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Best Biography?

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Showing 1-25 of 465 posts in this discussion
Posted on 16 Mar 2015, 00:36:22 GMT
Need cheering up?:read Danny Baker's " Going to sea in a sieve". As funny as he is on the radio. A really good laugh!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2015, 12:23:06 GMT
Mr. W. Nicol says:
Son of the Morning Star by Evan Connell is a splendid biography of George Armstrong Custer and his times. Spencer Tracy by James Curtis was also excellent. Harry Carey Jun's autobiography was also quality

Posted on 9 Mar 2015, 04:53:19 GMT
Valerie H. says:
I have recently read "Innocence Lost" by Vivienne Dockerty. I found it a bit worrying in parts that a young girl could have been so easily led by people in authority who should have known better. Glad she eventually managed to find someone who seemed to care for her.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Jan 2015, 09:46:06 GMT
Last edited by the author on 30 Jan 2015, 21:46:02 GMT
Sombrio says:
Thanks for your excellent desription of why "Testament of Youth" made such a strong connection with you. Reading your thoughts on this book has definitely changed the loosely-held, (but negative) feelings I'd had towards it, based merely on reading a number of reviews.

However, once the tentative reasons for not searching out this book were gone, I still found myself with a reluctance to go through the processes necessary to bring it into my hands. This then forced me to re-examine where this hesitation was coming from. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the topic which has, for most of my life (almost as a reflex reaction), turned me away - the First World War.

To be honest, even though I found "Birdsong" to be, without a doubt one of the most powerfully affecting books I've ever read ... I only read it because it was pretty much forced onto me by the wife of a friend. I simply couldn't say no, without the risk of causing offence. And I have been grateful ever since that I gave way on that question, because what I gained in understanding of WW I, was priceless.

But throughout my life, WW I has been like the monster that many children believe lurks under their beds at night. It's simply better NOT to look.

To me, WW I was a war of such unspeakable horror, far closer to the industrial-scale slaughter of an abbatoir than to any war before or since. All started and sustained by fat, rich, middle-aged plutocrats who sat at home in their comfortable arm chairs, playing their games of wealth and power with the lives of their neighbours' children. Boys barely out of adolescence, condemned to living out whatever short period they had left in the mud, lice and unspeakable horror of Flanders fields. And the generals that led them,... my God, the words 'gross incompetents' doesn't even come remotely close to describing their abilities. I always think of that saying, (I believe it was supposed to have been made by a German officer) that the 'British soldiers were from a nation of lions led by donkeys.'

WW I seems to me the embodiment and eternal monument to the particular form of insanity that is the true cancer which lies dormant inside all of us. When I look at our fellow travellers in life that we share this planet with - animals and plants, there is no other being as remotely vile as the disgusting revelation that WW I showed to the world.

{Well, to put that emotive outburst into a more realistic perspective, what the German people sunk to in Auschwitz and Belsen is perhaps a descent even closer to imagineable 'rock bottom.'}

But splitting hairs doesn't make either topic a place where I want to spend my time, re-living it again in a book. I guess that's the real reason standing behind my shying away from "Testament of Youth." But I very much appreciate your nudge towards my looking at that with a little more honesty.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jan 2015, 09:33:09 GMT
Marand says:
I love Birdsong too, but for me Testament of Youth has a sense of immediacy that a novel lacks. It was someone's real experience and as a memoir it encompasses social history, something that I am interested in. In particular the book shows up the constraints of Edwardian society and the struggle that women had in getting into university. This had some resonance for me when I first read the book in my first year at uni. I was the first of my immediate family to go to university, and the idea of applying to Oxford (encouraged by my tutors) was treated with derision. My mother in particular thought the idea of uni was silly and that I should go out to work immediately. My experience was of course a doddle compared with Vera Brittain's and her later experience of losing so many of her generation in the war was just awful, such a waste. For me the book conveys the sense of loss, 'aloneness', quiet devastation that was probably a feature for many young women in the post-war years. I still remember an old teacher from my school who alluded to the losses of the first world war (she never married because her 'young man' died in it), and it was only when I read Testament of Youth that I really understood what it must have been like for her.

