Biography and Memoirs

Susan Lever reviews 'Ink in Her Veins: The troubled life of Aileen Palmer' by Sylvia Martin

Susan Lever

In her new biography, Sylvia Martin tells us that Aileen Palmer wanted to be remembered as a poet. Until now, she has been best known as the elder daughter of Vance ...

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Gillian Dooley reviews 'The Long Run' by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Gillian Dooley

When I heard that there was a new book out on why women run, I assumed I would be reading about women fleeing domestic horrors rather than running marathons. Such a reaction might make Catriona Menzies-Pike sigh with frustration, and the cultural myopia which gave rise to my unthinking assumption is one of the reasons she wrote this book. 'I'd read a lot of books ab ... More

Richard Freadman reviews 'On Life-Writing' edited by Zachary Leader

Richard Freadman

Zachary Leader, respected biographer of Kingsley Amis and Saul Bellow, and editor of this volume of commissioned essays, defines life writing as 'a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed'. This formulation reflects the book's method, which is to provide a 'sampling' of various per ... More

Barney Zwartz reviews 'John le Carré' by Adam Sisman

Barney Zwartz

Of all the stories John le Carré has invented – more than a score of novels, nearly all bestsellers – his own is perhaps the most fascinating. It is dominated by two characters, le Carré himself (real name David Cornwell) and his father, Ronnie.

Biographers naturally pay close attention to the influence of their subjects' parents, but seldom can they e ... More

Susan Sheridan reviews 'Call of the Outback' by Marianne van Velzen

Susan Sheridan

The long subtitle of this biography says it all. Hill was an immensely popular and influential travel writer in the 1930s and 1940s. Her books The Great Australian Loneliness (1937) and The Territory (1951) gathered together and built on the many stories she had written for city newspapers. She also published histories of the flying doctor medical ... More

Josephine Taylor reviews 'The Bauhinia Tree' by Kankawa Nagarra Olive Knight

Josephine Taylor

Kankawa Nagarra Olive Knight is a leader in the Wangkatjungka community, south-east of Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley. For The Bauhinia Tree, her eventful seventy-year life story was recorded by Terri-ann White, then 'transcribed and refined' by White and Kankawa Knight. While the material has been edited to remove hesitations and interventions, the oral ... More

Fiona Hile reviews 'Good Night and Good Riddance' by David Cavanagh

Fiona Hile

When Napoleon called England a nation of shopkeepers he claimed to have meant it as a compliment. Its grand resources were not constituted by extensive territories, natural resources, or a burgeoning population, but in the accumulation and dissemination of wares. In Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move (2008), John Plotz remarks that certain obj ... More

Ian Dickson reviews 'James Merrill' by Langdon Hammer

Ian Dickson

To his critics, James Merrill was at best a petit maître, a composer of exquisitely manufactured lyrics that reflected his privileged life and over-refined sensibilities. When he won Yale's Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the editorial writer for The New York Times wearily deplored the judges' preference for 'literary' poets. This prompted a sharp res ... More

Paul Giles reviews 'The Invention of Nature' by Andrea Wulf

Paul Giles

Alexander von Humboldt, who died in 1859 at the age of eighty-nine, was not only the most famous scientist of his day but also one of the world's best-known figures. He met often with political leaders, from Thomas Jefferson in the new United States to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and he expanded outwards from his bases in Paris and Berlin to pursue variou ... More

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Mick' by Suzanne Falkiner

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Late in 1998, the Times Literary Supplement, as was its wont, sent Randolph 'Mick' Stow a book for review. It was Xavier Herbert: A Biography (1998) by Francis de Groen, and Stow accepted the commission with enthusiasm. 'What a ghastly, embarrassing old pillock,' he wrote to his lifelong friend Bill Grono. 'Well, you'll soon read my opinion of him. ... More

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