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Andrew O’Hagan: A Paean to Boswell

5 October 2000
Boswell's Presumptuous Task 
by Adam Sisman.
Hamish Hamilton, 352 pp., £17.99, November 2000, 0 241 13637 7
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James Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson’: Research Edition: Vol. II 
edited by Bruce Redford and Elizabeth Goldring.
Edinburgh, 303 pp., £50, February 2000, 0 7486 0606 8
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Samuel Johnson: The Life of an Author 
by Lawrence Lipking.
Harvard, 372 pp., £11.50, March 2000, 0 674 00198 2
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Dr Johnson's London 
by Liza Picard.
Weidenfeld, 362 pp., £20, July 2000, 0 297 84218 8
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... period, such as it was, rises with Flemish exactness from every other sentence he chose to write down. Boswell’s biography of Samuel Johnson is a call-to-arms for all makers of literary lives, and AdamSisman, previously a biographer of A.J.P. Taylor, has taken on a genuine task, a presumptuous task indeed, to write a biography of the biography, in the hope of casting light on the very real subject ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: Chicanery and Fantasy

6 June 2019
... phase (all his phases were short-lived and ill-fated) that he encountered Hugh Trevor-Roper, then Regius Professor of Modern History, who kept a dossier on his activities for the next 25 years. AdamSisman, Trevor-Roper’s biographer, has now used the dossier as the foundation for a short, spry book, The Professor and the Parson (Profile, £12.99). He doubtless felt encouraged, perhaps foredoomed, by ...
27 January 1994
A.J.P. Taylor: A Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 468 pp., £18.99, January 1994, 1 85619 210 5
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A.J.P. Taylor: The Traitor within the Gates 
by Robert Cole.
Macmillan, 285 pp., £40, November 1993, 0 333 59273 5
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From Napoleon to the Second International: International Essays on the 19th Century 
by A.J.P. Taylor, edited by Chris Wrigley.
Hamish Hamilton, 426 pp., £25, November 1993, 0 241 13444 7
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... his audience spellbound without so much as a note to sustain his magisterial grasp of the topic. Such is the stuff of which legends are made, as he well appreciated. In A.J.P. Taylor: A Biography AdamSisman has done enough research to prune the dense foliage of legend which Taylor himself lovingly propagated through his peculiar mixture of vanity, perversity and desire to entertain. His ...

Born to Lying

Theo Tait: Le Carré

3 December 2015
John le Carré: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Bloomsbury, 652 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 2792 5
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... You​ don’t need the detective powers of George Smiley, or a conspiratorial mindset, to divine that something odd is going on behind the scenes of AdamSisman’s new biography of John le Carré. In the past, would-be biographers have been discouraged from poking their noses into the business of David Cornwell, the former spy who has written under that ...


Neal Ascherson: Hugh Trevor-Roper

19 August 2010
Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Weidenfeld, 598 pp., £25, July 2010, 978 0 297 85214 8
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... grip of a prose style in which it is impossible to be polite, or a fundamentally unpleasant person … using rudeness as a disguise for nastiness.’ Habakkuk’s first guess is very sharp. Reading AdamSisman’s steady, carefully fair and gracefully written biography, I kept coming back to it. Sisman declares at the start that he knew and liked Trevor-Roper and that in writing this Life ‘I may ...


Susan Pedersen: A.J.P. Taylor

10 May 2007
A.J.P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe 
by Chris Wrigley.
Tauris, 439 pp., £25, August 2006, 1 86064 286 1
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... of historians to attract a biographer, especially since he also had radical political views, a penchant for academic squabbling and a string of unconventional marriages. But three biographers? AdamSisman came first, publishing a lively and well-written study in 1994. Although the scholarly achievements and disappointments were chronicled, Taylor’s personality and public engagements – with the ...

A Skeleton My Cat

Norma Clarke: ‘Poor Goldsmith’

21 February 2019
The Letters of Oliver Goldsmith 
edited by Michael Griffin and David O’Shaughnessy.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £64.99, July 2018, 978 1 107 09353 9
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... is still performed. Despite these works, and the other poems, plays, histories, biographies and essays he also produced, a tone of condescension has tended to accompany Goldsmith’s name, so that AdamSisman in his book on Boswell could describe Goldsmith as ‘an awkward, improvident and slightly ridiculous Irishman … whose genius [Johnson] nevertheless acknowledged and championed’ – though ...

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