RaveThe Guardian (UK)As well as a brilliant researcher, Lee proves himself to be an insightful narrator – of both the life of a Nazi \'desk murderer\', and the continuing attempts of Griesinger’s family to come to terms with the long shadow his role as an SS officer has cast over their lives.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Together with her fellow life-writer Kate Kennedy, Lee has co-edited a rich and eclectic collection of essays about the role houses play in people’s lives and our fascination with the homes of our creative heroes ... Highlights include Jenny Uglow on Edward Lear’s villas in San Remo, Italy...Julian Barnes on the Finnish composer Sibelius’s \'grand log villa\', Ainola, near Lake Tuusula; David Cannadine on Winston Churchill’s Chartwell in Kent...Alexander Masters on the fear of houses and why people end up on the street (the reasons cover everything from \'restlessness to death\') ... In her own beautifully written contribution \'A House of Air\'...Lee asks why so many of us feel the need to make the pilgrimage to the home of a long-departed author, artist or composer. Our motivation is often confused: \'a mixture of awe, longing, desire for inwardness, and intrusive curiosity\'.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)As Kay’s diary of his time as a junior doctor so eloquently shows, medics are used to tragedy ... Kay is now a comedy writer, and his frank and excruciatingly funny book, inspired by the 2016 junior doctors’ dispute, is also a moving tribute to the people without whom the NHS couldn’t function.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... wonderfully rich ... Drawing on exquisite tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, medical textbooks, accounts from doctors and the sick, [Hartnell] reveals the \'glittering and diverse\' details of medieval life, death and art across Europe and the Middle East ... His idea of approaching the medieval worldview through the body is inspired ... This beautifully illustrated book succeeds brilliantly in bringing this much maligned period to life. Hartnell shows that medieval culture was suffused with bodily tropes, from nuns plucking penises from a tree and flatulists kept by royalty to entertain the court, to the belief that the heart was \'a glowing internal sun\'. A triumph of scholarship.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)A Month in Siena is as much about the city and its people as it is about the famous artworks ... Matar writes evocatively of what it is like to live in this beautiful medieval city ... But it is about Siena’s art that Matar writes most movingly. He spends so much time in one gallery every day that the staff bring him a folding chair to use. From Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s frescos in the Palazzo Pubblico to others from the Sienese school in the Pinacoteca museum, the enigmatic paintings prompt wonderfully original riffs on history, time, love and the purpose of art itself ... This slim, beautifully produced book, which includes illustrations of the key paintings, sparkles with brilliant observations on art and architecture, friendship and loss. Matar’s prose is exquisitely measured and precise – not unlike one of the paintings from the Sienese school that he has admired for so many years.
PositiveThe GuardianEimer’s powerful account reveals a country plundered and brutalised during the colonial era and decades of autocratic rule, while struggling to come to terms with the reality of its present ethnic and religious diversity.
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)... the well deserved winner of the 2019 Costa biography award ... Pilecki died believing he had failed. Yet as this compelling study of his remarkable life shows, he did more than anyone to reveal the true horror of the camp.
PositiveThe Guardian... [a] delightfully haphazard narrative ... From lighthouses to a writers’ retreat in Switzerland (an austere \'machine for writing\'), Richards has penned a thoughtful and beautifully written meditation on our quest to find spaces in which we can find something unexpected in ourselves and forge a new relationship with the natural world: \'All outposts are lighthouses—sites of illumination.\'
PositiveThe Guardian (UK)Synnott’s book is as gripping and nail-biting as a thriller. It is a memorable portrait of the fearless and driven Honnold ... From reading The Brothers Karamazov 10,000ft up a cliff in Borneo, to his passionate commitment to environmentalism, Honnold is a remarkable figure ... Synnott’s book is also an attempt to understand what drives people such as Honnold to risk their lives on the world’s most dangerous mountains. One climber describes it as a primal experience: \'Everything is more intense.\' Although he denies being an adrenaline junkie, Honnold clearly lives for climbing, the only thing that has ever \'lit his fire\'. Climbers such as Honnold are only happy when they are hanging from a fingertip jammed in a fissure of rock a thousand feet off the ground.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Her first book is...a highly original survey of life, love and creativity; an intellectual odyssey that challenges easy categorisation. It interweaves the \'invisible connections\' between pioneering scientists, artists and writers—many of them gay women—to create a richly patterned tapestry of ideas and biographies ... Popova writes beautifully, translating abstractions into sensuous, evocative subjects, turning history and science into symphonic prose poetry ... At more than 500 pages, Figuring is perhaps overlong: but as Popova notes at the end, this is the distillation of a lifetime’s reading on science, the arts and biography ... To read Figuring is to be immersed in a gloriously ambitious symphony of ideas[.]
