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BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Queen Anne The Politics of Passion anne somerset 416pp harperpress £25 HB
‘One of the English monarchs most neglected by historians, Queen Anne (1665–1714) receives judicious treatment in this sympathetic and engaging biography,’ wrote Christopher Silvester in the Daily Express. Historian Anne Somerset, whose previous works include biographies of William IV and Elizabeth I, ‘brings Anne’s anxious and dutiful character to life with delicacy and shows that although she was a rather tiresome woman of limited gifts she “was often a shrewd ruler”.’ John Harding, in the Mail on Sunday, agreed: ‘While the last of the Stuarts has been judged as a weak, uninteresting ruler at the mercy of her favourites, Somerset’s wonderfully pacy and absorbing read presents us with a different picture… She proved the most successful monarch of her troubled line. It’s a story dominated by the friendship of two women, full of behind-the-scenes intrigue including threats of blackmail
Queen Anne’s story is dominated by the friendship of two women, full of behind-thescenes intrigue, including threats of blackmail and royal lesbianism and royal lesbianism.’ Anne’s reputation was posthumously trashed by her one-time favourite Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, who, as Sunday Times reviewer Miranda Seymour put it, ‘metamorphosed from valued adviser into devilish harrier’. While ‘much has already been written about the savage triangle comprising Sarah Churchill, Queen Anne and Abigail Masham, the ubiquitous and slightly creepy royal confidante who threatened Sarah’s supremacy in Anne’s
Queen Anne with her son, the Duke of Gloucester, c.1694
court and heart,’ Seymour explained, ‘a careful examination of all extant material enables Somerset to assess how much of the familiar story was simply invented by the infuriated and venomous duchess.’ Beyond this aspect of her reign, however, and the sorry saga of her 17 pregnancies (with only one child surviving beyond a year and still pre-deceasing her), we should not underestimate Queen Anne’s achievements, notably the avoidance of further revolutions, the Act of Union with Scotland and a successful war in Europe. She was assiduous in her attention to affairs of state and attended more Cabinet meetings than any other British monarch. As Aline Reed wrote in the Express on Sunday, ‘history may have been unkind to her but in this excellent biography Anne’s reputation is reclaimed.’
teve Jobs walter isacson 656pp little, brown £25 HB
Released almost immediately after Steve Jobs’s death in October last year, Walter Isaacson’s authorised biography of the Apple co-founder is, its reviewers agreed, a meticulous and clear-headed assessment of a man who in the last years of his life had acquired a near-mythical stature. Born in 1955, Jobs was given up for adoption as an infant and spent his childhood in California. After dropping out of college and spending seven Zen-inspired months in India, he co-founded Apple in 1976, but was ousted from the company in the mid-80s. He returned in 1995, when Apple was struggling, to oversee its stunning resurgence, thanks to his perfectionism and eye for sleek, consumer-friendly technology. Hysteria among Apple fans at the launch of the iPad, for example, was so great that one journalist remarked: ‘The last time there was this much excitement about a tablet, it had some commandments written on it.’
Surprisingly, for a man so controlling, Jobs did not demand approval of what Isaacson wrote. The result is an ‘eye
Below: Steve Jobs in 1984, photographed by Norman Seeff wateringly frank’ account of an egotistical, often unpleasant man, wrote Tim Martin in the Daily Telegraph. Jobs parked his Mercedes in disabled bays; he abandoned a daughter born out of wedlock; he took public credit for other people’s ideas; and he was vicious towards his employees. Isaacson has written ‘a riveting book, with as much to say about the transformation of modern life in the information age as about its supernaturally gifted and driven subject,’ concluded Martin. Peter Conrad, writing in the Guardian, admired the ‘unerring skill’ with which Isaacson brings out Jobs’s conflicting hippie and corporate tendencies, while Donal ynch, in the Independent, called the book ‘relentlessly interesting’: ‘Judging by the florid displays of grief after Jobs died I thought he must have been some kind of cross between Gandhi, Einstein and Princess Diana.
hey stopped the presses of Time magazine to put this latter-day saint on the cover... Via this tome, Isaacson has meticulously slain the popular myths of Jobs.’
