‘One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time’ by Craig Brown is not a biography which claims to reveal vast amounts of new information or insight about the most famous rock band of all time. As with his 2017 biography of Princess Margaret, Ma’am Darling, Brown favours an anecdotal format, tackling the band’s history from John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s early childhoods in 1940s Liverpool to the band’s split in 1970 across 150 short chapters rather than a straightforward linear narrative.
Tag Archives: Biography
I went to a Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction shortlist readings event in 2016 where Philippe Sands spoke about his book ‘East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity’ which won the prize that year, and I finally got round to reading it last month. Sands, an international human rights lawyer, was invited to give a lecture on genocide and crimes against humanity at the university in the Ukrainian city of Lviv in 2010 and took the opportunity to explore his family history on his mother’s side, particularly the life of his grandfather, Leon Buchholz, who was born near the city in the early 20th century. Continue reading
I have an ever-growing list of anticipated books due to be published in 2020. Here are the titles I am looking forward to reading the most. All publication dates where known are for the United Kingdom only.
In non-fiction, Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell is the Wellcome Book Prize-winning author’s second book after To Be a Machine. Due in April, it will explore how we get to grips with the future and the possible end of the world in an age of anxiety.
Also due in April, Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister promises to be an equally eye-opening account as his/her bestselling debut book of how the legal system really works, this time focusing on themes of ignorance, corruption and fake news. Continue reading
2019 is the first year non-fiction has more or less overtaken fiction in my reading. This is partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize at the beginning of the year. My favourite titles from this year’s longlist include the excellent This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein and The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein – the latter was our shadow panel winner.
Unfortunately, the Wellcome Book Prize has been paused for 2020. Mother Ship by Francesca Segal and The World I Fell Out Of by Melanie Reid would definitely have been on my longlist wishlist – two outstanding memoirs about the premature birth of twins and spinal injury respectively. This year’s Baillie Gifford Prize winner The Five by Hallie Rubenhold about the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims is another stand-out title as is last year’s winner Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy. Continue reading
Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell makes a convincing case against the widely held perception of the Middle Ages as a bloodthirsty and violent period of history where beliefs about medicine were guided primarily by superstition. Instead, the reality is shown to be very different in Hartnell’s examination of how medieval people experienced their physical selves. Each chapter of this lavishly illustrated book focuses on a different part of the body and explores their cultural significance and how medieval attitudes towards them were shaped by a range of influences.
Drawing on art, medicine, literature, science, politics, history, philosophy and much more, I think Hartnell sometimes tries to tackle too much here. The geographical range of sources spanning across Europe and the Middle East is impressive but the scope is so wide that it is a lot to grasp for non-expert readers, whereas I think those who are more knowledgeable about this period of history may find the analysis too thin in some areas. However, Hartnell’s evident passion for his subject is infectious and I think ‘Medieval Bodies’ could be a possible contender for the next Wellcome Book Prize longlist. Continue reading
The first non-fiction title to be shortlisted since the 2015 relaunch of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is ‘Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman’ by Minoo Dinshaw. Runciman was an English historian and author who wrote several books about the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades and is still regarded as one of the most influential voices on the subject in academic circles and beyond. Continue reading
Formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction has a new sponsor this year and a longlist of ten books, whittled down last month to a shortlist of just four. Open to authors of any nationality, it covers all areas of non-fiction including current affairs, politics, history, science, sport, travel, biography and autobiography. This year’s shortlisted books are:
- Second-Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich)
- Negroland by Margo Jefferson
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
- East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity by Philippe Sands
The longlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was announced today. The twelve books are:Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance by Robert Gildea Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World by Oliver Morton Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia by Peter Pomerantsev They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently by Steve Silberman The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Tim Snyder This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian
‘The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story’ by Martin Edwards investigates the mysterious Detection Club of famous crime writers including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Margery Allingham amongst others. While many of the works by these authors have been dismissed by some as “cosy” crime stories compared to the more graphically violent offerings today, Edwards reveals that this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth as he investigates the stories behind the authors, their books and the curious social network that linked them together.
After reading two excellent novels in recent months about Soviet spies recruited at Cambridge University – Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and Red Joan by Jennie Rooney – I was intrigued by Ben Macintyre’s biography of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Five spies recruited by Arnold Deutsch in the mid-1930s. Philby worked for Britain’s secret intelligence service (SIS or MI6) during the Second World War and the early years of the Cold War before his activities as a double agent for the NKVD and KGB were finally uncovered in 1963.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995, ‘The Stone Diaries’ by Carol Shields is a fictional biography of Daisy Goodwill which outlines her life story in ten chapters covering her birth, childhood, marriage, love, motherhood, work, sorrow, ease, illness and death. Born in Canada in 1905, Daisy’s life spans the majority of the twentieth century and is both very ordinary and yet also highly extraordinary. Continue reading
I recently won another book from the Waterstones read and review competition in which cardholders receive a free copy of a book in return for posting an honest review on the website. This time, it was a pot luck draw and I got a copy of Artemis Cooper’s biography of the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Again, I am not sure if I can publish my official review in full on my blog but you can read it here under the name Clare90. Continue reading
I hardly ever read two books or more at the same time but with ‘The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama’ by David Remnick I had to make an exception. It is a beast of a book and I would never have finished it if I hadn’t been reading some fiction alongside it over the last few weeks. As I mentioned in my post about political biographies, almost all books about political figures are extremely weighty tomes which are crammed with more detail than you will ever need to know. ‘The Bridge’ is no different but even though it definitely isn’t aimed at the casual reader, it is still a highly readable account of Barack Obama’s truly extraordinary life and path to the White House. Continue reading
The Politics section in most bookshops is often an odd one. I think there are two explanations for this. Firstly, it is because books about current affairs usually go out of date very quickly – politics changes pretty much everyday and a lot of books about ongoing events can end up in a bargain bin faster than you can say ‘Yes, we can’. Secondly, I think it is because politics tends to overlap with so many other subjects like history, sociology, economics and biographies. In your average Waterstone’s shop, the Politics section will typically consist of a slew of memoirs and biographies of New Labour era politicians, a couple of AS Level Government and Politics textbooks, some books which claim to explain the origins of the credit crunch/globalisation/some other trendy political buzzword in layman’s terms and maybe a few George W. Bush-bashing books. Overall, it isn’t particularly inspiring and doesn’t really reflect the diversity of the subject especially when there is so much quality political journalism out there. It also demonstrates how books have become sidelined, as far as politics is concerned, in favour of more modern media which can be updated instantly. A 140 character tweet is likely to reach and influence millions more people than an exhaustively researched tome about the state of the nation today. Overall, the cycle of the publishing industry is incompatible with the fickle 24 hour news cycle that we have today.