Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

From the Sublime to the Ludicrous; Books for Christmas

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

From the Sublime to the Ludicrous; Books for Christmas

Article excerpt

Byline: CLAIRE HARMAN

Biography

CLAIRE Tomalin's Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (Penguin, pound sterling20) takes the laurels for biography this year. In addition to the wonderful vitality of the subject and the perennial interest of the dossier he left on himself, Tomalin gives a gripping account of non-diary Pepys, too, constructed from what (relative to the journals) seem sparse resources. The task of writing about this supreme self-observer must have been daunting, but Tomalin's skill and intelligence are more than up to it, and this is a thoughtful and eloquent study.

Selina Hastings's Rosamond Lehmann (Chatto, pound sterling25) is another great subject, beautifully written. Lehmann's action-packed sex life and high-octane personality leave one wondering how she had time to be sensitive and write novels; against the odds, Hastings brings the life and work together. Roger Lewis took on larger-than-life Anthony Burgess (Faber, pound sterling20) and came out with honour, while Carole Angier and Ian Thomson were the year's most prominent head-to-headers, both producing biographies of Primo Levi in the same month and together cementing the reputation of this melancholy genius, whose memoir of Auschwitz they both claim as a pivotal text of the 20th century.

I very much enjoyed Jenny Uglow's study of late 18th century ingenuity and enlightenment, The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future (Faber, pound sterling25), full of lively stories, steel, steam and mad inventions, and the life of another man of science, Philip Henry Gosse, by Ann Thwaite (Glimpses of the Wonderful, Faber pound sterling22.50), whose struggle to maintain his religion in the face of his own discoveries was sadly revealing about the iron grip of fundamentalism.

Ann Thwaite's miniaturist approach is in stark contrast to the broad sweep of A. …

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