Biography

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,…

Wilhelm Furtwängler in the 1920s. His conduct, rather than his conducting, is what obsesses Roger Allen

The new biography of Wilhelm Furtwängler is a real labour of loathing

30 June 2018 9:00 am

The titans of the podium, a late 19th- and 20th-century phenomenon, a species now extinct, have on the whole been…

Nikola Tesla — a man of pyrotechnic intelligence, comparable to Einstein, Marconi and Edison

The electrifying genius of Nikola Tesla

30 June 2018 9:00 am

Nikola Tesla, the man who made alternating current work, wrote to J. Pierpont Morgan, the industrialist and banker. It was…

All smiles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in early days

The Wallis Simpson I knew – by Nicky Haslam

12 May 2018 9:00 am

One would have thought this particular can of worms might, after nearly 80 years, be well past its sell-by date.…

Ragged spectres, half sunk in mud, half lost in shadow: Joseph Gray’s unnerving ‘A Ration Party’

The disappearing acts of Joseph Gray, master of military camouflage

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Frances Wilson goes in search of Joseph Gray, whose experiments in camouflage changed the landscape of the second world war

Saul Bellow (centre): ‘He said he felt like Valjean, pursued by Inspector Javert through the sewers of Paris,’ says James Atlas. Above and left: Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were both better biographers than biographees

Biography is a thoroughly reprehensible genre

3 March 2018 9:00 am

Why do biographers insist on making neat patterns of their subjects’ lives? Roger Lewis finds it rigid, invasive and wrong

Debussy appears to have had no real sympathy for, or interest in, other people

Debussy: the musical genius who erupted out of nowhere

24 February 2018 9:00 am

That was Debussy’s guiding principle – and his music has been a lifelong pleasure for Philip Hensher, too

‘The Illegal Act’: Roosevelt, in a boat named National Recovery, struggles to save Uncle Sam from the Depression. The cartoon appeared in 1935, when the United States Supreme Court declared the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional

What America needs is another Franklin D. Roosevelt

13 January 2018 9:00 am

What America needs is another Franklin D. Roosevelt

Taki: The truth about Ernest Hemingway

6 January 2018 9:00 am

Gstaad When the snow finally stopped, the sublime, silent stars above made for dramatic viewing. Against silhouetted Alpine peaks, starry…

A previously unpublished photograph of Dylan in 1981

Bob Dylan is a modern-day Odysseus

9 December 2017 9:00 am

‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’…

The Godfather: Edward Garnett had a keen eye for talent, but was blind to modernism

Edward Garnett and his diligent blue pencil

9 December 2017 9:00 am

Edward Garnett, radical, pacifist, freethinker, Russophile man of letters, was from the 1890s onwards for many years the pre-eminent fixer…