

The best way to defeat totalitarianism? Treat it as a joke

19 January 2019 9:00 am

Is there anything one can never laugh about? A question inevitably hanging over humour writing, it’s best answered by the…

Detail of ‘Penn’s Treaty with the Indians’ by Benjamin West. Though William Penn was celebrated for his humane treatment of Native Americans, his heirs swindled the Lenape out of a million acres of territory

Should William Penn be shaking in his grave?

12 January 2019 9:00 am

The ultimate driving force of William Penn’s adult life is inaccessible, as the Quaker phrase ‘Inner Light’ suggests. While a…

‘The Break-up of the Ice’ by Claude Monet

How Calouste Gulbenkian became the richest man in the world

5 January 2019 9:00 am

Philip Hensher on the ruthless cynicism behind Calouste Gulbenkian’s colossal fortune

Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, by J.H. Maguire

The wildest Wilde of all: the scandalous life of Oscar’s father

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘To have a father is always big news,’ according to the narrator of Sebastian Barry’s early novel, The Engine of…

Vivien Leigh in a publicity still for Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Vivien Leigh: the brilliant star that fast burned out

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Dark Star’ is a suitable enough title in itself, but the definition makes it a brilliant one: ‘A Dark Star’,…

‘He had a rather melancholy face, and the air of a transplanted hidalgo’, said H.H. Asquith of John Meade Falkner.

In praise of John Meade Falkner: poet, arms-dealer and unforgettable novelist

15 December 2018 9:00 am

A.N. Wilson on the mysterious life of John Meade Falkner

‘There is so little heartless work around. So I feel I am filling a small but necessary gap.’ Edward Gorey photographed in 1977 on the set he designed for the Broadway production of Dracula

Edward Gorey: master of the macabre

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Edward Gorey delighted in the macabre and contradictory, feeling at home with things not making sense. He was, says Sam Leith, an exquisite but very minor talent

The Queen on a Royal Tour of Pakistan in 1961.

Elizabeth II: Queen of tact and diplomacy

8 December 2018 9:00 am

In her 66 years on the throne the Queen has represented Britain on official visits to at least 126 countries…

Henri Landru.

A real-life Bluebeard: on the track of France’s most notorious serial killer

8 December 2018 9:00 am

From Colette to Rudyard Kipling, celebrities flocked for front-row seats at the 1921 trial of Henri Landru, the notorious ‘lonely…

Is Lionel Messi the greatest footballer of all time?

8 December 2018 9:00 am

If you don’t know who Lionel Messi is you won’t enjoy this book much. If you do, you probably will.…

Saul Bellow, photographed in Paris in 1982. Extraordinary literary intelligence saw him through the mess of his own life

Saul Bellow: love the work, if not the man

17 November 2018 9:00 am

Boxing writers sometimes try to make comparisons across weight groups. They used to say, for example, that Floyd Mayweather was…

Contradictions are the bedrock of who she is: Germaine Greer photographed in 1993

Germaine Greer continues to shock and awe

3 November 2018 9:00 am

Germaine Greer is no fan of biography – especially when she’s the subject. If you want to know about her, read her books, says Frances Wilson

Gandhi strides forth on the Salt March in 1930, protesting against the government’s monopoly of salt production

Gandhi on Hitler: ‘I do not believe him to be as bad as he is portrayed’

13 October 2018 9:00 am

‘It’s a beautiful world if it wasn’t for Gandhi who is really a perfect nuisance,’ Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India,…

Papa and his muse in Cuba

The old man and his muse: Hemingway’s toe-curling infatuation with Adriana Ivancich

1 September 2018 9:00 am

One rainy evening in December 1948, a blue Buick emerged from the darkness of the Venetian lagoon near the village…

The unknown Auden: the poet’s dashing brother

11 August 2018 9:00 am

A book that opens in a Lahore refugee camp, shifts to Cat Bells Fell, rising above the shores of Derwentwater,…