Book review – biography

Cat among the pigeons: Jennifer Fry, the exotic beauty who so disrupted life at Farringdon House in the 1940s

My mad gay grandfather and me

18 October 2014 9:00 am

Family history is all the rage at the moment — finding out about one’s ancestors, digging back into one’s roots.…

The Etonian peer who became an assistant to a Mexican commie

18 October 2014 9:00 am

The lefty hereditary peer has few equals as a figure of fun, in life or literature. The late Tony Benn…

Ezra Pound in the early 1920s

Ezra Pound – the fascist years

18 October 2014 9:00 am

‘There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?/ They don’t make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb,…

Shackleton’s ship the Nimrod in the ice at McMurdo Sound

Flawed, unproductive and heroic: the real Ernest Shackleton

11 October 2014 9:00 am

Polar explorers are often cast as mavericks, and this is hardly surprising. The profession requires a disdain for pseudo-orthodoxies and,…

The young T.E. Lawrence in Arab dress

Secretive, arrogant and reckless: the young T.E. Lawrence began life as he meant to go on

11 October 2014 9:00 am

The Lawrence books are piling up, aren’t they? I don’t mean the author of The Rainbow, though as I write…

All too briefly together: Esmond and Jessica working behind a bar in Miami in 1940

Jessica Mitford and Esmond Romilly – crusaders, chancers, spongers

4 October 2014 9:00 am

Even ardent Mitfordians must quake at the sight of yet another biography of the sisterhood. There have been more forests…

Paul Rosenberg with a Matisse painting in the 1930s

Picasso’s dealer

4 October 2014 9:00 am

When she was four, Anne Sinclair had her portrait painted by Marie Laurencin. It is a charming picture, a little…

Tennessee Williams on the stage set of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

Confused, unbalanced, brilliant: the Blanche Dubois of Tennessee Williams biographies

20 September 2014 9:00 am

Anyone for Tennessee? At a best guess, the answer to that’s yes. There’s scarcely a moment these days when there…

Bobby Moore in 1966 — so far the only Englishman to lift the World Cup

‘Like Superman stopping a runaway train’: when Bobby Moore tackled Jairzinho

20 September 2014 9:00 am

Nothing illustrates the transformation in the working lives of professional footballers since the end of the maximum wage better than…

Always a better novelist than her husband: Pamela Hansford Johnson in 1949

Literature's least attractive power couple

20 September 2014 9:00 am

This book charts the rise and fall of one of the strangest power couples of modern times. The senior partner…

David Hockney, photographed by Christopher Simon Sykes

David Hockney, our most popular and hardworking living artist, returns to the easel

20 September 2014 9:00 am

The first volume of Christopher Simon Sykes’s biography of David Hockney ended in the summer of 1975. The 38-year-old painter…

How dare this author trash one of the great screenwriters of the 20th century?

13 September 2014 9:00 am

Should one say ‘vicious circle’ or ‘vicious cycle’? That’s a question that just goes round and round inside my head.…

The biography that makes Philip Larkin human again

23 August 2014 9:00 am

How does Philip Larkin’s gloom retain such power to disturb? His bleakest verses have the quality of direct address, as…

Charles Scott Moncrieff (left) had a deep personal affinity with Proust (right). His rendering of 'À La Recherche du Temps Perdu' is considered one of the greatest literary translations of all time

Soldier, poet, lover, spy: just the man to translate Proust

16 August 2014 9:00 am

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff’s Englishing of Proust — widely and immediately agreed to be one of the greatest literary translations…

James Bond's secret: he's Jamaican

9 August 2014 9:00 am

Ian Fleming’s first visit to Jamaica was pure James Bond. In 1943, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence,…

The robber baron who 'bought judges as other men buy food’

2 August 2014 9:00 am

The robber barons of the gilded age, at the turn of the 20th century, were the most ruthless accumulators of…

Leading with the chin: Dusty Springfield in the mid 1960s

The mad, bad and sad life of Dusty Springfield

2 August 2014 9:00 am

Call me a crazy old physiognomist, but my theory is that you can always spot a lesbian by her big…

A boy named Marion: John Wayne pictured on the set of Stagecoach (1939)

John Wayne, accidental cowboy

26 July 2014 9:00 am

I’m not making a picture [The Green Berets] about Vietnam, I’m making a picture about good against bad. I happen…

Daring? No. Well written? Yes

26 July 2014 9:00 am

This has all the appearance of a book invented by a publisher. Two years ago W. Sydney Robinson published an…

Lillian Hellman lied her way through life

5 July 2014 9:00 am

Lillian Hellman must be a maddening subject for a biographer. The author Mary McCarthy’s remark that ‘every word she writes…

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx with Jenny, Eleanor and Laura Marx, 1864

Caught between Marx and a monster

5 July 2014 9:00 am

‘Curious to see Mrs Aveling addressing the enormous crowd, curious to see the eyes of the women fixed upon her…

Portrait of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, with his pet monkey, attributed to Jacob Huysmans

Thug, rapist, poetic visionary: the contradictory Earl of Rochester

28 June 2014 9:00 am

Despite being an earl, Rochester is very nearly a major poet. His poems and letters were torn up by a…

‘He thought he could have made it as a visual artist — if only more people had liked his work.’ Above: John Arlott reading (1977) and Kathy and Jessy (1963)

The gentle intoxications of Laurie Lee

28 June 2014 9:00 am

He was always lucky, and he knew it: lucky in the secure rural intimacy of the upbringing described in Cider…

The American who dreamed of peace for the Arabs – but was murdered in their midst

31 May 2014 9:00 am

‘Arabist’ is fast becoming an archaism. Perhaps it is already one. These days the word conjures up enchanting visions of…

Constant Lambert at the piano

The wit, wisdom and womanising of Constant Lambert

24 May 2014 9:00 am

We owe Constant Lambert (1905–1951) a huge amount, and the flashes of brilliance that survive from his short life only…