On 8 January, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade, was defeated in the country’s presidential election, thus missing out on a third successive term in office. Incredibly, Rajapaksa’s victorious opponent, Maithripala Sirisena, was a member of his own government only a few months ago. Sirisena’s decision to jump ship and […]
Is there a more poignant and intriguing religious tradition to be found anywhere in the world than that of the rouged and kohl-eyed Kumari, or Living Goddess of Nepal? A little girl, aged three or four, chosen by the gods, is taken from her family and enshrined in a residence in the heart of Kathmandu. […]
John Hooper is a supremely able and experienced foreign correspondent who has mastered a particular subgenre of his craft: the detailed and comprehensive study of individual countries – in his case, Spain and now Italy. His book The Spaniards has gone through successive editions and has become more or less obligatory reading for students of contemporary Spain; The Italians may well do the same for Italy.
A hundred years ago, Vivienne Westwood would have been a traitor; nowadays, we call her a national treasure. The story of the woman who collaged a safety pin through the Queen’s lip – as told by Ian Kelly in a biography comprised as much of her words as of his – is inextricably linked to that […]
At Runnymede on 15 June 1215, King John sealed an agreement ‘for the reform of our realm’. At the head of the list of witnessing barons appeared the name of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (c 1147–1219). Sixteen months later, on John’s death and amid civil war, a French invasion and a haemorrhage of noble […]
More than twenty years have passed since Michael Bloch interviewed me for this biography of Jeremy Thorpe. The book’s gestation period has been ten times longer than an elephant’s. The public life of its subject, by contrast, whizzed by like that of an Edwardian-suited mayfly. President of the Oxford Union at twenty-one, an MP at thirty, Liberal leader at thirty-seven,
A labour of love is a joy to read. Georgia de Chamberet is the goddaughter and literary executor of Lesley Blanch, and has proved the godchild and accomplice of every author’s dreams. Blanch was a Slade art student, theatre designer, wartime features editor of Vogue, inveterate traveller and in old age the incarnation of grace, wisdom […]
The cult of political biography is gently withering with the decline in the number of its adherents. People still go out to buy the lives of prime ministers – especially if called Churchill, Thatcher or Lloyd George – but they are seldom interested in the tier below, the ‘nearly men’, politicians who may have accomplished […]
Biographers of T S Eliot face a number of challenges, not least the marked disinclination of their subject to having his biography written at all. When, in the early 1960s, a scholar wrote an account relating the poetry to his early life, Eliot went through the typescript striking out unwarranted speculations. ‘This is just silly’, he wrote in the margin at one point, responding to the perfectly mild suggestion that an interest in Arthurian myth might have been partly prompted by the paintings in Boston Public Library. His manner with admirers’ enquiries was celebrated for its unforthcoming deadpan: he was a master of disavowal and deflection.
Publishing was a frugal business when I started work in the Collins publicity department in the late 1960s. Most of the famous names were still independent, and penny-pinching was essential to the survival of small to medium-sized literary publishers. Booksellers were dusty-looking characters in worn-out cardigans and Pirelli slippers, who received at most a third […]