A Paranormal Patriach

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I wanted to read this book not only because the author has written two good biographies, Livingstone and Baden-Powell, but also because of the sunny, splashy cover picture showing father and small son in one-piece bathing suits. It starts, ‘My father loved to swim in rivers, and in 1949, when I turned four and he forty-three, […]

Memoirs of a Changing Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Hungarian literature, which for so long was unknown to English readers, underwent a deserved revival a couple of years ago with the success of Sindor Mirai’s novel Embers and the appearance of Miklós Bánffy’s extraordinary trilogy The Writing on the Wall. The latter is an epic story set in the last days of the Habsburg Empire. […]

Still Searching

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

KAREN ARMSTRONG’S FIRST memoir, Through the Narrow Gate, described the seven years she spent in a strictly-run convent, struggling to fulfil her religious vocation, until increasing unhappiness and dl health compelled her to leave. The book ended with her starting a new life as an undergraduate reading English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. This second […]

Liberal With A Punch

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

ISAIAH BERLIN WAS a man of great charm, intelligence, curiosity and distinction. Born in Riga in 1910, brought to England by his parents at the age of eleven, educated at St Paul’s and Corpus Christi, Oxford, Fellow of All Souls, Professor of Political Thought, first Master (and indeed creator) of Wolfson College, knighted and awarded […]

‘I Whirl Aimlessly’

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When politicians reach a certain age they tend to believe that they owe the world an autobiography. Shirley Williams has long been a recognisable figure in public life (not in the front rank perhaps, although she did reach the Cabinet), and as she is now in her eightieth year it is not unexpected that she […]

His Life and Times

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Harry Evans, editor of The Sunday Times from 1967 until 1981, has written a curious book. Styled an ‘autobiography’ (which it is, in that it traces the author from his humble origins as the son of an engine driver through his rapid rise in British journalism to his present grand life in New York), it […]

Desperately Seeking Dylan

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Aeronwy Thomas was born in 1943 in London and died only recently, on 27 July this year. Her father Dylan was off in the pub and did not meet her for several days. Her older brother Llewelyn was living elsewhere with their mother Caitlin’s family in the New Forest. This memoir focuses on the three […]

Saturday Specials

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘We all love the little boy,’ noted Frances Woodsford in November 1952, ‘but whenever I have seen the whole family on the screen, the Duke of Edinburgh is invariably looking after his daughter, and leaving Charles severely alone. I can imagine he doesn’t allow his son to get spoiled, but perhaps he thinks a father […]

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Monks and Monuments

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

From the very first words, ‘I have never lived anywhere commonplace’, the reader is gripped by this frank and intensely aesthetic account of a unique career. Dr John Martin Robinson, known to his countless friends and admirers as Mentmore, is Maltravers Herald Extraordinary, Librarian to the Duke of Norfolk, prolific author, architectural historian, and campaigner […]

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Sins of the Father

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Having written about Mary Shelley, Robert Graves, Henry James and Ottoline Morrell, Miranda Seymour has now turned her biographical skills onto her own family. Her childhood memoir, the biblically titled In My Father’s House, focuses on her father, George Fitzroy Seymour, and his obsession with their family home, Thrumpton. 

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From Hon To Rebel

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Mitford Industry (as the author of this correspondence cheerfully labelled it) has been so prodigiously productive over the years that the mere sight of this enormous new volume takes one aback. Another 764 pages about the joys and miseries of that extraordinary clan? More about Nancy and Debo and Unity and the rest of […]

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Retrospective Glances

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The late Nora Ephron suggested the title for Emma Brockes’s She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me (Faber & Faber 340pp £16.99). Ephron – probably known best for When Harry Met Sally – was as smart as they come in Hollywood and you only need to read the opening chapters to understand […]

A Fine Bromance

Posted on by Advertising Manager

Every December Private Eye’s book pages feature the Frederic Raphael Memorial Prize, an award given to the writer who makes the most obscure or pretentious selection as their Book of the Year. In 2012 the honours went to Raphael himself. The book he had chosen was Richard Seaford’s Cosmology and the Polis: The Social Construction […]

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

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As a rule, unsolicited letters to authors are literature’s wastepaper. Almost all are burned; almost all are, at best, barely scanned by the recipient. Mark Twain was an exception. He read, annotated and scrapbooked his letters including many thousands from unknown correspondents. R Kent Rasmussen offers us a sifting from them. The representative examples he […]

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