I wouldn't consider it a difficult book at all although of course it was written in the late 1920s/early 1930s and therefore the style, the language is different - I wonder if that affected the reviewer you quote. I think it may also have made Vera less sympathetic. In part I suspect she had to be arrogant to get what she wanted and that later her brittleness was a function of her experiences, experiences that stayed with her throughout her life. Indeed on her death, she requested that her ashes be scattered on her brother's grave in Italy where he died towards the end of the war. You will gather from this that I didn't find the book to be boring, nor would I call it depressing: clearly a book that involves war and death won't have a feelgood factor and the events described are very sad, poignant but despite all this, Vera has a strength of character that eventually pulls her through and which she put to use later in her work with the League of Nations.

For whatever reason, this is one of very few books I have re-read, and even fewer that I have re-read several times - I figure it must have something going for it.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jan 2015, 22:11:57 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Jan 2015, 22:16:39 GMT
Sombrio says:
Hiya Marand,

I find it pleasant to periodically make a more direct connection with other readers on a forum like this. After all, it is a human connection most of us must be seeking when we come here, or else we'd never bother to take our noses out of our books except for meals, work, and bedtime.

I also find it interesting that you should mention Vera Brittain's 'A Testament of Youth'. A few days ago I was coming to the end of a book I was enjoying and thinking about what to try next. Because reading is a rather solitary pleasure, I often take up on suggestions from people on this forum, and quite a few books have turned out to be real gems. (I think particularly here of one a 70 year old lady recommended as one of the best books she'd read in her entire life - " The Universe Versus Alex Woods". After reading it, I could easily see why she felt that way.)

But there's been some real duds as well. So, to improve the odds a little, I've taken to reading quite a few of the Amazon Reviews as well.

But still the 'dud count' wasn't diminishing enough. So gradually I realised that the most accurate idea seemed to come from not bothering with the 5 Star reviews, other than to get an idea of the proportion of them there were to the other ratings. But my feeling now is that the most accurate reviews are to be found in the middle or lower end of the scale. The reviews there often show more of a concern for nuances. You can soon learn how to spot chaff like the curmudgeons who never have a good thing to say about anybody, and I think my eye is gradually getting better at de-coding reviews.

So, a few days ago I read your post extolling Vera Brittain's book, and thought from the style of many of your posts here, that it might be well worth trying out. As a final check I looked through the Amazon Reviews, and there were quite a few negative viewpoints. In the end, the one I've copied and pasted below swayed the day for me, and I didn't end up getting it, (partially because I shared the writer's love of Birdsong, and partly because I share his distaste for verbose writers). It would be interesting to hear your response to this reviewers comments.


I know this book is a 'classic' and is about a terrible time in history and I fully understand that many people like it (my Mum thought it was the best book she had ever read), but unfortunately for me I did not appreciate it at all. I found it too wordy and difficult to understand at times. I thought Vera Brittain could have quite easily said all she wanted to say in half as many words, which, in my opinion, would have been much better. Also, I found it difficult to relate to the main character (the author), as I simply could not stand her! The more I read, the more I found her at times to be arrogant, pompous and extremely annoying! I admit the overall content was quite interesting, but it could have been presented in a much more accessible way. Perhaps this is just me, and it may also have something to do with the fact that I have to write a 2500 word essay on it for my A-level English course, but I'm sorry, it is heavily depressing and very boring. Birdsong - now there is a REALLY GOOD WW1 book!

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Jan 2015, 21:18:05 GMT
Marand says:
Hi Sombrio - we meet again

I completely endorse the Durrell recommendation - I did worry the first time I picked it up as an adult if I would still enjoy it but of course I did, shaking with laughter half the time.

Another biography I keep going back to is Vera Brittain's 'A Testament of Youth'. I haven't dared to see the new film partly because I remember the TV version, probably back in the 1970s, with Cheryl Campbell in the part of Vera.

