Winner of the Costa Biography Award
What makes a Stalin? Was he a Tsarist agent or Lenin’s bandit? Was he to blame for his wife’s death? When did the killing start?
Based on revelatory research, here is the thrilling story of how a charismatic cobbler’s son became a student priest, romantic poet, prolific lover, gangster mastermind and murderous revolutionary. Culminating in the 1917 revolution, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bestselling biography radically alters our understanding of the gifted politician and fanatical Marxist who shaped the Soviet empire in his own brutal image. This is the story of how Stalin became Stalin.
Ruthless revolutionary; passionate womaniser; activist; hothead. Meet the young Mandela.
Nelson Mandela has been mythologised as a flawless hero of the liberation struggle. But how exactly did his early life shape the triumphs to come? This book goes behind the myth to find the man who people have forgotten or never knew – Young Mandela, the committed freedom fighter, who left his wife and children behind to go on the run from the police in the early 1960s. But his historic achievements came at a heavy price and David James Smith graphically describes the emotional turmoil Mandela left in his wake.
After meticulous research, and taking a lead from Mandela’s trusted circle, the author discovers much that is new, surprising, and sometimes shocking that will enhance our understanding of the world’s elder statesman. For the first time, we have evidence of a specific personal motivation for Mandela’s fight against apartheid, and this book sheds light on the significant extent to which Mandela relied on white activists – a part of South African history the ANC has ignored or tried to bury. Sanctified, lionised, it turns out that Mandela is a human being after all, only too aware of his flaws and shortcomings. With unique access to people and papers, culminating in a meeting with Mandela himself, Smith has written the single most important contribution to our knowledge of this global icon.
Compelling account of the first 35 years of a magnificent and ruthless monarch.
Henry became the unexpected heir to the precarious Tudor throne in 1502, after his elder brother Arthur died. He also inherited both his brother’s wardrobe and his wife, the Spanish princess Katherine of Aragon. He became king in April 1509 with many personality traits inherited from his father – the love of magnificence, the rituals of kingship, the excitement of hunting and gambling and the construction of grand new palaces.
After those early glory days of feasting, fun and frolic, the continuing lack of a male Tudor heir runs like a thin line of poison through Henry’s reign. After he fell in love with Anne Boleyn, he gambled everything on her providing him with a son and heir. From that day forward everything changed.
Based on contemporary accounts, Young Henry provides a compelling vision of the splendours, intrigues and tragedies of the royal court, presided over by the ruthless and insecure Henry VIII. With his customary scholarship and narrative verve, Robert Hutchinson provides fresh insights into what drove England’s most famous monarch, and how this happy, playful Renaissance prince was transformed into the tyrant of his later years.
The story of how Elizabeth II became queen.
‘Rich with princess anecdotes… Williams’s book weaves the Second World War, vast social change and the royal upheaval of abdication and celebration of coronation into energised, nostalgic storytelling’ SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
‘Fascinating insights into Elizabeth’s relationship with her sister also make this a worthwhile, enjoyable read’ DAILY TELEGRAPH
We can hardly imagine a Britain without Elizabeth II on the throne. It seems to be the job she was born for. And yet for much of her early life the young princess did not know the role that her future would hold. She was our accidental Queen.
As a young girl, Elizabeth was among the guests in Westminster Abbey watching her father being crowned, making her the only monarch to have attended a parent’s coronation. Kate Williams explores the sheltered upbringing of the young princess with a gentle father and domineering mother, her complicated relationship with her sister, Princess Margaret, and her dependence on her nanny, Marion ‘Crawfie’ Crawford. She details the profound and devastating impact of the abdication crisis when, at the impressionable age of 11, Elizabeth found her position changed overnight: no longer a minor princess she was now heiress to the throne.
Elizabeth’s determination to share in the struggles of her people marked her out from a young age. Her father initially refused to let her volunteer as a nurse during the Blitz, but relented when she was 18 and allowed her to work as a mechanic and truck driver for the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. It was her forward-thinking approach that ensured that her coronation was televised, against the advice of politicians at the time.
Kate Williams reveals how the 25-year-old young queen carved out a lasting role for herself amid the changes of the 20th century. Her monarchy would be a very different one to that of her parents and grandparents, and its continuing popularity in the 21st century owes much to the intelligence and elusive personality of this remarkable woman.
The autobiography of one of the greatest pilots in history.
In 1939 Eric Brown was on a University of Edinburgh exchange course in Germany, and the first he knew of the war was when the Gestapo came to arrest him. They released him, not realising he was a pilot in the RAF volunteer reserve: and the rest is history. Eric Brown joined the Fleet Air Arm and went on to be the greatest test pilot in history, flying more different aircraft types than anyone else.
During his lifetime he made a record-breaking 2,407 aircraft carrier landings and survived eleven plane crashes. One of Britain’s few German-speaking airmen, he went to Germany in 1945 to test the Nazi jets, interviewing (among others) Hermann Goering and Hanna Reitsch. He flew the suicidally dangerous Me 163 rocket plane, and tested the first British jets. WINGS ON MY SLEEVE is ‘Winkle’ Brown’s incredible story.
Authoritative biography of cult writer and author of NAKED LUNCH, William Burroughs (1914-1997).
It has been 50 years since Norman Mailer asserted, ‘I think that William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.’ This assessment holds true today. No-one since then has taken such risks in their writing, developed such individual radical political ideas, or spanned such a wide range of media – Burroughs has written novels, memoirs, technical manuals and poetry, he has painted, made collages, taken thousands of photographs, made visual scrapbooks, produced hundreds of hours of experimental tapes, acted in movies and recorded more CDs than most rock groups.
