Book review – biography

John Lennon ‘adapted’ by Felix Dennis, 1966

Would even Blair have put Felix Dennis in the Lords?

24 October 2015 9:00 am

This is not only an authorised but a commissioned biography. Felix Dennis, the tiny, depraved, manipulative media mogul, was hardly…

The meeting of Thatcher and Gorbachev in 1984 initiated the process that brought freedom to millions in Eastern Europe

Margaret Thatcher’s most surprising virtue: imagination

17 October 2015 8:00 am

In almost every one of the many biographies of Margaret Thatcher that now exist, the story is told of her…

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan

Woody Allen: a life of jazz, laughter, depression —and a few misdemeanours

26 September 2015 8:00 am

Woody Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg), the prolific, Oscar-winning auteur, New Orleans-style jazz clarinettist, doyen of New York delicatessen society,…

Nixon with Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld in 1969

Niall Ferguson's biography of Henry Kissinger is a masterpiece

19 September 2015 8:00 am

I have met Dr Kissinger, properly, only three times. First, in Cairo, in 1980, when, as a junior diplomat escorting…

Gore Vidal, wannabe aristocrat and proud degenerate

5 September 2015 9:00 am

History for Gore Vidal was a vehicle to be ridden in triumph, perhaps as in an out-take from Ben-Hur, which…

Francis Bacon in Paris in 1984

Bacon on the side: the great painter’s drinking partner tells all

5 September 2015 9:00 am

When Michael Peppiatt met Francis Bacon in 1963 to interview him for a student magazine, the artist was already well-established,…

John Freeman: polymath or psychopath?

15 August 2015 9:00 am

They don’t make Englishmen like the aptly named John Freeman any more. When he died last Christmas just shy of…

Robert Moses in 1952

The sadist who wrecked New York, and the last of the great biographers

4 July 2015 9:00 am

It is something of a mystery why the Bodley Head has decided to publish Robert Caro’s The Power Broker in…

The boy who rebuilt the sun on earth

4 July 2015 9:00 am

In 2008, when Taylor Wilson was 14, he created a working nuclear fusion reactor, ‘a miniature sun on earth’. At…

Henrietta Bingham holds the whip hand with Stephen Tomlin at Ham Spray, home of Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington

Good stories of bad Bloomsbury behaviour

27 June 2015 9:00 am

In March 1923 a large birthday party was held in a studio in Bloomsbury. It is often assumed that the…

Catherine Lampert, 1986

Frank Auerbach: frightened of heights, dogs, driving, swimming — but finding courage through painting

6 June 2015 9:00 am

With a career of more than 60 years so far, Frank Auerbach is undoubtedly one of the big beasts of…

Béla Bartók recording folk songs with villagers in Hungary, 1907

Bartók would have made history even if he’d never composed a note

6 June 2015 9:00 am

‘All my life, always and in every way, I shall have one objective: the good of Hungary and the Hungarian…

Lankily elegant and exquisitely dressed: Peter Watson (right) with Oliver Messel

The Mad Boy, Peter Watson, Cecil Beaton and the limo — by Sofka Zinovieff

23 May 2015 9:00 am

It would not have surprised their friends in the 1930s when Peter Watson had a fling with my grandfather, Robert…

Barbara Pym: a woman scorned

23 May 2015 9:00 am

Anyone who has ever listened to the thump of a rejected manuscript descending cheerlessly on to the mat can take…

Edward Thomas: the prolific hack (who wrote a book review every three days for 14 years) turned to poetry just in time

23 May 2015 9:00 am

Edward Thomas was gloomy as Eeyore. In 1906 he complained to a friend that his writing ‘was suffering more &…

‘We will achieve abundance’ promises a propaganda poster of 1949. But by 1952 most free Soviet citizens shared the same diet as the inhabitants of the Gulag

Uncle Joe is revered in Putin’s Russia as a benevolent dictator

23 May 2015 9:00 am

‘Lately, the paradoxical turns of recent Russian history… have given my research more than scholarly relevance,’ remarks Oleg Khlevniuk in…

Portrait thought to be of Francis Barber by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Francis Barber: reluctant member of Dr Johnson’s mad ménage

23 May 2015 9:00 am

We know a great deal about Samuel Johnson and virtually nothing about his Jamaican servant, Francis Barber. The few facts…

Charlotte and Susan Cushman as Romeo and Juliet c. 1849. Now comparatively obscure,Charlotte was widely considered the most powerful actress on the 19th-century stage

Shakespeare’s stagecraft — and his greatest players

16 May 2015 9:00 am

How many books are there about Shakespeare? A study published in the 1970s claimed a figure of 11,000, and today…

Hitler with the Goebbels family in the late 1930s

Joseph Goebbels: Hitler’s ‘little doctor’ was devoted unto death

9 May 2015 9:00 am

It is ironic that this weighty biography of Hitler’s evil genius of a propaganda minister is published on the day…

Moura Budberg with two of her lovers, H.G. Wells and Maxim Gorky

The spy who loved (a lot): Moura Budberg’s life reads like a thriller — and may have been more interesting than she was herself

9 May 2015 9:00 am

Moura Budberg (1892–1974) had an extraordinary life. She was born in the Poltava region of Ukraine, and as a young…

Family photo of Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow’s fiction: a warehouse of stolen property

2 May 2015 9:00 am

Saul Bellow died in 2005. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. The first installment of Zachary Leader’s…

St George as depicted in The Golden Legend

St George: patron saint of England, patronised by all

25 April 2015 9:00 am

What did St George do? Killed a dragon, as everyone knows. And yet, as Samantha Riches points out, no mention…

Mary Shelley by Richard Rothwell

There’s something about Mary (Wollstonecraft and Shelley)

25 April 2015 9:00 am

If Mary Wollstonecraft, as she once declared, ‘was not born to tred in the beaten track’, the same with even…

Tippi Hedren helps save schoolchildren in The Birds. Hitchcock confided to François Truffaut that he’d had ‘some emotional problems’ with Hedren during the shoot. For the final scene, live birds were attached to Hedren’s clothes. The actress became increasingly hysterical over the course of the week it took to film it, and when a bird finally went for her eyes, she collapsed

A profile of the worlds’s most famous film director — with the most famous profile

18 April 2015 9:00 am

‘Do it with scissors’ was Alfred Hitchcock’s advice for prospective murderers, though a glance at these two biographies reminds us…

Following Galileo’s discoveries, a rugged, cratered moon is depicted (with papal approval) by Ludovico Cigoli in his ‘Assumption of the Virgin in the Pauline Chapel’

Moving heaven and earth: Galileo’s subversive spyglass

11 April 2015 9:00 am

We live in an age of astronomical marvels. Last year Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft made a daring rendezvous with the comet…