Book review – biography

Bruce Lee in a scene from Enter the Dragon

Bruce Lee: weird, gruesome and oh-so-cool

28 July 2018 9:00 am

Every cinema-loving person has a favourite Bruce Lee moment. My own comes towards the end of Enter the Dragon, the…

Mandela revisits his prison cell on Robben Island in 1994 [Getty]

What Nelson Mandela really craved in prison: Pond’s Cold Cream

28 July 2018 9:00 am

So much rubbish has been written over the years by those who feared, revered or pretended to know Nelson Mandela…

Tommy Nutter in 1973 — the most exciting tailor on Savile Row in decades, according to Hardy Amies

You didn’t have to be mad to work for Tommy Nutter — but it helped

2 June 2018 9:00 am

The tailor’s art is a triumph of mind over schmatte. Not just in the physical cutting and stitching, but in…

Hello darkness, my old friend: Paul Simon, determined to ensure that his true self remains in shadow

The sound of silence that echoes round Paul Simon

26 May 2018 9:00 am

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble choosing the jacket cover of Robert Hilburn’s authorised biography of Paul Simon…

Dorothy Parker: poet, short story writer, acidic reviewer and queen of the Algonquin Round Table

America’s wittiest women fight to be taken seriously

26 May 2018 9:00 am

From Aphra Behn to Virginia Woolf, women who make a living by their pens have frequently felt the need to…

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…