Newest Biography Reviews

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A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros

5star.jpg Politics and Society

I confess I picked this one up from the library in my pre-lockdown forage of random stuff. Now I have to go out an buy my own copy so that I can turn down the pages I have marked and return to its varying wisdom when I need to. Some books draw you in slowly. This one had me in the first two pages, wherein Gros explains why walking is not a sport. Full Review


If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie

5star.jpg Biography

I normally say that you can tell how much a book means to me by how many pages have corners turned down. Perhaps an even greater measure of impact is setting out to buy my own copy before I've finished reading the one I've borrowed. I want to avoid clichés like 'powerful' 'inspiring' 'life-changing' – although it is definitely the first two and only time will tell about the third – but clichés exist for a reason and I'm not sure I can succinctly put it any better. Full Review


Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Beata Thunberg and Svante Thunberg

5star.jpg Politics and Society

The Ernman / Thunberg family seemed perfectly normal. Malena Ernman was an opera singer and Svante Thunberg took on most of the parenting of their two daughters. Then eleven-year-old Greta stopped eating and talking and her sister, Beata, then nine years old, struggled with what was happening. In such circumstances, it's natural to seek a solution close to home, but eventually, it became clear to the family that they were burned-out people on a burned-out planet. If they were to find a way to live happily again their solution would need to be radical. Full Review


Clara Colby: The International Suffragist by John Holliday

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The path of Clara Dorothy Bewick's life was probably determined when her family emigrated to the USA. At the time she was just three-years-old but because of some childhood ailment, she wasn't allowed to sail with her parents and three brothers. Instead, she remained with her grandparents, who doted on her and saw that she received a good education, both in and out of school. She was the only child in the household and her childhood was glorious. By contrast, her family had become pioneer farmers in the mid-west of the United States and life was hard, as Clara was to find out when she and her grandparents eventually went to join the family. Clara would only know her mother for a few months: she was married for fifteen years, had ten pregnancies, seven surviving children and died in childbirth not long after Clara arrived. As the eldest girl, a heavy burden would fall on Clara and Wisconsin was a rude awakening. Full Review


Ronnie and Hilda's Romance: Towards a New Life after World War II by Wendy Williams

4star.jpg History

Ronnie Williams was the son of Thomas Henry Williams (known as Harry) and Ethel Wall. There's some doubt as to whether or not they were ever married or even Harry's birthdate: he claimed to have been born in 1863, but he was already many years older than Ethel and he might well have shaved a few years off his age. For a while, the family was quite well-to-do but disaster struck in the 1929 Depression and five-year-old Ronnie had to adjust to a very different lifestyle. One thing he did inherit from his father was his need to be well-turned-out and this would stay with him throughout his life. He joined the army at eighteen in 1942. Full Review


Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

4star.jpg Biography

On the coast of Santa Cruz, Patti Smith enters the lunar year of the monkey - one packed with mischief, sorrow, and unexpected moments. In a stranger's words, Anything is possible: after all, it's the year of the monkey. As Smith wanders the coast of Santa Cruz in solitude, she reflects on a year that brings huge shifts in her life - loss and ageing are faced head-on, as it the shifting political waters in America. Full Review


War and Love: A family's testament of anguish, endurance and devotion in occupied Amsterdam by Melanie Martin

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Biography

Melanie Martin read about what happened to Dutch Jews in occupied Amsterdam during World War II and was entranced by what she discovered, particularly in The Diary of Ann Frank but then realised that her own family's stories were equally fascinating. A hundred and seven thousand Jews were deported from the city during the war years, but only five thousand survived and Martin could not understand how this could be allowed to happen in a country with liberal values who were resistant to German occupation. Most people believed that the occupation could never happen: even those who thought that the Germans might reach the city were convinced that they would soon be pushed back, that the Amsterdammers would never allow what happened to escalate in the way that it did, but initial protests melted away as the organisers became more circumspect. It's an atrocity on a vast scale but made up of tens of thousands of individual tragedies. Full Review


The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Politics and Society, Biography

Here in the West, we see news reports about immigrants on a regular basis – some media welcoming them, some scaremongering about them. But all of those stories are written by journalists – almost always western, and almost always, no matter how deep the investigative journalism they carry out, outsiders to the world and the situations that refugees find themselves in. It's rare that we find out the journeys from the refugees themselves – and this is a rare opportunity to do that, in this intelligent, powerful and moving work by Dina Nayeri -someone who was born in the middle of a revolution in Iran, fleeing to America as a ten-year-old.Full Review


