bi­og­ra­phy& his­tory 80. THE YEARS OF LYN­DON JOHN­SON VOL 4: THE PAS­SAGE OF POWER ROBERT A CARO

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63. THE PE­RI­ODIC TA­BLE PRIMO LEVI

Best known for his mem­oir of Auschwitz, If This Is A Man, Primo Levi later wrote this wholly orig­i­nal work – part au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, part es­says, part short sto­ries, part trea­tise – in which each chap­ter takes its theme from a dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal el­e­ment. Levi was a chemist by pro­fes­sion. He saw chem­istry as truth, and un­ver­i­fi­able creeds (not least, Nazism) as the en­e­mies of truth. Each el­e­ment in the Pe­ri­odic Ta­ble rep­re­sents the pri­macy of fact. In one es­say he writes about the time he thought he caused an ex­plo­sion by us­ing potas­sium in­stead of sodium. ‘The dif­fer­ences can be small, but they lead to rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent con­se­quences, like a rail­road’s switch­points; the chemist’s trade con­sists in good part in be­ing aware of those dif­fer­ences, know­ing them close up, and fore­see­ing their ef­fects. And not only the chemist’s trade.’

64. SPEAK, MEM­ORY VLADIMIR NABOKOV It glit­ters like a di­a­mond, this play­ful, episodic and gor­geously ex­act re­cre­ation of the nov­el­ist’s aris­to­cratic child­hood in St Peters­burg, im­me­di­ately be­fore the Rev­o­lu­tion that forced his fam­ily into ex­ile. 65. THE VERY BEST OF THE DAILY TELE­GRAPH BOOKS OF OBIT­U­AR­IES EDITED BY HUGH MASSINGBERD

From Bunny Roger, who claimed to have ad­vanced through en­emy lines dur­ing the Second World War with his chif­fon scarf fly­ing as he bran­dished a copy of Vogue, to ‘Big Bam­bino’ Rizzo who said, ‘I’m gonna be so tough as mayor of Philadel­phia, I gonna make At­tila the Hun look like a fag­got’, all hu­man life is here, and cel­e­brated in style.

66. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELL­ERS ROGER LEWIS

The crazy, mon­strous, self-de­lud­ing chameleon got the bi­og­ra­pher he de­served. Lewis is en­cy­clopaedic in his re­search and mer­ci­less in his ex­e­cu­tion, but he is also a master at get­ting to the heart of what makes any given per­former unique. And he’s very, very funny, too.

67. THE YEAR OF MAG­I­CAL THINK­ING JOAN DIDION

Joan Didion’s hus­band of 40 years had a fa­tal heart attack while their daugh­ter was in in­ten­sive care. This is an ac­count – spare and un­de­ceived – of what hap­pened next. Mov­ing de­spite it­self, it’s a study in grief, or rather, of the way in which the mad­ness of grief can tear even the steel­i­est mind asun­der.

68. BRIEF LIVES JOHN AUBREY

Surely the punchi­est and most gos­sipy work of his­tor­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy ever writ­ten. Aubrey (16261697) re­alised that a sin­gle colour­ful de­tail is worth a thou­sand words. It is a les­son many of our more dogged bi­og­ra­phers would do well to re­mem­ber to­day. Who can for­get his de­scrip­tion of sex up against a tree be­tween Wal­ter Raleigh and a young lady friend? At first, she gasps, ‘Sweet Sir Wal­ter’. Then, ‘as the dan­ger and the plea­sure at the same time grew higher, she cried in ec­stasy, “Swisser Swat­ter, Swisser Swat­ter!”’

69. OUT OF SHEER RAGE GE­OFF DYER

A book about not writ­ing a book. Ge­off Dyer set out to write a bi­og­ra­phy of DH Lawrence and ended up by writ­ing this hi­lar­i­ous book about never quite get­ting round to it.

70. EM­I­NENT VIC­TO­RI­ANS LYTTON STRACHEY

Who­ever said bi­og­ra­phy had to be bal­anced? In his por­traits of Car­di­nal Man­ning, Florence Nightin­gale, Dr Arnold and Gen­eral Gor­don, Strachey may of­ten swap fair­ness for laugh­ter, but he al­ways gets a ter­rific ex­change rate. The philoso­pher Ber­trand Rus­sell read it in Brix­ton prison and laughed so loud that an of­fi­cer felt obliged to re­mind him that prison is a place of pun­ish­ment.

