Annal: 2002 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography

Results of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the year 2002.

Book:The Lunar Men

The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future

Jenny Uglow

In the 1760s a group of amateur experimenters met and made friends in the English Midlands. Most came from humble families, all lived far from the center of things, but they were young and their optimism was boundless: together they would change the world. Among them were the ambitious toymaker Matthew Boulton and his partner James Watt, of steam-engine fame; the potter Josiah Wedgwood; the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor, and theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles). Later came Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen and fighting radical.

With a small band of allies they formed the Lunar Society of Birmingham (so called because it met at each full moon) and kick-started the Industrial Revolution. Blending science, art, and commerce, the Lunar Men built canals; launched balloons; named plants, gases, and minerals; changed the face of England and the china in its drawing rooms; and plotted to revolutionize its soul.…[more]

Book:Anthony Blunt: His Lives

Anthony Blunt: His Lives

Miranda Carter

Once an untouchable member of England’s establishment—a world-famous art historian and a man knighted by the Queen of England—in a single stroke Anthony Blunt became an object of universal hatred when, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher exposed him as a Soviet spy.

In Anthony Blunt: His Lives, Miranda Carter shows how one man lived out opposing trends of his century—first as a rebel against his class, then as its epitome—and yet embodied a deeper paradox. In the 1920s, Blunt was a member of the Bloomsbury circle; in the 1930s he was a left-wing intellectual; in the 50s and 60s he became a camouflaged member of the Establishment. Until his treachery was made public, Blunt was a world-famous art historian, recognized for his ground-breaking work on Poussin, Italian art, and old master drawings; at the Courtauld Institute he trained a whole generation of academics and curators. And yet…[more]

Book:Becoming George

Becoming George: The Life of Mrs W.B. Yeats

Ann Saddlemyer

Ann Saddlemyer’s biography of W. B. Yeats’s wife, George, portrays an extraordinarily talented, intelligent, and self-effacing woman, whose creative influence has never before been fully understood. She was wife and manager of a famous poet, and mother to his children, but in her own right also an inspired visionary and a practical woman of the arts.

Georgie Hyde Lees was raised in London’s literary salons, where arts, anthroposophy and the occult met. An accomplished linguist, art student and literary scholar, she married W. B. Yeats when she was 25, and he 52. Her supernatural “automatic writing” became the inspiration of Yeats’s poetry and thought for the last 20 years of his life, yet she always concealed the depth of their collaboration. Close friend of many writers and poets, among them Frank O’Connor and Ezra Pound, she spent her long widowhood steering the “Yeats industry” and actively assisting younger scholars and writers. …[more]

Book:Flaubert

Flaubert: A Life

Geoffrey Wall

A blond giant of a man with green eyes and a resonant actor’s voice, Gustave Flaubert, perhaps the finest French writer of the nineteenth century, lived quietly in the provinces with his widowed mother, composing his incomparable novels at a rate of five words an hour. He detested his respectable neighbors, and they, in turn, helped to ensure his infamy as a writer of immoral books. Geoffrey Wall’s remarkable new biography weaves together the inner dramas of Flaubert’s provincial life with the social intrigues of his regular escapes to Paris, where he became a friend to Turgenev and was praised by the emperor, and the flamboyant excitements of his travels throughout the Mediterranean, on which he kept company with courtesans, acrobats, gypsies, and simpletons.

Flaubert’s contradictory experiences nurtured his peerless novels and stories, and Wall’s dynamic interpretation of…[more]

Book:Silvertown

Silvertown: An East End Family Memoir

Melanie McGrath

Silvertown is the story of the life of author Melanie McGrath’s grandmother, Jenny Page. As McGrath acknowledges, “It was the kind of life that could have belonged to a thousand women living in the mid years of the twentieth century in the East End of London. Except that it didn’t. It belonged to Jenny”. McGrath’s achievement in the book is to make Jenny’s very commonplace, circumscribed life not only believable and moving but also to turn it into a mirror in which the reader can see the changes that the century visited upon the East End. When Jenny was a…

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