Newest Biography Reviews

From TheBookbag
Jump to: navigation, search

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility by Marian Veevers

4star.jpg Biography

The idea of a dual biography of two contemporaries who never met throughout their lives is an intriguing one. However, there were several unifying factors, which makes it seem logical enough. Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were both renowned writers though one was much more famous than the other, and both were born just four years apart, in the 1770s. Full review...

Today We Die a Little: Emil Zatopek, Olympic Legend to Cold War Hero by Richard Askwith

4star.jpg Sport

As a runner myself, I often look for sources of inspiration. Training is rewarding, but every so often a day comes along when I question whether it is all worth it or not. Zatopek proves that is, indeed, all worth it. He put copious amounts of effort into his training, and the number of races he won over his career as a professional athlete clearly shows the results of it. Full review...

Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage

4.5star.jpg Biography

Lady Arbella Stuart, cousin to both Elizabeth I of England and James VI of Scotland, was one of the unfortunate figures of English history who might have been Queen – and who, like the even more tragic Lady Jane Grey, might have paid the ultimate price. This is a sad but engrossing story of one whose only crime was to have royal blood coursing through her veins. Full review...

The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women's Stories by Amy Licence

4.5star.jpg Biography

According to popular wisdom, Henry VIII had six wives and only two mistresses. The former statement is correct, but the latter only tells part of the story. Even while he was married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, there were many more ladies in his life. Full review...

Tragic Magic: The Life of Traffic's Chris Wood by Dan Ropek

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

Chris Wood was a member of Traffic, the group formed by Steve Winwood in 1967 after he left The Spencer Davis Group. A gifted musician best known for his flute and saxophone work, he also played keyboards, bass guitar and contributed backing vocals as well as having a hand in writing several of the songs and one or two instrumentals. This biography takes its title from the name of one of his compositions for their fifth album. Full review...

The Prince Who Would Be King: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart by Sarah Fraser

4.5star.jpg Biography

Henry Stuart, eldest child of King James VI and I, was not the only eldest son of a monarch who did not live long enough to succeed to the throne. The list also included Arthur (son of Henry VII) and Albert Victor (Edward VII). Of the three, Henry undoubtedly showed the most promise. Full review...

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

4.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

It's been said very often that 'history is told by the winners'. Well, too often history, the news and even destinies are written by men, and the proof is between these covers. I didn't know anything about this before reading it, even if it has become the most richly-backed crowd-funded book ever. I'd never heard of the Hollow Flashlight, powered purely by body warmth – which is rich if you're old enough to remember the brou-ha-ha when a maverick British bloke did a wind-up radio. I'd never read about the Niger female who has successfully made a stand against forced, arranged marriage, rejecting a cousin for a fate she wishes to write for herself. My ignorance may, perhaps, show me up to be a chauvinist of sorts, but I think it is further evidence that 'the gaze is male' and that the media are phallocentric. I hope too that this book doesn't turn any of its readers into a feminist, for that would be as bad as the chauvinist charge against me. If anything it is designed to create equals, and that is as it should be, even if there is still a long way to go… Full review...

The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici by Catherine Fletcher

4.5star.jpg Biography

Most of the Medicis, who had ruled Florence for much of the fifteenth century, led colourful and violent lives, but few more so than Alessandro, Duke of Florence. In a world of political drama and intrigue, disputed parentage, family rivalry and violent death at an early age, his short life encompassed everything. Full review...

Blades of Grass by Mark Aylwin Thomas

4.5star.jpg Biography

Any book that has me in tears at the end has been worth my time. Any book that has me hoping it will end differently to the way I know it must is worth the reading. Any book that convinces me that maybe there is still hope in the world – that for all the mistakes made thus far, still being made right now, there is a common humanity which ultimately, eventually, must do some good – that is worth the writing and the reading and the time. Blades of Grass is one such book. It's a forgotten story, an unknown story to most people. It is one that should be told – and reflected upon. Full review...

The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune 1915-1964 by Zachary Leader

5star.jpg Biography

At over eight hundred pages, 'The Life of Saul Bellow' is not a light book, but it is the most complete account of the life and work of America's most honoured literary figure. During the course of his life, a number of notable attempts were made to capture the essence of the man in biographical form. Zachary Leader benefits from this groundwork; he also has the advantage that his work has been compiled since Bellow's death in 2005. As a result, he has had access to sources, manuscripts and letters denied to previous biographers. Leader's research is exemplary and incredibly detailed. He not only looks at the life of the man but at the creative process that made him the colossus that he became and it's all written with a genuine passion, love and respect for his subject. Full review...