71. THE QUEST FOR CORVO AJA SY­MONS

The flaki­est peo­ple of­ten in­spire the finest bi­ogra­phies. Baron Corvo was one of a num­ber of iden­ti­ties as­sumed by the patho­log­i­cally un­re­li­able Fred­er­ick Rolfe, who wrote a won­der­fully camp, batty, baroque novel about the only English pope, ‘Hadrian the Sev­enth’. The Quest For Corvo reads like a de­tec­tive story, with the bi­og­ra­pher pur­su­ing the most elu­sive of quar­ries.

72. A VERY ENGLISH SCAN­DAL JOHN PRE­STON

The most charis­matic and pop­u­lar Bri­tish politi­cian of his day plots to have his former lover mur­dered. It would, he says, be ‘no worse than killing a sick dog’. He then pays a com­i­cally clumsy would-be as­sas­sin out of Lib­eral Party funds, at which point the as­sas­sin loses his nerve and shoots the lover’s Great Dane. I thought I knew ev­ery last de­tail of the Jeremy Thorpe af­fair but John Pre­ston taught me much that I didn’t know, and told the bizarre tale with just the right amount of rel­ish.

73. MAR­GARET THATCHER: THE AUTHO­RIZED BI­OG­RA­PHY VOL 1: NOT FOR TURN­ING CHARLES MOORE

You’d have thought that this first vol­ume, which takes her up to the Falk­lands War, might be stuffy and rev­er­en­tial. In­stead, it reads like an undis­cov­ered novel by Arnold Ben­nett. Young Mar­garet Roberts, claus­tro­pho­bic in her po-faced fam­ily – her fa­ther was a pi­ous Al­der­man with wan­der­ing hands, while her mother, writes Moore, ‘had no pre­ten­sions to good looks, style or dis­play’ – plots her es­cape, start­ing at Ox­ford where her con­tem­po­raries ‘did not know her ter­ri­bly well, and were not strongly at­tracted by what they did know’. Now read on...

76. THE RULES OF THE GAME, BEYOND THE PALE NI­CHOLAS MOSLEY

Even in 2018, Sir Oswald Mosley con­tin­ues to hit the head­lines. The name of the up­per-class English fas­cist re­mains a by­word for wicked­ness, for op­por­tunism, and also, hap­pily, for fail­ure. This com­plex, mov­ing two-vol­ume mem­oir by his el­dest son Ni­cholas (also a bril­liant nov­el­ist, in­ci­den­tally) is, like

Fa­ther And Son (right), a brave, end­lessly sub­tle at­tempt to ex­plain the deep rift be­tween the two men, and to ex­plore the fa­ther’s Jekyll-and-Hyde char­ac­ter. ‘While the right hand dealt with grandiose ideas and glory’ writes Ni­cholas, ‘the left hand let the rat out of the sewer.’

74. THE LAST DAYS OF HITLER HUGH TREVOR-ROPER

Hun­dreds, pos­si­bly thou­sands, of books about Hitler have ap­peared since his death, but this was the first, and still, quite pos­si­bly, the best. In 1945 Trevor-Roper, a young in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer and his­to­rian, was ap­pointed to find out what had hap­pened to the Ger­man Führer, who seemed to have dis­ap­peared with­out trace. He ex­panded his re­port to this ex­traor­di­nar­ily vivid ac­count of ev­ery­day life in the god­for­saken bunker. Pub­lished hot-off-the-press in early 1947, The Last Days Of Hitler com­bines the ur­gency of great jour­nal­ism with the heft of great his­tory.

75. SELL­ING HITLER ROBERT HAR­RIS

Har­ris has gone on to write a string of highly ac­claimed best-sell­ing nov­els, but his skill as a jour­nal­ist can be en­joyed in this madly en­ter­tain­ing re­count­ing of the tale of the fake Hitler Di­aries. It is pop­u­lated, like so many cases of trick­ery, by many will­ing vic­tims – not least el­derly Bri­tish his­to­rian Trevor-Roper – who al­lowed their in­tel­li­gence to be out­wit­ted by wish­ful think­ing.

