Book review – biography

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

The Shard’s angled, fractured sides change its appearance according to London’s sky conditions

The Shard: a vast, unnecessary financial speculation

29 July 2017 9:00 am

The Shard is an unnecessary building. Nobody apart from its developer asked for it to be built. Nobody was crying…

Hanna Reitsch — a committed Nazi and idol of German aviation.

Hitler’s glamorous high flyers

1 July 2017 9:00 am

Keith Lowe on Nazi Germany’s two remarkable female pilots, both holders of the Iron Cross, First Class

Czesław Miłosz in Paris in 2001

Czeslaw Milosz’s highly acclaimed poetry does little for Craig Raine

1 July 2017 9:00 am

Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality wryly depicts Goethe preparing for immortality — neatly laying out his life in Dichtung und Warheit…

Patience Gray in 1959, photographed by a colleague at the Observer

The bewitching charms of Patience Gray

24 June 2017 9:00 am

As a food writer Patience Gray (1917–2005) merits shelf-space with M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson. Fleeing from the…

Regretful nostalgia: F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925

F. Scott Fitzgerald: haunted by nostalgia

24 June 2017 9:00 am

‘I do not like the idea of the biographical book,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald told his editor Max Perkins in 1936.…

The Marchesa Casati as an Indian dancer by Leon Bakst (1912)

Fortuny gold and fancy gondolas: the grandes dames of the Grand Canal

17 June 2017 9:00 am

In our age of elasticated leisurewear, ready meals and box sets on telly, it is exhilarating to read about people…

Portrait of Hans Sloane by Stephen Slaughter (1736)

Hans Sloane collected everything – from acupuncture kits to zebras

27 May 2017 9:00 am

Hans Sloane’s passion for collecting led to the foundation = of the British Museum. But missing – until now – has been the man himself, says Jonathan Keates

Maxwell Knight with his favourite pet, Goo the cuckoo

Maxwell Knight — a great spymaster and an honourable man

27 May 2017 9:00 am

I once asked Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, what she did to relax. Nailing me to the wall…

The strange cases of Mr Justice McCardie

20 May 2017 9:00 am

Justice McCardie was anything but a conventional High Court judge. He left school at 15 and was called to the…

George Landseer’s portrait of Alexander Gardner — adventurer, outlaw and mercenary, who took unseemly pride in parading decapitated heads

The fantastic adventures of the tartan-turbaned colonel

13 May 2017 9:00 am

In the 1860s, when British visitors first began to explore the high altitude pleasures of Kashmir, it was not just…

A Kalash girl in traditional dress

Search for the Yeti at your peril

29 April 2017 9:00 am

This book, according to its author Gabi Martínez, is ‘a non-fiction novel’. It tells the story of Jordi Magraner, a…

Fighting talk — but little action — from Ernest Hemingway

29 April 2017 9:00 am

On 11 May 1937, at the Gare St-Lazare in Paris, Ernest Hemingway said goodbye to a friend who was leaving…

Tall tales from the Durrells of Corfu

22 April 2017 9:00 am

When I was at boarding school in the early 1970s, the Durrells, or at least Gerald, were immensely popular. My…

Leonora Carrington’s adventures in surrealism

15 April 2017 9:00 am

The surrealists’ muse and a distinguished artist in her own right, Leonora Carrington captivated all who met her, says Jane Rye

Self-portrait

David Jones – the 20th century’s great neglected genius

1 April 2017 9:00 am

When Stravinsky visited David Jones in his cold Harrow bedsit, he came away saying, ‘I have been in the presence…

‘Family Scene’, by Kahlil Gibran, c. 1914

Kahlil Gibran: from penniless refugee to universal Prophet

25 March 2017 9:00 am

Kahlil Gibran was 40 years old, a short — he was just 5’3” — dapper man with doleful eyes and…

Fantastic interpretations of the inkblots might imply either madness or high intelligence and creativity. Rorschach was convinced the tests could distinguish between the two

Could the Rorschach tests spot a Nazi?

4 March 2017 9:00 am

There may be something in the Rorschach tests, says Philip Hensher, but can it really be measured?

The star-struck Claretta, Mussolini’s last love. According to her diaries, he radiated a ‘god-like potency’ and a ‘bull-like’ magnetism

Seducing Mussolini

25 February 2017 9:00 am

As a child in fascist Italy, Clara Petacci (known as Claretta) was dutifully adoring of Benito Mussolini and the cult…

Simon Callow tries (again) to get inside Wagner’s head

18 February 2017 9:00 am

The dust cover features one of the best-known caricatures of Richard Wagner, his enormous head in this version opened like…