Biography

What made Lucian Freud so irresistible to women?

7 September 2019 9:00 am

Amedeo Modigliani thought Nina Hamnett, muse, painter, memoirist, had ‘the best tits in Europe’. She fell 40 feet from a…

How Britain conned the US into entering the war

7 September 2019 9:00 am

In June 1940, MI6’s new man, Bill Stephenson, ‘a figure of restless energy… wedged into the shell of a more…

In praise of Thomas Graham, unsung hero of the Peninsular War

7 September 2019 9:00 am

Why does a man join the army? The answer was probably more obvious in the 18th century than now, but…

The trail-blazing women writers of the 1960s were quite different from the male Angries

17 August 2019 9:00 am

The accepted story of mid-20th century culture in Britain belongs to the boys: the British Invasion, Beyond the Fringe and…

Walter Bagehot: the revered Victorian who got almost everything wrong

17 August 2019 9:00 am

Who was Walter Bagehot? For generations of politics students he has been the all-but-unpronounceable — Bayge-hot? Baggott? — author of…

Does Kim Jong-un deliberately emulate a Bond villain?

17 August 2019 9:00 am

North Korea watchers are good book-buyers, rarely able to resist scratching that itch of interest caused by the world’s worst…

Feasts, flowers and plein-air painting at Benton End

6 July 2019 9:00 am

Cedric Morris is often referred to as an artist-plantsman, and while as a breeder of plants, most particularly of irises,…

Alma Mahler — maddening, mesmerising or plain malicious?

8 June 2019 9:00 am

It must be rare for a popular song to have such a lasting influence on a posthumous reputation. However, this…

My fictional Abimael Guzmàn turned out to be eerily accurate

1 June 2019 9:00 am

Few Peruvians today are interested in ‘the Shining Path years’, which left no traces besides 70,000 mutilated bodies and a…

Where were you when you read John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’?

18 May 2019 9:00 am

Of how many magazine articles can you recall where you were and what you felt when you read them? If…

Fantasist, bigamist and cheat: the colourful career of Robert Parkin Peters

4 May 2019 9:00 am

In 2010, Adam Sisman published a masterly biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was not merely one of the best historians…

Fame made Gabriel García Márquez a pedantic bore

4 May 2019 9:00 am

Gerald Martin’s titanic biography of 2010, Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, was the product of 17 years of research and…

God save us from Søren Kierkegaard

27 April 2019 9:00 am

Surely God, if He existed, would find a major source of entertainment down the ages in the activities of theologians,…

Michael Tippett at home at Parkside, Corsham, Wilts with the score of his second piano sonata

Time for a Tippett revival

13 April 2019 9:00 am

Running the entire course of the 20th century, Michael Tippett’s life (1905–1998) was devoted to innovation. He was an English…

Statue of Socrates at the Academy of Athens

Socrates the romantic hero?

30 March 2019 9:00 am

If western philosophy is no more than ‘footnotes to Plato’, so, arguably, is the myth of its founding hero, Socrates.…

Robert A. Heinlein: the ‘giant of SF’ was sexist, racist — and certainly no stylist

30 March 2019 9:00 am

Like someone who has bought a first computer, then reads the manual from front to back but never actually gets…

By September 1942, Hall was being hunted as one of the Allies’ ‘most dangerous’ agents

The Lady with the Limp: homage to the one-legged Virginia Hall, SOE’s ‘most dangerous’ agent

30 March 2019 9:00 am

‘This seems to be in your rough area. I mean, it contains wooden legs and everything…’ my commissioning editor at…

Eric Hobsbawm, photographed in 1996. He admitted late in life that he had developed in youth ‘a facility for deleting unpleasant or unacceptable data’

How Eric Hobsbawm remained a lifelong communist — despite the ‘unpleasant data’

2 February 2019 9:00 am

Sir Richard Evans, retired regius professor of history at Cambridge, has always been a hefty historian. The densely compacted facts…

Hemingway with Martha Gellhorn on a shooting expedition, c.1940

The unimportance of Ernest Hemingway: why should we bother reading him anymore?

26 January 2019 9:00 am

What is the most repulsive sentence in English/American literature? Even as a 12-year-old American boy, I cringed when reading, in…

Teffi’s satire was always on target, but she balanced it with compassion

The best way to defeat totalitarianism? Treat it as a joke

19 January 2019 9:00 am

Is there anything one can never laugh about? A question inevitably hanging over humour writing, it’s best answered by the…

Detail of ‘Penn’s Treaty with the Indians’ by Benjamin West. Though William Penn was celebrated for his humane treatment of Native Americans, his heirs swindled the Lenape out of a million acres of territory

Should William Penn be shaking in his grave?

12 January 2019 9:00 am

The ultimate driving force of William Penn’s adult life is inaccessible, as the Quaker phrase ‘Inner Light’ suggests. While a…

‘The Break-up of the Ice’ by Claude Monet

How Calouste Gulbenkian became the richest man in the world

5 January 2019 9:00 am

Whenever I find myself visiting some great historic house, I always like to break off from gawping at tapestries to…

Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, by J.H. Maguire

The wildest Wilde of all: the scandalous life of Oscar’s father

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘To have a father is always big news,’ according to the narrator of Sebastian Barry’s early novel, The Engine of…

Vivien Leigh in a publicity still for Waterloo Bridge, 1940

Vivien Leigh: the brilliant star that fast burned out

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Dark Star’ is a suitable enough title in itself, but the definition makes it a brilliant one: ‘A Dark Star’,…

‘He had a rather melancholy face, and the air of a transplanted hidalgo’, said H.H. Asquith of John Meade Falkner.

In praise of John Meade Falkner: poet, arms-dealer and unforgettable novelist

15 December 2018 9:00 am

When H.H. Asquith, as prime minister, visited Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, during the first world war, he found a vast…