77. FA­THER AND SON ED­MUND GOSSE

‘This book is the record of a strug­gle be­tween two tem­per­a­ments, two con­sciences and al­most two epochs. It ended, as was in­evitable, in dis­rup­tion. Of the two hu­man be­ings here de­scribed, one was born to fly back­ward, the other could not help be­ing car­ried for­ward. There came a time when nei­ther spoke the same lan­guage as the other, or en­com­passed the same hopes, or was for­ti­fied by the same de­sires. But, at least, it is some con­so­la­tion to the sur­vivor that nei­ther, to the very last hour, ceased to re­spect the other, or to re­gard him with a sad in­dul­gence.’ A beau­ti­ful mem­oir about the clash be­tween a stern fun­da­men­tal­ist fa­ther and his way­ward, lib­eral son.

78. DU­VEEN SN BEHRMAN

Half con­nois­seur, half con-artist, Joseph Du­veen man­aged to con­vince the first great Amer­i­can ty­coons – Rock­e­feller, Hearst, Mel­lon – that the path to im­mor­tal­ity was paved with Re­nais­sance mas­ter­pieces, and that he alone was the gate­keeper. An el­e­gant dis­sec­tion of a man and an epoch, beau­ti­fully bal­anced be­tween ad­mi­ra­tion and dis­be­lief.

79. THIS BOY ALAN JOHN­SON

The ami­able former UK home sec­re­tary’s first vol­ume of au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, deal­ing with grow­ing up in ex­treme poverty in Lon­don’s Not­ting Hill in the late Fifties, looks like be­com­ing a clas­sic, and rightly so. Writ­ten with­out a hint of self­pity, it be­comes a story of sal­va­tion through kind­ness. ‘I’m go­ing to be pres­i­dent. I was meant to be pres­i­dent,’ LBJ said to any­one who would lis­ten dur­ing his years as Se­nate leader. Of­fered the chance of the vice pres­i­dency by JFK, whom he de­spised, he did the maths. ‘I looked it up: one out of ev­ery four pres­i­dents has died in of­fice,’ he told a lady friend. ‘I’m a gam­blin’ man, dar­lin’, and this is the only chance I got.’ Three years later, a bul­let killed Kennedy, and LBJ’s gam­ble paid off. The Pas­sage Of Power charts LBJ’s overnight change from side­lined, re­sent­ful vice pres­i­dent to de­ci­sive, so­cial-re­form­ing pres­i­dent. ‘To watch Lyn­don John­son dur­ing the tran­si­tion is to see po­lit­i­cal ge­nius in ac­tion,’ writes Caro. Like­wise, to read Caro on John­son is to see bi­o­graph­i­cal ge­nius in ac­tion.

Thatcher’s bi­og­ra­phy reads like an undis­cov­ered novel by Arnold Ben­nett

81. A SUL­TRY MONTH ALETHEA HAYTER

June 1846: tem­per­a­tures rise to 90 de­grees in the shade, and ev­ery­thing seems to be go­ing pear­shaped for Benjamin Hay­don, painter of un­fash­ion­able his­tor­i­cal can­vases. Within a mile or two, Robert Brown­ing and El­iz­a­beth Bar­rett, Dick­ens, Wordsworth and Ten­nyson are all milling around. Be­fore the month is out, Hay­don has com­mit­ted sui­cide, his lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion hav­ing been up­staged and out­sold by Gen­eral Tom Thumb’s show next door. Alethea Hayter of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing and wholly orig­i­nal new ap­proach to his­tory in this slice of-life por­trait of artis­tic Lon­don over the course of a sin­gle sul­try month.

84. TALES OF A NEW JERUSALEM DAVID KY­NAS­TON

A multi-vol­ume chron­i­cle of Bri­tain (in­clud­ing Moder­nity

Bri­tain, above) from the end of World War Two to Mar­garet Thatcher’s elec­tion vic­tory in 1979, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from Bronco toi­let pa­per to the birth of the mo­tor­way. Ky­nas­ton’s cu­rios­ity is in­sa­tiable, his re­search painstak­ing, his style flow­ing and his range panoramic.

82. THY NEIGH­BOR’S WIFE GAY TALESE

When this un­con­ven­tional sur­vey of the sex lives of mod­ern Amer­i­cans was first pub­lished in 1981, it was over­shad­owed by the me­dia’s bo­gus ou­trage at its distin­guished author’s ov­er­en­thu­si­as­tic re­search, dur­ing which Talese had run a mas­sage par­lour, in­dulged in af­fairs, par­tic­i­pated in or­gies and joined a nude com­mune. Thir­ty­seven years on, it’s per­haps eas­ier to ap­pre­ci­ate the the­atri­cal bril­liance of this book’s con­struc­tion, and the ex­tra­or­di­nary por­trait it of­fers of what adults got up to be­hind closed doors in the Sev­en­ties.