Made a cult figure by the publication of NAKED LUNCH, Burroughs was a mentor to the 1960s youth culture. Underground papers referred to him as ‘Uncle Bill’ and he ranked alongside Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Buckminster Fuller and R.D. Laing as one of the ‘gurus’ of the youth movement who might just have the secret of the universe.
Based upon extensive research, this biography paints a new portrait of Burroughs, making him real to the reader and showing how he was perceived by his contemporaries in all his guises – from icily distant to voluble drunk. It shows how his writing was very much influenced by his life situation and by the people he met on his travels around America and Europe. He was, beneath it all, a man torn by emotions: his guilt at not visiting his doting mother; his despair at not responding to reconciliation attempts from his father; his distance from his brother; the huge void that separated him from his son; and above all his killing of his wife, Joan Vollmer.
Poet, artist, visionary and author of the unofficial English national anthem ‘Jerusalem’, William Blake is an archetypal misunderstood genius. In this radical new biography, we return to a world of riots, revolutions and radicals, discuss movements from the Levellers of the sixteenth century to the psychedelic counterculture of the 1960s, and explore the latest discoveries in neurobiology, quantum physics and comparative religion to look afresh at Blake’s life and work – and, crucially, his mind. Taking the reader on wild detours into unfamiliar territory, John Higgs places the bewildering eccentricities of a most singular artist into context and shows us how Blake can help us better understand ourselves.
‘If a thing loves, it is infinite’ William Blake
A short, impassioned argument for why the visionary artist William Blake is important in the twenty-first century
The visionary poet and painter William Blake is a constant presence throughout contemporary culture – from videogames to novels, from sporting events to political rallies and from horror films to designer fashion. Although he died nearly 200 years ago, something about his work continues to haunt the twenty-first century. What is it about Blake that has so endured? In this illuminating essay, John Higgs takes us on a whirlwind tour to prove that far from being the mere New Age counterculture figure that many assume him to be, Blake is now more relevant than ever.
The definitive biography of the war poet – ‘Dominic Hibberd has probably done more more than any other individual to illuminate Owen’s life and work. His new Life is a triumph … it is difficult to believe it will ever be superseded’ Mark Bostridge, The Independent on Sunday
When Wilfred Owen died in 1918 aged 25, only five of his poems had been published. Yet he became one of the most popular poets of the 20th century. For decades his public image was controlled by family and friends, especially his brother Harold who was terrified anyone might think Wilfred was gay. In recent years much new material has become available. This book, based on over thirty years of wide-ranging research, brings new information to almost every part of Owen’s life. Owen emerges as a complex, fascinating and often endearing character with an intense delight in being alive.
A compelling story of African adventure, romance and intrigue, perfect for readers of bestselling true crime such as WHITE MISCHIEF and MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL.
WILDFLOWER is the gripping life story of the naturalist, filmmaker and lifelong conservationist Joan Root. From her passion for animals and her hard-fought crusade to save Kenya’s beautiful Lake Naivasha, to her storybook love affair, Root’s life was one of a remarkable modern-day heroine. After 20 years of spectacular, unparalleled wildlife filmmaking together, Joan and Alan Root divorced and a fascinating woman found her own voice. Renowned journalist Mark Seal has written a breathtaking portrait of a strong woman discovering herself and fighting for her beliefs before her mysterious and brutal murder in Kenya.
With a cast as wild, wondrous and unpredictable as Africa itself, WILDFLOWER is a real-life adventure tale set in the world’s disappearing wilderness. Rife with personal revelation, intrigue, corruption and murder, readers will remember Joan Root’s extraordinary journey long after they turn the last page of this compelling book.
Almost 50 years after his lonely death, Hendrix is the abiding symbol of musical genius cut tragically short. Wild Thing will be the first biography to bring together the splendour and sadness of his brief life, and to attempt to unravel the circumstances of his death.
Hendrix revolutionised classic rock, inventing a whole new vocabulary for the guitar. Onstage he pushed the boundaries of Sixties permissiveness, fellating the strings of the guitar with his tongue, lying it flat and straddling it, even setting fire to it. Yet in private he was polite, shy and sweet-natured. Norman will explore these contradictions in a narrative that takes us from Hendrix’s roots in Seattle to his louche and glamorous life in Mayfair, when London was the world’s most ‘swinging’ capital and then back to the US with the series of historic outdoor rock festivals that rounded out the decade.
Wild Thing will be a celebration of matchless artistry, and a gripping chronicle of those now mythical times. But it will also investigate the peculiar conditions of his death, part whodunnit as it tells the most cautionary of rock ‘n’ roll parables. After all these years of rumour and speculation, Jimi’s ghost may finally be laid to rest.
Ruthlessly honest memoir of a widow’s pain in coming to terms with the death of her husband.
This haunting memoir of grief recounts the death from cancer of Nick Clarke, much-loved BBC radio presenter of THE WORLD AT ONE – and the aftermath – from his widow Barbara’s point of view.
With painful honesty, Barbara lays open her ambivalent feelings about the illness as it progressed, and her instinctive fear that this would be the end. As he got sicker, her fear grew, until he died an unfeasibly short time after his diagnosis.
Barbara chronicles in unflinching prose her life after his death. A howl of anguish and anger, she describes how many of her friends and colleagues don’t call, and don’t offer support – how alone she is, and how she struggles to explain the unexplainable to her young twin sons. She has a breakdown, and a short-lived relationship (met with condemnation from some of her friends), but knows the process of dealing with her grief is barely beginning.
A ruthlessly honest dissection of a widow’s pain, this book is also a love story – an uncomfortably raw, utterly compelling memoir which ends without resolution; its author still fighting to come to terms with the hand life has dealt her.