Top Ten Biographies 2014

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We had great fun picking our top ten biographies of 2014. Some you might have heard about but there are quite a few gems which have slipped under the media radar. Here they are, in alphabetial order by author:

The Boys In The Boat: An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler's Berlin by Daniel James Brown


You see, Jesse Owens had it easy – all he had to do was run fast. Alright, he did have to face unknown hardship, heinous prejudice at home and abroad, and make sure he was fast enough to outdo the rest of his compatriots then the world's best to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but others who wished to do the same had to do more. People such as those rowers in the coxed eights squad – people such as young Joe Rantz. He certainly had to face hardship, the prejudice borne by those in the moneyed east coast yacht clubs against an upstart from the NW USA, and when he got to compete he had to use so many more muscles, and operate at varying tempi, with the temperament of the weather and water against him, all in perfect synchronicity with seven other beefcakes. Despite rowing being the second greatest ticket at those Games, Joe's story is a lot less well known, and probably a lot more entertaining. Full review...

The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell


An early Neil Gaiman book was all about Douglas Adams, and came out at the time he had a success with a book of his own regarding definitions of concepts that had previously not had a specific word attached. Gaiman himself is one of those concepts. I know what a polyglot is, and a polymath – but there should be a word for someone like Gaiman, who can write anything and everything he seems to want – a whimsical family-friendly picture book, a behemoth of modern fantasy, an all-ages horror story, something with a soupcon of sci-fi or with a factor of the fable. He can cross genres – and to some extent just leave them behind as unnecessary, as well as cross format – he was mastering the lengthy, literary graphic novel just as 'real' books were festering in his creativity, and songs and poems were just appearing here and there. So he is pretty much who you think of as regards someone who can turn his hands to anything he wishes. He is a poly-something, then, or just omni-something else. Full review...

The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley


As a previous biographer once called her, Princess Louise was Queen Victoria’s unconventional daughter. Always popular with the public for her comparatively easygoing manner (though, being royal, she was not averse to pulling rank), her forward-looking views on social issues, notably education and votes for women, and her artistic interests, she was certainly one of the most interesting of her family. Full review...

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died by Dylan Jones


The phrase ‘Elvis has left the building’ was first used by a promoter in December 1956, when he assured a passionately pro-Elvis audience from the stage that their idol had gone home, and would they please resume their seats to watch the rest of the acts on the bill that evening. Ever since then, it has become a kind of showbiz punchline. Full review...

Golden Parasol by Wendy Law-Yone


If you look her up Wendy Law-Yone is described as a Burmese-born American author. That Burmese-born American might be an accurate description of her current citizenship, but it barely hints at the ethnic mix of her heritage, nor of her personal closeness (through her father) to her original homeland's struggle for freedom and democracy. Full review...

The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price


A newly-married couple make their way home from the chapel, riding on a horse-drawn cart as it winds its way round familiar country lanes towards the beautiful valley of Maesglasau. The horse pauses atop a hill and the valley spreads out before them: 'the vessel of their marriage'. The centuries-old stone farmhouse in the crook of the mountain is to be their homestead; a sturdy, silent witness to the tragedy and joy that is an intrinsic part of the fabric of family life. Full review...

Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport


A few years ago, Helen Rappaport wrote and published Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs, a painstaking, chilling account of the final days and death of the last Tsar of Russia and his family. To a certain extent this biography is a prequel to that volume, an account of the short lives of OTMA, as they referred to themselves – the Tsar’s daughters Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. Full review...

The Holy Fox: The Life of Lord Halifax by Andrew Roberts


Of all the British nearly-Prime Ministers Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, must be unique. He was the one who came closest to assuming the mantle only to find the job denied him, and had he done so, on him Britain’s destiny would have depended. For he was the man whom several confidently expected, and many wanted, to take over after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain during the dark days of May 1940. Full review...

The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous: Everything You Need To Know About Everyone Who Mattered by The Week


To describe a book as unputdownable is a pretty bold claim to make. Jeremy O'Grady, editor-in-chief of The Week does just that in the foreword to The Lives of the Famous and the Infamous, a collection of obituaries from the weekly magazine. Thankfully, his bold judgement is largely spot on. Full review...

Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson


Every few years, it seems, we are presented with another generously-sized biography of Queen Victoria. How many times can another author follow Elizabeth Longford, Stanley Weintraub, or Christopher Hibbert to name but three, produce 500 pages or more and still say something new about her? Can the blurb’s claim that this shows us the sovereign ‘as she’s never been seen before’ really be justified? Fortunately it can, for even more than a century after her death, there is still new material from previously unseen sources to add to what we already know about her. Full review...


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Tina Copp said:

Great to see Princess Louise in this list...truly a deserving biography. As a Deputy Head of an independent Junior School for girls, I look for ways to inspire girls with work that women can achieve. Princess Louise lived in a man's world, yet defied the boundaries of expectations. The author, Lucinda Hawksley, inspires our young writers to aim high, explore creativity through art and writing and is an inspirational female role-model that raises their own aspirations.

Thank you.

Tina Copp