85. THE PAX BRITANNICA TRIL­OGY JAN MOR­RIS

Jan Mor­ris’s ex­u­ber­ant three­vol­ume his­tory of the Bri­tish Em­pire may have fallen out of fash­ion, as she found as much to cel­e­brate as to re­gret. But it con­tin­ues to show that his­tory need not be dry as dust, and that with rich, sump­tu­ous prose a van­ished era can be con­jured back to life.

83. LON­DON: THE BI­OG­RA­PHY PETER ACKROYD

It’s as busy and bustling as its sub­ject, with dif­fer­ent chap­ters cov­er­ing top­ics as var­ied as noise, fog, mur­der­ers, fires, pris­ons, sub­ter­ranean rivers, crowds, beggars and the colour red. Ackroyd treats Lon­don as a liv­ing, breath­ing thing, im­mor­tal and rav­en­ous.

86. THE VIC­TO­RI­ANS AN WIL­SON

A N Wil­son has writ­ten a wide range of books to cel­e­brate, among them his novel The Heal­ing

Art, a de­light­fully cranky mem­oir of Iris Mur­doch, and God’s

Fu­neral, a his­tory of the rise of athe­ism in the 19th cen­tury. But if I had to pick one, it would prob­a­bly be The Vic­to­ri­ans, his vivid, bustling, bril­liantly de­tailed re­cre­ation of the age that con­tin­ues to loom.

87. AKENFIELD RON­ALD BLYTHE

In the late Six­ties, Ron­ald Blythe in­ter­viewed the res­i­dents of an English vil­lage – shep­herds, gravedig­gers, doc­tors, labour­ers. Some of them were old enough to re­mem­ber the era be­fore the mo­tor­car, when you were able to travel only as far as you could bi­cy­cle in a day, a time when the only art avail­able was ring­ing the church bells, and when the ser­vants had to face the wall when Her La­dy­ship walked past. It’s oral his­tory as po­etry; the po­etry of the past.

88. THE COL­LECTED ES­SAYS OF GE­ORGE OR­WELL

There are all sorts of bones one could pick with Ge­orge Or­well. ‘He could not blow his nose with­out moral­is­ing on the state of the hand­ker­chief in­dus­try,’ com­plained his old school­friend Cyril Con­nolly. But his virtues – the clar­ity of his prose, his broad­mind­ed­ness, his in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity, his un­pompous tone – far out­strip his oc­ca­sional pieties. Such is Or­well’s power that nearly 70 years af­ter his death, his views are as rel­e­vant as ever, and thinkers on all sides of the po­lit­i­cal de­bate still fight to claim him for their own.

89. DON JUAN LORD BY­RON

I re­mem­ber feel­ing on an end­less high one sum­mer when I first read this sexy, cheeky, melo­dra­matic, out­ra­geous, satir­i­cal and stu­pen­dously clever work. Who could ever imag­ine that a long verse novel could ever be such fun?

90. AWOPBOPALOOBOP ALOPBAMBOOM: POP FROM THE BE­GIN­NING NIK COHN

I re­mem­ber the thrill of read­ing this in the sum­mer of 1970, when I had just turned 13. It told me what made rock mu­sic so ex­cit­ing and gave me good rea­son to feel sus­pi­cious of the self-re­gard­ing prog-rock course on which it was about to em­bark. It also taught me that lan­guage should al­ways go in tan­dem with its sub­ject. When Cohn wrote that pop at its best was ‘fast, funny, sexy, ob­ses­sive, a bit epic’, he was also sum­ming up his own prose style, widely im­i­tated but rarely sur­passed.

91. BIRDS AND PEO­PLE MARK COCKER

The hum­ming­bird beats its wings at up to 200 beats a second. The Manx shear­wa­ter flies from Wales to Ar­gentina in a fort­night. The Em­peror Pen­guin can dive over 450 me­tres, which is more than the height of the Em­pire State build­ing. Helped by 650 birdlovers from 81 coun­tries, Cocker pro­duced a god-like book about man’s re­la­tion­ship with the crea­tures he loves, en­vies, ad­mires and, some­times, kills.

