Make a Royal APPOINTMENT; Forget Zoom Video Chats. You Can Meet Some of the World's Most Fascinating People during Lockdown (Including Camilla AND Diana) with Our Pick of the Best Ever Biographies BEST OF BIOGRAPHY & SCIENCE

Daily Mail (London), April 18, 2020 | Go to article overview

Make a Royal APPOINTMENT; Forget Zoom Video Chats. You Can Meet Some of the World's Most Fascinating People during Lockdown (Including Camilla AND Diana) with Our Pick of the Best Ever Biographies BEST OF BIOGRAPHY & SCIENCE


Byline: biographies Roger Alton

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin THE greatest of English novelists deserves a great biography and Claire Tomalin delivers handsomely.

And what a life it was. Dickens packed a load in before his untimely death at the age of 58, burnt out by constant activity, heavy drinking and smoking, gout and a stroke. He loved performing and was sustained by the adoration of huge audiences, here and in the U.S.

Profitable it was, too: a speaking tour could earn him hundreds of thousands of pounds in today's money. He was offered advances worth well over the equivalent of PS250,000 for his novels.

Tomalin brings the man and his time vividly to life, warts and all.

He could be cruel and dismissive. He treated his wife very badly Dickens said he was unhappily married, but it did yield ten children so it can't always have been that unhappy deserting her to set up home with his mistress, a young actress called Nelly Ternan.

Tomalin is a terrific writer, and very good on all Dickens's novels, but it is the man himself who leaps off the pages of this fine book.

I'm Your Man: The Life Of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons COHEN was one of the most influen- tial voices of the modern age in music, poetry, performance and fiction he was every bit as entitled to a Nobel prize as his friend and fellow performer Bob Dylan and this enthralling, magisterial and meticulously researched volume is a fitting tribute.

Born into a prominent Jewish family in Montreal, Cohen also flirted with Scientology and was an ordained Buddhist monk. But it is life's more earthly pleasures that he is better known for.

An inexhaustible ladies' man, few women could resist his charms and effortless charisma. But the casualties of Cohen's commitment--phobia are never far from the surface.

never far from the surface.

He took prodigious amounts of drugs yet sailed effortlessly through them, as others fell by the wayside. There is a brilliant account here of how, totally stoned, he prevented a riot in the small hours at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival by simply talking calmly and singing hypnotically.

Like the best biographies, this book sends you back to his work. Read it with tea and oranges.

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday ANYONE who thinks Chairman Mao was broadly a great leader with a bit of a dark side will find this doorstop of a tome is not for them. It is a brutal and detailed denunciation of the man the authors, a husband-an-wife team, say was responsible for the slaughter of 70 million people.

Jung Chang wrote Wild Swans, a family memoir of three genera- tions spanning China's brutal 20th century, which became the biggest grossing non--fiction paperback in history.

A former Red Guard who saw the light, Chang is entitled to feel pretty disobliging to the Chinese leader. With her historian husband, she argues in considerable detail (the product of ten years of research and countless interviews) that Mao was as evil as Hitler or Stalin and did as much damage.

This is Mao the crazed psycho, the gangster, the murderer, the sociopath. All he wanted, say the authors, was wealth and personal power. Ideology meant nothing: he despised equality and introduced brutal anti--peasant policies.

If history was thinking of reas- sessing Chairman Mao favourably, this book is a weighty corrective.

The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles And The Love Affair That Rocked The Crown by Penny Junor VETERAN royal observer and commen- tator Junor broke a series of explosive exclusives with this, the first biography of Camilla Parker Bowles. Initially reviled by a public in thrall to Diana and this is a book not overly sympathetic to the late Princess of Wales Camilla has emerged as one of the most likeable and dedicated members of the British royal fam- ily. But it has been a long road. She had to put up with a series of infidelities by her first husband, the soldier Andrew Parker Bowles, then endure much public mockery as the details of her affair with Prince Charles started to emerge, not to mention considerable hos- tility from senior members of the royal family, revealed here for the first time, as the relationship became more and more open. …

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