Gunnar Decker, Trans. by Peter Lewis
PositiveThe GuardianDecker’s wonderfully rich, insightful biography is a welcome reminder of Hesse’s painfully honest exploration of selfhood and is destined to become the standard work on this difficult, reclusive and often self-destructive writer.
RaveThe GuardianApplied Ballardianism is no dry scholarly study of the bard of Shepperton. This brilliantly written genre mashup is ostensibly a memoir of the author’s obsession and his attempt to write a doctoral thesis on his idol.
Bart Van Es
RaveThe Guardian\"... deeply moving ... Writing with an almost Sebaldian simplicity and understatement, Van Es weaves together history and Lien’s recollections to tell the story of her traumatic childhood.\
PositiveThe GuardianThe history of a nation and of a people is built from such defining moments [as De Gaulle\'s August 1944 march along the Champs-Elysées]. And, as Jackson’s remarkable 900-page study ably demonstrates, no one played a more influential role in 20th-century France than De Gaulle ... To tell the life of De Gaulle is also to chart the history of modern France, and in this suitably monumental biography rich with illuminating anecdotes, Jackson portrays his subject as a complex and contradictory character. The General (as he was known) was proud, arrogant and very difficult to deal with. Outbursts of sudden fury alternated with interludes of charm ... He remains hugely influential.
PositiveThe Guardian\"... [Nabokov] denied that Lolita was inspired by the case. But Sarah Weinman’s exhaustive research reveals many parallels ... Weinman is clear: she does not want to diminish the achievement of Lolita but rather \'to augment the horror he also captured in the novel\'. In this she succeeds well, and her compassionate account reveals the \'darkness of real life\' behind the novel. She allows Sally, like one of Nabokov’s trapped butterflies, to \'emerge from the cage of both fiction and fact, ready to fly free\'.
David Lynch and Kristine McKenna
PositiveThe GuardianThis hybrid form combines memoir and biography ... Clearly this highlights the subjectivity of experience and the inadequacy of life writing, but it could also compromise a biographer’s freedom to speak frankly about her subject. Nevertheless, Room to Dream is a memorable portrait of one of cinema’s great auteurs ... Room to Dream feels a bit like a valedictory festschrift, but it provides a remarkable insight into Lynch’s intense commitment to the \'art life,\' from his painting, photography and music to furniture design. As McKenna says: \'To a remarkable degree his life is an exercise in pure creativity.\'
RaveThe GuardianHer book focuses on its first 25 years and is a vivid novelistic retelling from the viewpoints of key figures, from its founder and his wife to Charles Spooner, the vet struggling to keep the exotic animals alive, and Charles Darwin, who used it as a laboratory to observe animals such as Jenny, the orangutan: 'He had not known, until this very day, how civilised apes could be.' An impressive work of imagination and research, as well as a pleasure to read.
RaveThe GuardianUsing archives created by squatters themselves, documenting their evanescent experiments, Vasudevan demonstrates that 'the squat was a place of collective world-making: a place to express anger and solidarity, to explore new identities and different intimacies, to experience and share new feelings, and to defy authority and live autonomously' ... Vasudevan’s argument is compelling and supported by impressive research...[he] shows how the occupation of vacant properties became 'a radical urban social movement,' shaping the recent development of many cities. ... As Vasudevan’s scholarly and illuminating study shows, for today’s squatters as for their predecessors, the urgent issue of housing is part of a broader concern. For squatting – in its radical incarnation – is about the future of our cities and about how all of us, as citizens, have a right to remake them into fairer, more humane places in which to live.
RaveThe Guardian...devious misuses of the city’s buildings and infrastructure are the focus of this highly original book ... There are some wonderful anecdotes in Manaugh’s book, such as the hapless burglar who phoned the police when he became convinced someone else was robbing the house he was burgling. Another burglar cut his way through the plasterboard walls of an entire Baltimore block ... praise for Die Hard reveals the playfulness at the heart of Manaugh’s book, which is also a feature of his acclaimed architectural website BLDGBLOG. The purpose here is not to celebrate burglars as urban superheroes, 'dark lords of architectural analysis'. For the most part, he concludes, they’re simply 'assholes' who wreck lives as well as buildings. But in Manaugh’s hands the burglar becomes a wonderful metaphor for a new way of seeing architecture and the city: as 'a spatial puzzle waiting to be solved.'
PositiveThe Guardian[W]hat makes this slim text memorable is [Calasso's] sheer passion for books – not digital texts but physical objects, in which every part is designed to enhance the experience of reading. An important and timely book.
Christine L. Corton
RaveThe Guardian“Corton’s wonderfully detailed and original exploration of foggy London ranges from the earliest mists to the last great pea-souper of 1962… Her account is rich in memorable anecdotes and descriptions, gleaned from popular culture, literature, journals and contemporary letters as well as cartoons and art history: the book is also splendidly illustrated.”