Posted on 26 Jan 2015, 16:55:27 GMT
Last edited by the author on 26 Jan 2015, 16:59:58 GMT
Sombrio says:
At this bleak time of year, overcast, wall-to-wall grey, howling winds outside and dark by 4:30, (standard winter fare in the far north of Cumbria),.... I have only one reliable antidote. Every year I re-read Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals". I defy anyone not to feel uplifted by his descriptions of the most magical childhood imaginable growing up in Corfu. It has all the ingredients necessary to perform literarily the role of Prozac - without any unwanted side-effects, (other than an unquenchable desire to buy a ticket on Ryan Air's first available flight to Greece.)

I couldn't possibly recommend any autobiography more than this absolute gem of literature.

(And, as undoubtedly many, many people will have read it already - I should also add that Durrell's two sequels of his childhood in Corfu are both very good as well : "Birds, Beasts and Relatives", and "The Garden of the Gods" )

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jan 2015, 16:07:05 GMT
Both fantastic and would recommend along with his biography. RS

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jan 2015, 12:54:31 GMT
Sue Fancy says:
The best for me, and my second favourite of books I have read, has got to be Testament of Youth - Vera Brittain's story (Shirley Williams Mum). I don't think I will be able to go and see the recently released film
of the same name, cos' I have lived and breathed the book several times, and no way for me, could it be 'squeezed' into a couple of hours on the screen.

Posted on 21 Aug 2014, 22:36:41 BST
Julia says:
Alan Clark Diaries.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Aug 2014, 23:28:06 BST
I enjoyed Pauline Prescots and also Alan Johnsons.They are memorable of the many I have read.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jun 2014, 22:27:38 BST
I loved Alan Johnson's autobiography - despite his tough childhood he insists he was happy. I believe his follow up is due soon. Another autobiography that sticks in my mind is Nicky Campbell's where he tells of his fascinating search for his birth parents. I've just enjoyed "Hons and Rebels" by Jessica Mitford. The Mitfords were so unbelievably eccentric, and this is a funny memoir by possibly the most likeable of the sisters.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jun 2014, 21:34:06 BST
I agree Paul O'Gradys books have been really enjoyable. Hope I'm right in saying he's busy writing his fourth.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Jun 2014, 17:45:13 BST
boleyn says:
has to be paul o gradys trilogy. you hear him telling you his story
its intreasting to know that "our vera" was a real person.
down to earth and very funny.

Posted on 27 Feb 2014, 15:38:00 GMT
I think Alan Suger is a brilliant self made man and have read all his books so far and found he is very down to earth particularly as he is from the same neck of the woods as me.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Feb 2014, 14:32:41 GMT
Julie D says:
Thanks so much for posting this. A fan of Hendry's, I did not realize a biography had been published - will certainly be purchasing. Just looking around on internet I found a website too - Ian Hendry - True Brit.

Posted on 25 Feb 2014, 13:08:37 GMT
Gabes says:
Send in the Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry
This was a very good and well researched biography in my opinion

Posted on 14 Jan 2014, 14:55:04 GMT
I'm reading "The Court Jester" by Mansour Bahrami. He has led a remarkable life and his book is as entertaining as his tennis.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jan 2014, 14:25:38 GMT
Jane Hair says:
A Kentish Lad - Frank Muir
The Moons a balloon and bring on the horses - David Niven

If you like old showbiz stories these are for you. I found a Kentish Lad particularly hilarious!

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jan 2014, 17:34:05 GMT
TomC says:
Do not use these discussion forums to promote your own book or one with which you are associated. It is both unwelcome and against Amazon rules. From the "Important Announcement from Amazon":

"Starting on December 15, 2011, all "shameless self-promotion" activity will be limited to the `Meet Our Authors' community."

Put your spam in the "Meet Our Authors" forum. That's what it's for.


Posted on 5 Jan 2014, 16:09:00 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 5 Jan 2014, 20:30:25 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Dec 2013, 14:31:02 GMT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2013, 07:31:42 GMT
Rebecca Parker,Angel Just-Rights

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Nov 2013, 19:03:13 GMT
C. helene says:
a perfect definition. dont be sad, just read everything by the Amazing Tomalin!An unequelled biographer.Mrs Jordan is both uplifting and heartbreaking, be warned!
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