Biography

Painting the town together

2 June 2010 12:00 am

This book recounts a terrible story of self-destruction by two painters who, in their heyday, achieved considerable renown in Britain and abroad.

Golden youth or electric eel?

2 June 2010 12:00 am

Patrick Shaw-Stewart was the cleverest and the most ambitious of the gilded gang of young men who swam in the wake of the not-so-young but perennially youthful Raymond Asquith.

Mystery of the empty tomb

2 June 2010 12:00 am

John Henry Newman was an electrifying personality who has attracted numerous biographers and commentators.

Blood relatives

12 May 2010 12:00 am

The last time I saw Benazir Bhutto was at Oxford, over champagne outside the Examination Schools, when she inquired piercingly of a subfusc linguist, ‘Racine? What is Racine?’ Older and richer than most undergraduates, and as a Harvard graduate presumably better educated, she was already world famous, and was obviously not at Oxford to learn about classical tragedy.

Cherchez la femme

12 May 2010 12:00 am

The 22nd Earl of Erroll, Military Secretary in Kenya in the early part of the second world war, was described by two of his fellow peers of the realm as ‘a stoat — one of the great pouncers of all time’ and ‘a dreadful shit who really needed killing’.

Under false colours

5 May 2010 12:00 am

‘With time,’ writes David Remnick, ‘political campaigns tend to be viewed through the triumphalist prism of the winner.’ Never more so, perhaps, than in Remnick’s idolatrous new biography of Barack Obama, which presents the First Black President’s ascension to the White House as nothing less than a glorious saga.

To strive, to seek, to find . . .

21 April 2010 12:00 am

In 1931, a 23-year-old Englishman called Henry ‘Gino’ Watkins returned from an expedition to the white depths of the Greenlandic ice cap.

A bolt from the blue

21 April 2010 12:00 am

The memoirs of the Grand Duchess Olga are an entertaining record for anyone interested in the imperial family’s home life during the last years of Russian autocracy.

Our squandered national treasure

14 April 2010 12:00 am

Torn with grief, Melvyn Bragg has produced a condolence book for the South Bank Show (born 1978, died of neglect, 2010).

Anything for a laugh

14 April 2010 12:00 am

A hundred years ago, when Britannia still ruled the waves, the Royal Navy fell victim to a humiliating hoax, reports of which kept the public amused for a few wintry days in February 1910.

Scourge of the ancien régime

14 April 2010 12:00 am

Voltaire’s was a long and amazing life.

Triumph of the will

7 April 2010 12:00 am

Alistair Urquhart describes himself as ‘a lucky man as well as an angry man’.

Survival of the fittest

7 April 2010 12:00 am

When I was at Eton, many years before David Cameron, much of the school was run by a self-elected society known as ‘Pop’.

Fine artist, but a dirty old man

31 March 2010 12:00 am

I have always been sceptical of those passages in the ‘Ancestry’ chapters of biographies that run something like this: Through his veins coursed the rebellious blood of the Vavasours, blended with a more temperate strain from the Mudge family of Basingstoke.

Pearl of the Orient

31 March 2010 12:00 am

When she was a little girl, playing in the countryside around her missionary parents’ home in China, Pearl Buck used to come across the scattered body parts of babies abandoned for animals to devour. She would bury them, and tell no one.

Refusing to play the game

31 March 2010 12:00 am

What sort of person would you expect to be bringing out a life of J.D. Salinger two months after his death, bearing in mind that Salinger was more obsessive about his privacy than any other writer in human history and fought the publication of the last biography all the way to the US Supreme Court?

Pretty boy blue

24 March 2010 12:00 am

In his memoir Somebody Down Here Likes Me, Too, the boxer Rocky Graziano, on whom Paul Newman based his performance in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), describes the actor in perfect Runyonese:

The whirlwind and the saint

24 March 2010 12:00 am

Dave Eggers is the very model of the engaged writer.

Exotic Cuban underworld

17 March 2010 12:00 am

Before the revolución of 1959, Havana was, effectively, a mafia fleshpot and colony of Las Vegas.

Becoming a Victorian

17 March 2010 12:00 am

Winston Churchill was a racist. He said things like ‘I hate people with slit eyes and pig-tails. I don’t like the look of them or the smell of them’.

The reality behind the novels

10 March 2010 12:00 am

‘I never knew peaceful times’, Irène Némirovsky once said, ‘I’ve always lived in anxiety and often in danger’.

The stuff of legend

10 March 2010 12:00 am

This book could have been a classic.

The greatest rogue in Europe

24 February 2010 12:00 am

On 11 November 1743, the most sensational trial of the 18th century opened in the Four Courts in Dublin.

Life beyond the canvas

24 February 2010 12:00 am

Angela Thirlwell’s previous book was a double biography of William Rossetti (brother to the more famous Dante Gabriel) and his wife Lucy (daughter of the more famous Ford Madox Brown).

Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

17 February 2010 12:00 am

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble.