The Hearst Big Book Awards: the biographies’ shortlist as chosen by Esquire editors
In January, Esquire’s publisher Hearst UK launched its Big Book Awards: a new initiative to celebrate the phenomenal quality and diversity of the book publishing industry and ensure our audience finds the best reads out there (present company excepted, of course). Each of the participating magazine titles has a category to oversee, with Esquire’s allotted genre being biographies, which we were not sorry about in the slightest. We were even less sorry when the entries had been whittled down to a shortlist of three fantastic books that perfectly embody the variety and pleasure of the biography form, as well as the ways in which it can be stretched and explored. The final judging will be made by a reader panel — and if you are on it, thank you for your service — in conjunction with members of the Esquire editorial team: editor-in-chief Alex Bilmes, features director Miranda Collinge and contributing editor Tom Parker Bowles. The overall winner will be announced later in the year, but here’s a run-down of the shortlist, all of which are very much worth your while. That the title of Baldwin’s biography should come from a bawdy actors’ joke — told to him by Michael Gambon, no less — gives some insight into the kind of irreverent, engaging book the American star has written. Given that Baldwin and his four brothers would become a smouldering acting dynasty in the Eighties and Nineties, it’s edifying to learn that they (and two nonacting sisters) started out in a modest Catholic household in Massapequa, New York, and that his success has been the result of considerable graft. From a slot on soap Knots Landing to the first person to play Jack Ryan on film in The Hunt for Red October, Baldwin’s rise was rapid — as was his descent, fuelled by his rep for drink and drug-fuelled chaos and the waning favour of the studio system. Oh, and did we mention his tempestuous marriage to Kim Basinger? Baldwin is frank and funny about his lively career in acting, and perhaps going forward, in politics; and as much as he gushes about thesps he’s known, he’s not afraid to chastise (he describes one lawyer he dealt with as “one of the most contemptible people I have ever encountered”), nor to discuss the insecurity and humiliation that are inherent in his trade.