I Ate All the Chocolates

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

James Watson, co-discoverer of the secret of life, tries hard before selecting a final title for his books. The story of his and Francis Crick’s race for the double helix of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, if you must) was variously titled ‘Honest Jim’ and ‘Base Pairs’ before Watson settled on The Double Helix, published in 1968 […]

Poet who Remains as Elusive as Ever

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Despite the fact that he wrote one of the best-loved poems in the English language, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard’, Thomas Gray himself has always been an enigma. His life was almost perversely lacking in excitement or interest. Born in 1716 in London of mercantile parents, he was educated at Eton and Cambridge, and […]

A Visionary Victorian

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE EXACT POSITION of a horse’s four legs at any given moment during a race; the beery spume of water gliding over rocks; a couple locked dead still in an embrace, while behind them the city’s frantic whirl goes on: photography is miraculous, in that it grants us visions of what the eye could not […]

At Least He Had A Conscience

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE STORY OF Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), the Scottish immigrant’s son who arrived in America with nothing and rose from the slums of Pittsburgh to become the wealthiest man in the world, embodies the American dream. This is the ultimate tale of the ‘poor boy made good’ – and a tale made even better by his […]

Percy of Persia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN THE LATE nineteenth century a quarter of the world was ruled by Britain. Yet Britain’s power extended far beyond the formal empire that was coloured pink on the map. For example, until the First World War Argentina was largely controlled by British companies and financial institutions. The southern and eastern regions of Persia effectively […]

The Wisest Fool in Christendom

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

JAMES I OF England (and V1 of Scotland) was probably the most complex of the Stuarts who actually reigned. If his three successors were, in broadbrush terms, a despot, a womaniser and a fool, James managed to avoid all these traps; but as a person he was the least attractive of them all. His complexity […]

An Unlucky Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

EARLY ON IN this magnificent biography, Richard Thorpe reveals that Anthony Eden was rated last out of nineteen in a poll on British twentieth-century prime ministers. In a field populated by Neville Chamberlain, A J Balfour, John Major and Ted Heath that is no mean achievement. By any objective standards, Eden’s conspicuous act of failure […]

A Fine Ligne

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THE HOLY ROMAN Empire, Voltaire famously (and inaccurately) remarked, ‘was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire’. As a put-down, it could hardly have been more successful. For while most schoolboys can tell you about the Third Reich, and a select few can even identify the Second (of 1871-1918), almost none have the slightest idea […]

Radical Cures

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

THIS COULD HAVE been a brilliant book. Set in the turbulent days of the Civil War, it focuses on two medical giants: the Royal (and royalist) physician William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood, and the astrologer, apothecary and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, who fought with the Parliamentary army and has been largely forgotten […]

The Last of the Great Unromantics

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN A SENSE, the most complex and fascinating part of Felix Mendelssohn’s life began when he died in 1847, at the age of thirty-eight. His reputation was at a peak – he had recently conducted the premiere of his oratorio Elijah to tumultuous acclaim – and his personal life unblemished. Even the faint embarrassment attendant […]

Following The Pharohs

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

WAS LORD CURZON, as Vicemy of India, or Lord Cromer, as London’s agent and consul-general in Cairo, the most powerful man in the British Empire? It was a close-run thing: Curzon was surrounded by more ceremony and probably enjoyed more influence, but Cromer had greater, more enduring command over a country’s political and economic development […]

The Population of the Mind

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

FOUR YEARS AGO, Anthony Storr, that most level-headed of Jungians, judged Ronald Hayman’s to be the best biography of Jung. Had he lived to read Deirdre Bair’s, I’m sure he would have seen it as a challenge to Hayman’s. Bair leans more heavily than Hayman towards the life as distinct from the work, but, in […]

The American Engima

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

IN A PREFACE to this monumental biography Conrad Black pays tribute to his publisher’s editor, William Whitworth. Their dealings, he tells us, were often abrasive, and conducted entirely by e-mail. He hopes that their intense relationship will eventually lead to an actual meeting. Intriguing. I wonder whether a hard-pressed Whitworth might have suggested cuts. If […]

Seriously Funny

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1958 the Public Library in Hicksville, Long Island planned a retrospective of four early Charlie Chaplin short silent films (The Cure, The Fireman, The Pawnshop and The Floorwalker). A pressure group campaigned successfully to have the films banned from being shown, stating that Chaplin ‘was not worthy of being honored’. This occurred some five […]

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The Name’s Oggins

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

This is a remarkable book, painstakingly researched. Intriguingly, it amounts effectively to a book within a book. So exhaustive have the author’s researches been that it seems unlikely that there is anything left to discover about its protagonist, save some withheld material lodged in FSB (formerly KGB) files in Moscow. A thin strain of biographical […]

Best Of A Bad Lot

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Readers of this magazine need no introduction to Frank McLynn. They know him as a reviewer ready to tackle a huge variety of subjects, from film to psychoanalysis to obscure periods of history, and to write with lively and opinionated authority on all of them. His career as a biographer and historian has also been […]

Little Boy From Germany

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Henry Kissinger took office as National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon in 1969, he was told to avoid live press conferences like the plague because ordinary Americans would be horrified by his thick Germanic accent. Even two years into Nixon’s first term, most people had never heard Kissinger speak. Only gradually was the rule […]

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Poisonous Publishers and Barking Brigadiers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One of life’s minor mysteries is why successful publishers, as a general rule, make bad writers. Leo Cooper’s uproarious autobiography is not exactly the exception that proves that rule, but it does scatter clues like grapeshot as to why editors are editors, authors are authors, and it is much better that the twain should never […]

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Treasonous from a Tender Age

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

During the recent debate about whether British Muslims who seek to attack the realm could be charged with treason, it was mentioned that no such charges (under an act of Parliament passed in 1351) had been brought since the end of the Second World War. Almost the last Briton to be convicted of, and executed […]

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