Annal: 1999 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 1999.

Book:George Eliot: The Last Victorian

George Eliot: The Last Victorian

Kathryn Hughes

A major new biography of a great english writer who has particular relevance for our own age.

For the sheer breadth of experience embodied in her life and work, George Eliot presents an ever alluring subject for biographers. The daughter of one of the new breed of self-made businessmen, she had a scandalous liaison with the married writer and editor George Henry Lewes that made an outcast of her until literary fame overcame “polite” scruples. Unparalleled among the great English novelists for her understanding of the important intellectual and political debates of her day, she nonetheless maintained a fervent attachment to the pragmatic middle ground, where idealism is tempered by love, habit, and history. It is no wonder that many a previous biographer has foundered in the face of so much richness and complexity, producing lopsided or not entirely coherent portraits of the writer. …[more]

Book:Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin: A Life

Michael Ignatieff

Isaiah Berlin was witness to a century. Born in Riga in the twilight of the Czarist empire, he lived long enough to see the Soviet state collapse. The son of a Jewish timber merchant, he became a presiding judge of Western intellectual life on both sides of the Atlantic: historian of the Russian intelligentsia, biographer of Marx, scholar of the Romantic movement, and defender of the liberal idea of freedom against Soviet tyranny. When he died in 1997, he was hailed as the most important liberal philosopher of his time.

But Berlin’s life was not only a life of the mind. Present at the crucial events of our age, he was in Washington during World War II, in Moscow at the dawn of the Cold War, and dining with President John F. Kennedy on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis. From Albert Einstein to Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill to Anna Akhmatova, his circle of friends constitutes a veritable…[more]

Book:John Soane

John Soane: An Accidental Romantic

Gillian Darley

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of the most influential and original of all English architects. In this illustrated biography, Gillian Darley places Soane’s life and buildings side by side, and her insights into this complex man and his turbulent life add a great deal to our understanding of his extraordinary work.

Born the son of a bricklayer, Soane was a self-made man, egotistic, irascible, with encyclopaedic interests. He built himself a remarkable town house that he filled with treasures and left in trust to the nation. By 1800 he was rich and successful, designing both private houses for powerful clients and public works, Consummate at securing patronage, he was the personal architect to two prime ministers. He was architect to the Bank of England, to Chelsea Hospital and to the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons. He designed Dulwich Picture Gallery—the first purpose-built art gallery in Britain.

Soane made unprecedented use of neoclassical elements to provide theatrical and unexpected conjunctions and remarkable spatial effects. His dramatic and unpredictable buildings have increasingly proved an inspiration to architects of many schools.

Book:Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Comet of the Enlightenment

Isobel Grundy

With interest growing in the tradition of women’s writing, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) has been transformed from a colorful eccentric to an important writer. This book is the first to take her writing achievement seriously, as well as re-telling a life-story which every newly uncovered detail renders more extraordinary.


Mandela: The Authorised Biography

Anthony Sampson

Nelson Mandela, who emerged from twenty-six years of political imprisonment to lead South Africa out of apartheid and into democracy, is perhaps the world’s most admired leader, a man whose life has been led with exemplary courage and inspired conviction.

Now Anthony Sampson, who has known Mandela since 1951 and has been a close observer of South Africa’s political life for the last fifty years, has produced the first authorized biography, the most informed and comprehensive portrait to date of a man whose dazzling image has been difficult to penetrate. With unprecedented access to Mandela’s private papers (including his prison memoir, long thought to have been lost), meticulous research, and hundreds of interviews—from Mandela himself to prison warders on Robben Island, from Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo to Winnie Mandela and F. W. de Klerk, and many others intimately connected to Mandela’s story—Sampson has composed an enlightening and necessary story of the man behind the myth.

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