Life by the dozen

How to Live Like Montaigne

Sarah Bakewell examines the life of the 16th century philosopher for clues on contentment in the 21st century. As ambitious as a 20th century yuppie on coke, but far more successful.


John Richardson’s three-volume history of the artist (The Prodigy, The Cubist Rebel, The Triumphant Years) is illuminated by the painter’s works and infused with the insight of a friend. He does not spare Picasso on occasion but this is the definitive portrait of a revolutionary artist.


Joachim Fest was criticised for a biography that was deemed too sober, even complacent. Fest, whose family suffered under Hitler because of their opposition to the Nazis, sought to describe how a dictator gains power. He succeeded.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

Robert A Caro is rightly lauded for his works on Lyndon B Johnson but his story of how one man ruthlessly changed his part of the world is unmatched on the subject of power.


Duff Cooper’s elegant biography of the French diplomat, archbishop, father and libertine is the most wondrous account of survival, both personal and political.

When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi

David Maraniss on creating a sporting dynasty and its personal cost.

Frank Sinatra

James Kaplan exposes, lauds and chronicles Francis Albert as he swings music and punches in two volumes (Making of a Legend and The Chairman)


Peter Guralnick's two volumes (Last Train to Memphis, Careless Love) chart the rise and desperate fall of a brilliant, vulnerable artist.

Team of Rivals

Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln, his cabinet, and how a sublimation of the ego may be necessary in crisis.

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects

Giorgio Vasari’s self-explanatory work, first published in 1550, remains fresh and insightful.

Samuel Pepys

Claire Tomalin, a masterly biographer, places the famous diarist in his time and place. Gripping.

Margaret Thatcher

Charles Moore rolls out the Iron Lady in three volumes (Not for Turning, Everything She Wants, Herself Alone). It is authorised, broadly sympathetic and mostly locked in a Westminster bubble. The last, perhaps unwittingly, demonstrates how detached Thatcher was from the effects of her reign. Deeply researched, fluently written and, strangely, desperately sad.