An obituarist’s search for the soul

‘“Deep breath”, says the doctor. I take one and hold it.’ Thus begins the fourth chapter of Ann Wroe’s Lifescapes. It is apt because, although the book is part memoir, part essay on the art of biography, it is really about the breath of life itself. Wroe’s writing is intense and visionary, at times almost ecstatic. Reader, dive in. Wroe has written weekly obituaries for the Economist for 20 years, seeking out seemingly ephemeral moments that unlock people’s lives. ‘Time and again,’ she says, ‘some incident in childhood is the key to a career.’ The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen was delighted by the sound his toy hammer made on pipes and