Lord Of All the Dead by Javier Cercas and Anne McLean (translator)

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Biography

Lord Of All the Dead is a journey to uncover the author's lost ancestor's life and death. Cercas is searching for the meaning behind his great uncle's death in the Spanish Civil War. Manuel Mena, Cercas' great uncle, is the figure who looms large over the book. He died relatively young whilst fighting for Francisco Franco's forces. Cercas ruminates on why his uncle fought for this dictator. The question at the centre of this book is whether it is possible for his great uncle to be a hero whilst having fought for the wrong side. Full Review


The Fraternity of the Estranged: The Fight for Homosexual Rights in England, 1891-1908 by Brian Anderson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews History, Reference, Biography

Originally passed in 1885, the law that had made homosexual relations a crime remained in place for 82 years. But during this time, restrictions on same-sex relationships did not go unchallenged. Between 1891 and 1908, three books on the nature of homosexuality appeared. They were written by two homosexual men: Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds, as well as the heterosexual Havelock Ellis. Exploring the margins of society and studying homosexuality was common on the European Continent, but barely talked about in the UK, so the publications of these men were hugely significant – contributing to the scientific understanding of homosexuality, and beginning the struggle for recognition and equality, leading to the milestone legalisation of same-sex relationships in 1967. Full Review


O Joy for me! by Keir Davidson

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Art, Biography, Travel, Reference

Oh Joy for me! gives Coleridge credit for being the first person to walk the mountains alone, not because he had to for work, as a miner, quarryman, shepherd or pack-horse driver, but because he wanted to for pleasure and adventure. His rapturous encounters with their natural beauty, and its literary consequences, changed our view of the world. Full Review

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Find Another Place by Ben Graff

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography, Autobiography, Home and Family

When Ben Graff's grandfather Martin handed him a plastic folder of handwritten notes from his journal, he didn't take much notice of it. At the age of 24, Graff didn't realise the gravity of the pages he was holding. Full Review

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The Man Who Ate the Zoo: Frank Buckland, forgotten hero of natural history by Richard Girling

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography

As a conservationist in Victorian England before the term existed, Frank Buckland was very much a man ahead of his time. Surgeon, naturalist, veterinarian and eccentric sums him up perfectly, and any biographer is immediately presented with a colourful tale to tell. Full Review

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Captain Ronald Campbell of Bombala Station, Cambalong: His Military Life and Times by Ivor George Williams

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography

In March 1829 Ann Parker married Captain J A Edwards of the 17th Regiment of Foot. He was in command of the troops and convicts on board a ship sailing from Plymouth to Sydney, Australia: his wife and young son accompanied him. He was not destined to live a long life, dying suddenly at the age of 34 at Bangalore, leaving his widow to raise their two young sons. Edwards' death left his widow in a difficult position: not only did she have their farm to manage, but she was also responsible for the convicts who worked the land. Two years later she would marry Captain Ronald Campbell. Full Review

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Into The Mountain, A Life of Nan Shepherd by Charlotte Peacock

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography,History

Mostly we choose what books to read because there is so little time and so many books… I can understand the approach, but I also think we sell ourselves short by it, and we sell the myriad lesser-known authors short as well. So while, like most other people I have my favourite genres, and favoured authors, and while, like most other people I read the reviews and follow up on what appeals, I also have a third string to my reading bow: randomness. Full Review

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Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon by Catherine Hewitt

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography, Art

Deep in the rural parts of France in the 1860s, you would never really expect to find someone who would come to embody a full artistic period – and not just a movement at that, but a full generation of both creative and societal change. And if you were to expect that someone, they would like as not be male. But almost stumbling into the hedonistic culture of Montmartre came Marie-Clementine Valadon. She started in the circus that first caught her teenaged eye, although her gymnastic career was short-lived. But what she did have from that was the poise to be an appealing model for some seriously important painters, and a natural beauty and figure to appeal to both them and their audiences. And what she also had, much to the surprise of many and the distaste of some, was artistic talent of her own… Full Review

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James Ravilious: A Life by Robin Ravilious

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography

The name of Eric Ravilious, war artist, engraver and designer, has long been familiar. Less well-known was his equally gifted son James. This delightful biography by his widow should help to put the situation right. Full Review

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The King's Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas

link=Category:{{{rating}}} Star Reviews Biography

As the eldest surviving child of a much-married father whose main aim was to secure the royal succession with sons, Mary Tudor's relationship with Henry VIII, who called her his 'pearl of the world', was inevitably an important and often fraught one.Full Review