A heart made to be broken

18 June 2011 12:00 am

Very useful in modern conversation, Oscar Wilde.

Backs to the wall

28 May 2011 12:00 am

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage.

Sixties mystic

28 May 2011 12:00 am

The misery memoir is the fad of the moment.

Dreaming of cowsheds

21 May 2011 12:00 am

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, to a farm in the Sussex Weald, close to Kipling’s house, Batemans.

Bookends: Unbalanced chorus

14 May 2011 6:00 am

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 she can ‘see the reality of the web of synchronicity in my life’. Showing off her special jewellery that ‘helps balance the chakras’, she reveals that ‘because I had a high metabolism and moved around a lot, I had no real [weight] problem until I was about 50’.

The choppy sea of family life

7 May 2011 12:00 am

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

A certain tragic allure

23 April 2011 12:00 am

Towards Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), the last or most recent Shah of Iran, there are two principal attitudes.

The man mountain of Fleet Street

23 April 2011 12:00 am

A. N. Wilson has a queasy feeling that he won’t be re-reading the works of G. K. Chesterton for a while

A fate worse than death

16 April 2011 12:00 am

Hugo Vickers has already produced a well-documented and balanced biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

The wisdom of youth

9 April 2011 12:00 am

‘You must write it all down’ is the age-old plea to elderly relatives about their childhood memories.

Cuckoo in the nest

9 April 2011 12:00 am

Caradoc King, the well-known literary agent, was adopted in 1948 as a baby into a family of three girls, shortly joined by a fourth, presided over by a difficult, unhappy mother and her feebly adoring husband.

A world of her own

2 April 2011 12:00 am

This book, written by someone whose husband was for three years prime minister of Britain, is impossible to review.

A bit of a softie

12 March 2011 12:00 am

Tom Bower’s fearsome reputation as a biographer preceded him in the Formula One paddock.

Black swan

5 March 2011 12:00 am

At a time when publishers seem chary of commissioning literary biographies, the conditions for writing them have never been better.

A serious man

19 February 2011 12:00 am

For much of the second half of his life Arthur Miller was a man whose future lay behind him.

Care or cure?

5 February 2011 12:00 am

Cancer is usually associated with death.

Consummate con artist

5 February 2011 12:00 am

‘Taylor, I dreamt of your lecture last night,’ the polar explorer Captain Scott was once heard to exclaim, after sitting through a paper on icebergs by the expedition physiographer, Griffith Taylor, that had reduced even its author to the edge of catalepsy: ‘How could I live so long in the world and not know something of so fascinating a subject!’ The True Story of Titanic Thompson is not going to be everyone’s book, but for those who can get beyond the child-brides and casual killings, Kevin Cook’s biography of a great American hustler might well provoke the same sense of wonderment.

Pig in the middle

22 January 2011 12:00 am

Writing an autobiographical account of middle age is a brave undertaking, necessitating a great deal of self-scrutiny at a time of life when most of us would sooner look the other way and hope for the best.

Lessons for life

18 December 2010 12:00 am

All modern biographies, one could say, are books of secrets; certainly all biographers during the past four decades have felt entitled to ferret around in their subject’s private as well as public lives.

BOOKENDS: Inspiration for a cult hero

6 November 2010 10:00 am

This is an odd book: the exhaustive biography of a complete nobody. Vivian Mackerrell was the primary inspiration for the cult that is Withnail. In that, at least, he doesn’t disappoint.

His own best invention

6 November 2010 12:00 am

Just as it will sometimes happen that a critic feels obliged to preface a review with a declaration of interest, so I should now declare a lack of interest.

Merging poetry and song

25 September 2010 12:00 am

The best book so far about Bob Dylan, the only one worthy of his oeuvre, is his own astonishing Chronicles, Volume One (2004), but while we wait for the next fix, Bob Dylan in America will keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Welsh wizardry and venom

18 September 2010 12:00 am

Paul Johnson reviews Roy Hattersley’s life of David Lloyd George

A charismatic narcissist

11 September 2010 12:00 am

In equal measure, this book is fascinating and irritating.

Spiv on a grand scale

11 September 2010 12:00 am

Apart from his enormous wealth, the only interesting thing about Paul Raymond was his dishonesty, which was relentless and comprehensive, and always gave the game away.