92. 20TH CEN­TURY WORDS EDITED BY JOHN AYTO

An end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing et­y­mo­log­i­cal dic­tionary, deal­ing with words orig­i­nat­ing in the 20th cen­tury, com­plete with dates and first us­age, from Abom­inable Snow­man (1921) to Zit (1966) via Undies (1906) and Slap­head (1990).

93. FI­NAL CUT: DREAMS AND DIS­AS­TER IN THE MAK­ING OF HEAVEN’S GATE STEVEN BACH

There’s noth­ing quite so heart­warm­ing as ly­ing in bed read­ing about other peo­ple’s catas­tro­phes. Steven Bach was a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive when United Artists com­mis­sioned the wholly un­re­li­able Michael Cimino to make a new film. Heaven’s Gate turned out to be one of the most ex­pen­sive and dis­as­trous projects in the his­tory of Hol­ly­wood and brought down United Artists. A tale of over­whelm­ing van­ity, du­plic­ity, mega­lo­ma­nia, greed and cow­ardice, it’s high time it was made into a film of its own.

94. REV­O­LU­TION IN THE HEAD IAN MAC­DON­ALD

I’m a con­nois­seur of Bea­tles books, which are now pro­duced at the same rate as books about Churchill and books about cakes. This is my favourite – a chrono­log­i­cal anatomy of each of their songs, by turns anoraky and ap­pre­cia­tive, scep­ti­cal and cel­e­bra­tory, with each and ev­ery page burst­ing with in­for­ma­tion.

95. THE NEW PEN­GUIN BOOK OF ENGLISH VERSE EDITED BY PAUL KEE­GAN

It’s hard to imag­ine a world be­fore Yeats and Co­leridge, Larkin and Pope, John Donne, Christina Ros­setti and T S Eliot. This vast po­etry an­thol­ogy, or­dered year by year, is a trea­sure trove of the well-loved and the off­beat, the half-re­mem­bered and the ut­terly fresh.

96. WATERLOG ROGER DEAKIN

A joy­ous, up­lift­ing swim around Bri­tain in the sea, rivers, lakes, moats and even pot­holes. At the same time a brac­ing cel­e­bra­tion of phys­i­cal and men­tal free­dom.

97. IN THE FREUD AR­CHIVE JANET MAL­COLM

I would read any book by the beady New Yorker jour­nal­ist Janet Mal­colm. She has a laser-like in­tel­li­gence, which she em­ploys to dis­en­tan­gle moral co­nun­drums. This is the hyp­not­i­cally com­pelling story of the pushy young man who was placed in charge of the Freud Ar­chives, and then used them to over­turn Freud’s rep­u­ta­tion.

98. SUM­MONED BY BELLS JOHN BETJEMAN

Poet John Betjeman’s blank verse au­to­bi­og­ra­phy was pooh-poohed by the cognoscenti on its first ap­pear­ance in 1960. Academia has still not caught up with it, but the rest of us can cel­e­brate the keen­ness of its child­hood mem­o­ries, which, such is Betjeman’s skill, some­how be­come our mem­o­ries, too.

99. MR PALO­MAR ITALO CALVINO

In 27 lit­tle es­says, the mild Mr Palo­mar, a fig­ure not un­like Calvino, looks at a va­ri­ety of things – a wave as it breaks, an al­bino go­rilla in a zoo, a naked wo­man on a beach – and tries to make sense of it all, and his po­si­tion in the uni­verse. These med­i­ta­tions are per­formed with such del­i­cate play­ful­ness that it is easy to un­der­es­ti­mate their in­tel­lec­tual bril­liance.

And fi­nally... 100. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME MAR­CEL PROUST

You should al­ways have some­thing you’re sav­ing up to read. But how long can you wait? For the past 40-odd years, on and off, I’ve been dip­ping into Proust’s multi-vol­umed work. Each time, I’ve loved en­ter­ing his world, fol­low­ing him down the strange cor­ri­dors of thought and mem­ory. But I still haven’t read it all from start to fin­ish. In­stead, I tell my­self that I’ll save it up for when I have more time. But how much time do I have? It’s fast dawn­ing on me that there’s no time to lose.

Such is Or­well’s power that nearly 70 years af­ter his death his views are as rel­e­vant as ever

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