Biography and Memoirs

Ian Dickson reviews 'James Merrill' by Langdon Hammer

Ian Dickson
Thursday, 25 February 2016

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 ...

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

Paul Giles
Wednesday, 24 February 2016

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 ...

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'Mick' by Suzanne Falkiner

Kerryn Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 24 February 2016

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. ...

Daniel Juckes reviews 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

Daniel Juckes
Tuesday, 22 December 2015

After fiddling with the bits of leather designed to curtail a newly bought goshawk, T.H. White grumbled that 'It has never been easy to learn life from books' (The Goshawk, 1963). Helen Macdonald says the same thing, twice: all the books in piles on her desk, designed to help her deal with grief, cannot 'taxonomise the process, order it, make it sensible'. ...

First published in 1969 and out of print for nearly forty years, Journey to Horsehoe Bend is a literary classic that envisions an Australian epic on a grand scale. That epical potential was recognised by composer Andrew Schultz and librettist Gordon Kalton Williams, whose cantata adapted from the book had its world première in 2004.

Journey

Ian Britain reviews 'Worlds Apart' by David Plante

Ian Britain
Tuesday, 22 December 2015

How has David Plante managed to become as prolific a novelist as he has when so much of his time has been spent in flitting between gallery openings in New York, dinner parties and book launches in London, idyllic holidays in Italy and Greece, and teaching in Tulsa, Oklahoma? And those are just a few of the 'worlds apart' recounted in this so-called memoir – the b ...

Carol Middleton reviews 'In Love and War' by Liz Byrski

Carol Middleton
Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Western Australian novelist and academic Liz Byrski has written a memoir that explores the reality behind a World War II myth: the ground-breaking work done by plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe to repair the disfigured faces, hands, and lives of fighter pilots and crews. Byrski grew up during the war in East Grinstead, Sussex, near the hospital where McIndoe worked, ...

'Oh, I just don't know where to begin,' opens 'Accidents Will Happen', one of the best pop songs of Elvis Costello's four-decade recording career. The English songwriter (born Declan MacManus) has no such trouble with his generously sized memoir, which details the creation of so much of his work. 'A lot of pop music has come out of people failing to copy their model ...

While A.J.P. Taylor's famous assessment of John Monash was that he was the sole general of creative originality in World War I, the word 'creative' here is misleading. The real measure of Monash's celebrated genius, as Grantlee Kieza frequently points out in this massive tome, was that he learnt, not without mistakes, how to maximise every tool he was given in an in ...

John Byron reviews 'The Long Haul' by John Brumby

John Byron
Friday, 18 December 2015

Alongside the current boom in political memoir, with its tendency to self-aggrandisement, score-settling, and justification of the indefensible, there grows quietly a small but compelling genre of books that explore the craft and policy purpose of various types of political work. Notable examples from Melbourne University Press include