Annal: 2011 Costa Book Award for Biography

Results of the Costa Book Award in the year 2011.

Book:Now All Roads Lead to France

Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas

Matthew Hollis

Edward Thomas was perhaps the most beguiling and influential of First World War poets. Now All Roads Lead to France is an account of his final five years, centred on his extraordinary friendship with Robert Frost and Thomas’s fatal decision to fight in the war. The book also evokes an astonishingly creative moment in English literature, when London was a battleground for new, ambitious kinds of writing. A generation that included W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost and Rupert Brooke were ‘making it new’—vehemently and pugnaciously. These larger-than-life characters surround a central figure, tormented by his work and his marriage. But as his friendship with Frost blossomed, Thomas wrote poem after poem, and his emotional affliction began to lift. In 1914 the two friends formed the ideas that would produce some of the most remarkable verse of the twentieth century. But the War put an ocean between them: Frost returned to the safety of New England while Thomas stayed to fight for the Old. It is these roads taken—and those not taken—that are at the heart of this remarkable book, which culminates in Thomas’s tragic death on Easter Monday 1917.

Book:Charles Dickens: A Life

Charles Dickens: A Life

Claire Tomalin

The tumultuous life of England’s greatest novelist, beautifully rendered by unparalleled literary biographer Claire Tomalin.

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, The Times of London successfully campaigned for his burial in Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of England’s kings and heroes. Thousands flocked to mourn the best recognized and loved man of nineteenth-century England. His books had made them laugh, shown them the squalor and greed of English life, and also the power of personal virtue and the strength of ordinary people. In his last years Dickens drew adoring crowds to his public appearances, had met presidents and princes, and had amassed a fortune.

Like a hero from his novels, Dickens trod a hard path to greatness. Born into a modest middle-class family, his young…[more]

Book:Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story

Henry's Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, A Father and Son's Story

Patrick Cockburn, Henry Cockburn

On a cold February day two months after his twentieth birthday, Henry Cockburn waded into the Newhaven estuary outside Brighton, England, and nearly drowned. Voices, he said, had urged him to do it.

Nearly halfway around the world in Afghanistan, journalist Patrick Cockburn learned from his wife, Jan, that his son had suffered a breakdown and had been admitted to a hospital. Ten days later, Henry was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Narrated by both Patrick and Henry, this is the extraordinary story of the eight years since Henry’s descent into schizophrenia—years he has spent almost entirely in hospitals—and his family’s struggle to help him recover.

With remarkable frankness, Patrick writes of Henry’s transformation from art student to mental patient and of the agonizing and difficult task of helping his son get well. Any hope of recovery lies in medication, yet Henry, who does not believe he…[more]

Book:Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village

Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village

Julia Blackburn

You come across the shell of a ruined house. It could be anywhere in southern Europe where people once lived and then moved away because there was no work to hold them there. You might find things scattered in the empty rooms: a bread oven, a broken spade, earthenware jars that still hold the pungent scent of olive oil; even clothes left hanging in a cupboard, a silent clock on a shelf, a picture cut from a newspaper pinned on a wall.

The house is remote, but it is surrounded by a tracery of thin paths. One path goes steeply down to a village; others zigzag their way to scattered huts and stone shelters, to caves where you could hide in times of danger and to unexpected lookout points from where you could watch the approach of animals or human intruders.

Julia Blackburn and her husband moved to a little house in the mountains of northern Italy in 1999. She arrived as a stranger…[more]

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