Biography

Gustav Mahler’s bid for greatness: the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’

21 March 2020 9:00 am

Gustav Mahler was a passionate enthusiast for the colossal in music. Even so, his mighty eighth symphony stands apart, says Philip Hensher

The good boy of jazz: Dave Brubeck’s time has come round at last

7 March 2020 9:00 am

On 8 November 1954, Dave Brubeck’s portrait appeared on the cover of Time magazine, accompanied by the words ‘The Joints…

Dangerously desirable: the white-morph gyr falcon commands sky-high prices

29 February 2020 9:00 am

The art of falconry is more than 3,000 years old and possibly as popular now as at any time. Its…

The wizard that was Warhol

29 February 2020 9:00 am

In 1983 I was sent to New York to interview Johnny Rotten and I took the opportunity to call on…

Death in the Cape – the lonely fate of Mary Kingsley

15 February 2020 9:00 am

What compelled three well-known British writers to leave their homes and travel 6,000 miles to participate in a nasty late-19th-century…

The stomach for the fight: cooking for Churchill during the war

15 February 2020 9:00 am

Georgina Landemare cooked for the Churchill family in all their kitchens, during the 1930s and 1940s. She got as close…

Rembrandt remains an enigma

24 January 2020 10:00 pm

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–69) is not only the presiding genius of the Dutch golden age of painting, but one…

We were highly amused: the Queen — and Mrs Thatcher — thought Ken Dodd tattyfilarious

24 January 2020 10:00 pm

Doddy! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. England hath need of tickling sticks. So also hath the rest of…

How did the infamous Josef Mengele escape punishment?

24 January 2020 10:00 pm

The atrocities of the concentration camp at Auschwitz–Birkenau are now universally known, but it is still almost beyond belief that…

A lovable, impossible man: Bryan Robertson, gifted curator and Spectator critic

18 January 2020 9:00 am

Andrew Lambirth claims that Bryan Robertson was ‘the greatest director the Tate Gallery never had’; but on the evidence of…

The dark past of the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge

18 January 2020 9:00 am

A distinctive pattern of horizontal and vertical lines appears in the background of many of Eadweard Muybridge’s best-known photographs, giving…

David Bowie: the boy who never gave up

11 January 2020 9:00 am

A few years ago Will Brooker spent 12 months pretending to be David Bowie. For several weeks he dressed up…

How troll stories blighted the life of Patrick O’Brian

21 December 2019 9:00 am

Patrick O’Brian, born Richard Patrick Russ, never wanted his life written, and this passionate wish presents the first hurdle to…

The genius of Reynolds Stone: a private man in a public world

21 December 2019 9:00 am

You may not know the name of Reynolds Stone, but it is almost impossible that you haven’t come across his…

Burnt out at 27: the tragedy of Janis Joplin

21 December 2019 9:00 am

Janis Joplin hated the word ‘star’, but she loved the trappings. As soon as she made serious money she bought…

James Baldwin’s radicalism was part Marxist, part Christian

7 December 2019 9:00 am

Great biographies try to answer questions about the complicated relationship between their subjects’ inner life and outer workings. How did…

Three dashing Frenchmen captivate Victorian London

2 November 2019 9:00 am

Do not google Samuel Jean Pozzi. If you want to enjoy Julian Barnes’s The Man in the Red Coat —…

A cross between Joyce Grenfell and Frida Kahlo: Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins

26 October 2019 9:00 am

In 1971, Tove Jansson paid one of her many visits to London, where 1960s fashion hangovers made the whole city…

Edith Nesbit — a children’s writer of genius who disinherited her own adopted offspring

26 October 2019 9:00 am

‘When one writes for children,’ the novelist Jill Paton Walsh has said, ‘there are more people in the room. Writing…

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…