Biography

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…

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.…