4 THE OLDIE Review of Books Spring 2012 BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
he Train in the Night A Story of Music and Loss he was wandering through. Now it was flat and featureless, impossible to engage with emotionally and totally lacking the “higher-order qualities” he had valued as a critic.’
As a result, this is an ‘affecting memoir,’ wrote Adams, which ‘details his efforts to restore that soundtrack, to remaster his memory’: ranging from the marches on Remembrance Day, watched on television, to The Basement Tapes, Coleman’s book is ‘an autobiography through sound.’ For Brian Morton in the Independent it was more than ‘just another medico-confessional, full of brave jokery and lippy stoicism.’ Coleman ‘explains better than anyone I’ve read the difference between liking certain music and being “into” it’, and the experience he describes ‘is a kind of self-sacrifice, as if he has lost his hearing so that we can hear more clearly again.’
After 25 years in the job, rock music critic Nick Coleman [right] woke up one morning with sudden neurosensory hearing loss: he had lost all hearing in one ear and had raging tinnitus, like ‘the inside of an old fridge hooked up to a half-blown amplifier’, in the other. ‘After the initial concussive shock,’ said Tim Adams in the Observer, ‘Coleman approached the new circumstances of his life – his inner-ear condition not only ruined his hearing but also his balance – with a good deal of the curiosity and wit that once characterised his reviews of albums and gigs.’ As John O’Connell wrote in the Times, this was ‘the cruellest blow for someone who makes his living listening to music. Even after his brain had begun the process of rewiring itself, Coleman found himself unable to enjoy music. He had always heard it “architecturally”, as if it were a building nick coleman 288pp jonathan cape £16.99 HB There’s nothing new about City scandals, as Martin Vander Weyer, business editor of the Spectator, demonstrates in his elegant retelling of the rise and fall of the high-living stockbroker Gerard Lee Bevan (1869–1936) who made a packet in the stock market after the First World War and ended up in prison when his rickety enterprise finally collapsed.
Fortune’s Spear The Story of the Blue-blooded Rogue Behind the Most Notorious City Scandal of the 1920s Martin Vander Weyer 337pp Elliott and Thompson £18.99 HB
actions on other people’s lives.’
‘His canny biographer finds it hard to tell whether Bevan was a born crook, or grew into the role,’ noted Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday. ‘But, in line with City crooks before and since, he certainly possessed all the instinctive hallmarks, neatly defined by Vander Weyer as a persuasive tongue, a heightened appetite for risk, a certain degree of numeracy and cunning, and a moral blindness to the effect of selfish
In the Scotsman Allan Massie thought the book had a contemporary message: ‘Since so many of us now distrust or despise the City of London, regarding it as a den of thieves and shysters, this book should confirm our prejudices. It’s a rattling good story, well-told and written with such lucidity that even readers normally bemused by the financial pages can grasp what went on.’
Writing in the Spectator, where Vander Meyer has a weekly column, Martin Jacomb agreed: ‘The book is not just for City people and lawyers. It is a rattling good yarn and leaves you wondering whether the man had a rotten core from the beginning or whether it was addiction to money and social position which seduced him into crime.’
• THE DICKENS BICENTENARY
Watch out for the following books:
Dickens and His Beard by Dan D Druff Expat trichologist D D Druff plots the various phases of Dickens’s beard, from its wispy beginnings to bushy grandeur. Fully illustrated.
. The Other Charles Dickens by Edwina Yakult Few Dickens lovers are aware of his namesake, Charles P Dickens, a pioneering homeopath whose patients included Edward VII and Nellie Melba.
Q The Dogs of Dickens by Ethelreda McKay Charming account of the great novelist’s many dogs, some them named after his famous characters – Copperfield, the Great Dane, Fagin the greyhound, Pekinese Little Dorrit, and many more.
. A Dickens Cookbook by Mariella Grubsup Always a fussy eater, Dickens demanded high standards from his team of expert cooks. Mrs Grubsup has tracked down over fifty priceless recipes (hitherto unpublished).
Q Dickens’s Gosport by Hector Barfe Once a fashionable watering place, Gosport was a favourite holiday haunt for Dickens and his young family. Prof Barfe identifies many of Dickens’s favourite haunts in this colourful Hampshire resort.
Gerard Lee Bevan