Book review – biography

The young Descartes: I fought, therefore I thought

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Descartes is most generally known these days for being the guy who was sure he existed because he was thinking.…

Kitty Marion: too radical even for the suffragettes

28 April 2018 9:00 am

The suffragettes are largely remembered not as firestarters and bombers but as pale martyrs to patriarchy. The hunger artists refusing…

Inger Nilsson as Pippi Longstocking in the Swedish television series. Astrid Lindgren drew deeply on her own childhood for her books

There’s much of Astrid Lindgren in the carrot-haired rebel Pippi Longstocking

21 April 2018 9:00 am

Pippi Longstocking is a nine-year-old girl who lives alone with a monkey and horse in a cottage called Villa Villekulla…

Henry Miller: part of the radical tradition of American seers and prophets

Henry Miller — pornographer or prophet?

14 April 2018 9:00 am

Few writers seem less deserving of resuscitation than Henry Miller. When the Scottish poet and novelist John Burnside was asked…

How one man took on the French betting system — and kept winning against the odds

14 April 2018 9:00 am

About a third of the way through this book I worked out that I had an unbeatable system for winning…

St Paul by El Greco

From persecutor to preacher: the journey of St Paul

24 March 2018 9:00 am

Saint Paul is unique among those who have changed the course of history — responsible not just for one but…

Portrait of Ada, aged 20

Was Ada Lovelace the true founder of Silicon Valley?

17 March 2018 9:00 am

It’s more than 160 years since the death of the computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage’s ‘enchantress of numbers’ and…

Spendthrift and slovenly, Thomas Paine was also a scrounger of epic proportions. When invited by a friend to Paris for a week, he ended up staying for five years

Thomas Paine: spendthrift, scrounger and polemicist of genius

10 March 2018 9:00 am

‘We have it in our power to begin the world over again.’ Ronald Reagan made this most unconservative of lines…

Doris Lessing in her mid sixties

Doris Lessing: from champion of free love to frump with a bun

10 March 2018 9:00 am

‘I am interested only in stretching myself, in living as fully as I can.’ Lara Feigel begins her thoughtful book…

The ruins of Dougga, Tunisia convinced Ibn Khaldun that North Africa had once been extremely prosperous and heavily populated

How a 14th-century Arab thinker influenced Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy

3 March 2018 9:00 am

  At a press conference in October 1981, Ronald Reagan quoted Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) in support of what is known…

Both Henry Williamson and Edward Thomas acknowledged their debt to Richard Jefferies (above)

Richard Jefferies: a naturalist under the microscope

3 February 2018 9:00 am

Alan Bennett once defined a classic as ‘a book everyone is assumed to have read and forgets if they have…

John Cairncross in retirement in the south of France. ‘He was my favourite of the Five,’ Yuri Modin, their KGB controller, wrote in his memoirs, despite finding Cairncross’s unpunctuality and inability to work a microfilm camera infuriating

The Cambridge spy ring and the myth of an upper-class cover up

3 February 2018 9:00 am

It has become fashionable since the fall of the Soviet Union to diagnose communist fellow travelling as a form of…

Enrico Fermi: nuclear physicist and childish practical joker

27 January 2018 9:00 am

Enrico Fermi may not be a name as familiar as Einstein, Feynman or Hawking, but he was one of the…

Portrait of William Farquhar by John Graham, c. 1830.

How Raffles stole the jewel of Singapore

27 January 2018 9:00 am

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a…

Mary Shelley: a major writer, with a heartbreakingly difficult life

Mary Shelley’s monstrous creation close up

20 January 2018 9:00 am

There are few more seductive figures for biographers than Mary Shelley. The daughter of the radical philosopher and novelist William…

Sex and sycophancy at Rolling Stone

18 November 2017 9:00 am

Many moons ago, I worked at the New Musical Express magazine, which transformed me from virgin schoolgirl to the fabulous…

Michael Caine in Get Carter

Ted Lewis: the great British crime writer you’ve never heard of

18 November 2017 9:00 am

If you search Google Images for Ted Lewis, the results show an American jazz-age band-leader in a battered top hat,…

George Eliot, photographed in 1858

Which writers really deserve to be called ‘outsiders’?

28 October 2017 9:00 am

The women writers Lyndall Gordon presents as brave ‘outsiders’ had easy lives compared with many other struggling authors one can name, says Philip Hensher

Joan was ‘a lovely boy-girl... like a casual, loving, decadent Eton athlete’, according to Cyril Connolly

Joan Leigh Fermor: sensual, aloof and tantalisingly untameable

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Joan Leigh Fermor died in 2003, aged 91, after falling in her bathroom in the house on a rocky headland…

Portrait of Gabrielle Renard and Jean Renoir. Gabrielle was an important part of the Renoir household, both as nanny and artist’s model

Renoir’s exuberant canvases masked a tortured soul

7 October 2017 9:00 am

In 1959 the formidable interviewer John Freeman took the Face to Face crew to the 81-year-old Augustus John’s studio. The…

The source of Mozart’s inspiration - a great musical whodunnit

2 September 2017 9:00 am

If you were to compare Mozart to a bird it wouldn’t be the starling. Possibly the wood thrush or nightingale,…

Kathy Acker in the late 1980s

Chris Kraus gets under Kathy Acker’s skin

2 September 2017 9:00 am

Few publishing phenomena in recent years have been as gratifying as Chris Kraus’s cult 1997 masterpiece I Love Dick becoming…

Darwin was a martyr to ill-health all his life, and was patiently nursed by his wife Emma, whom he called ‘Mammy’

Was Charles Darwin the true father of eugenics?

2 September 2017 9:00 am

If there were a prize awarded to the book with the best opening line, A. N. Wilson would be clearing…

Robert Louis Stevenson, photographed in Samoa shortly before his death

Robert Louis Stevenson’s treasured islands — and final resting place

2 September 2017 9:00 am

Towards the end of his life, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled widely in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. As well…

They shared a love of books, beekeeping, print-collecting, alchemy, geometry, music, astronomy and the English language: John Evelyn (left) and Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn: a meeting of like minds

19 August 2017 9:00 am

For Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, two great recorders of Restoration England, life was a cabinet of curiosities, says Frances Wilson