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment by John Preston

5star.jpg True Crime

Jeremy Thorpe was the sort of person who was generally liked by others. He was flamboyant and gregarious but could give the impression that meeting someone had made his day. He never seemed to forget a name and he was witty, charismatic and very charming. He appeared to be a decent man, with views with which I would have agreed on race, capital punishment and membership of the Common Market, as the European Union was then known. For this was the nineteen sixties and Thorpe had entered Parliament at the age of thirty and by 1967 he would be party leader. On the surface he was a man who had everything going for him. Full review...

The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection by Tony Benn and Ruth Winstone (editor)

5star.jpg Biography

Tony Benn must be one of the most famous diarists of the modern age. He kept a diary from his schooldays in the nineteen forties until he made his last entry in 2009, five years before his death. Benn was also a particularly charismatic politician: since my teens I've found myself listening to him believing that I disagreed with what he was saying and then realising that perhaps we weren't so far apart after all. Whatever he spoke about always gave food for thought. Of course the ideal way to enjoy the diaries would be to read the individual volumes, beginning with Years Of Hope: Diaries,Letters and Papers 1940-1962, but that's a lengthy undertaking and The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection edited by Ruth Winstone gives you the opportunity to sample the best of the diaries in a mere seven hundred or so pages. Be warned though: there has been a previous composite volume, also called The Benn Diaries and published in 1996. The current volume goes to 2009. Full review...

David Astor by Jeremy Lewis

4star.jpg Biography

The name 'David Astor' is familiar to a lot of people: some will remember him as being the middle child of Nancy and Waldorf Astor. Others will know of his family home, Cliveden, either from its influence in the second world war or its notoriety during the Profumo affair in the sixties. I remember him best for his work as the editor of The Observer, but despite being a quietly understated man many will remember the causes he espoused, not all of which, such as his support for the release of moors murderer Myra Hindley, brought him admiration. Full review...

Jumpin' Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock'n'Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim

3.5star.jpg Biography

Each decade throws up its misfits, mavericks and anti-heroes, its icons of what might be loosely termed social estrangement and disillusion. In the 1950s it was James Dean, and in the 1970s it was Sid Vicious. In between them, although admittedly a good few years older, was one David Litvinoff. Full review...

In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett by Tony Fletcher

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

Tamla Motown groups and singers apart, in the mid-sixties there were three major names in the soul music field who mattered above all. James Brown was something of a cult name who rarely bothered about or troubled the singles charts, and Otis Redding was on the verge of shooting into the stratosphere when he died in an aeroplane crash. The other was the man from Alabama, 'the wicked Pickett'. Full review...

A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson

4.5star.jpg Biography

With grandparents who were distinguished writers and a father who co-founded a major publishing house, it was inevitable that Juliet Nicolson would follow in the family’s literary tradition. Already known for two works of social history, here she tells her family story through seven generations. Full review...

Sarah Valentine, No Great Expectations Part 1 by Philip Valentine Coates

4star.jpg Biography

Sarah was the first of several children born in dire poverty to Jim and Sarah Valentine, and these pages tell her story from birth in December 1819 to her eighteenth birthday. Everything is vividly conveyed, from the poorly-clothed barefoot children in crowded living quarters in the Whitechapel Road area, without a lock on the door and with no possessions worth stealing except for the occasional shilling, to the noisy public houses with their fist-fights and the dirty, evil-smelling streets with sewage overflowing down the alleys and where epidemics spread all too rapidly. Full review...

The Vanishing Man - In Search of Velazquez by Laura Cumming

5star.jpg Art

Pitching up at an auction and picking up a lost masterpiece for a pittance is the dream for most art lovers. That seemingly happy circumstance happened to bookseller John Snare at a sale in 1845 and is the centrepiece to Laura Cumming's excellent The Vanishing Man – In Pursuit of Velazquez. Full review...

The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 by G A Jones

4star.jpg Travel

There's brave, and there is brave. I may well have been born in a coastal county but certainly would baulk at the idea of setting out to sea with four colleagues in a 37'-long boat. Boats to me are like planes – the bigger the better, and the safer I feel as a result. But luckily for the purpose of this book, George Jones was born with a much different pair of sea-legs to mine, and took to the waters of the English Channel, the North Sea and beyond in Naromis with brio. But – and this is where the further definition of bravery comes in – he did it in August 1939, knowing full well that he would be sailing full tilt into the teeth of war. Full review...

Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios

4star.jpg Entertainment

There were few sadder casualties of the sixties music scene than Syd (real name Roger) Barrett. The original songwriting genius and front man of Pink Floyd, he burnt out all too soon. A few months in the spotlight were followed all too soon by a pathetic postscript of a stuttering solo career, and over three decades as a largely housebound recluse. Full review...

Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew

5star.jpg Biography

Keggie Carew is the second child of a most unorthodox father. On the one hand he's a left-handed stutterer with little to recommend him other than that he was a law unto himself and a complete maverick. But - born in 1919, the second world war found him being tested for SOE, Churchill's secret army, who were tasked with conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe and later in South East Asia. Within a matter of months he would be parachuted into occupied France with the aim of supporting resistance groups ahead of the allied invasion of occupied France and carrying the rank of major - at the age of just 24. Later, in South East Asia he would be known as 'Lawrence of Burma' and worked with Aung San, the head of the Burma Defence Army (and father of Aung San Suu Kyi)and was at one stage plucked off the Irrawaddy by a flying boat, like James Bond. Full review...

A Bradford Apprenticeship by Donald Naismith

4star.jpg Politics and Society

with all schools removed from their control and established as freestanding and self-governing academies. In effect this would (and possibly will) mean that what was once a national service, locally administered will become a local service, nationally administered. Donald Naismith is perhaps best known as the former Chief Education Officer of Richmond-upon-Thames, Croydon and then Wandsworth but his education and formative working years took place in his adopted home city of Bradford. In A Bradford Apprenticeship he gives us an affectionate tribute to the city which made him what he is and his thoughts on the education system. Bradford was once one of the country's leading education authorities and he values the opportunities it gave him to fine tune his thinking. Full review...

The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

4.5star.jpg Biography

Edward IV is currently a popular subject for biographers. All credit is therefore due to Dr Ashdown-Hill, one of the foremost of current Yorkist-era historians, for looking at the King from a fresh angle – that of his romantic involvements. Full review...

The Scholl Case by Anja Reich-Osang and Imogen Taylor (translator)

5star.jpg Biography

I think I'd like Ludwigsfelde. I wouldn't have liked it when it was an industrial village, with one or two huge mechanical plants and nothing else to its name. But now, even with the constant hum of the autobahn (one of Hitler's) keeping it company, it must have an appeal. It has been rebuilt, refashioned and remodelled since the end of East Germany, under the most prosperous and forward-looking mayor in the state, if not the country. He it was who put in a mostly-nude swimming spa. It has dispensers for doggy poo bags, so there's nothing as uncouth as taking your own. The mayor, bless him, even expanded the motorway to three lanes in each direction. It is within touch of Berlin, and in tune with so many business wants, yet is surrounded by woodland. Woodland where, between Christmas and New Year a few years back, the mayor's own wife and dog were found, both having been strangled… Full review...

Great British Eccentrics by S D Tucker

4.5star.jpg Biography

Some very strange people have stalked our green and pleasant land. In his introduction, Tucker asks us why. Is it our status as an island people which has made so many of our countrymen turn in on ourselves? Has our long libertarian tradition of the idea of individual freedom, as long as we do nobody else any harm, permitted weirdness to flourish among us? Full review...

Travels With My Father by Karen Jennings

4star.jpg General Fiction

Despite the coda, this does not feel like an autobiographical novel. I am not sure why Jennings felt the need to couch it in those terms unless there is much in the structure that is fiction. I'm hoping there isn't. I am hoping that the fiction is purely that conceit that this pretends to be a novel. If that was necessary to get it published, then I'll applaud the subterfuge, because this is writing that needs to be read. It is – if as true as I want it to be – a delicate reminiscence: a daughter's in memoriam to a father she loved, worshipped, idealised, cared-for, lived with, and yes (in true daughterly fashion) at times, hated. A father who was, therefore, a good dad. Full review...

Pop Pickers and Music Vendors: David Jacobs, Alan Freeman, John Peel, Tommy Vance and Roger Scott by John Van der Kiste

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

You know those questions you get in celebrity interviews - 'which extinct being would you most like to see brought back to life?' Well, I'd like to see Jimmy Savile brought back, so that he could get his comeuppance. It's not just the damage he did to children and young people, dreadful as that was - it's the shadow he cast over the entertainment industry. We know that he wasn't alone in what he did, but somehow there's a whole era of entertainment which has been tarred by the same brush. John Van der Kiste has turned the spotlight away from Savile and on to five of the great DJs of the music industry. Full review...