By Wendy Moore
Medicine, in the early 1800s, was a brutal business. Operations were performed without anaesthesia while conventional treatment relied on leeches, cupping and toxic potions. The most surgeons could offer by way of pain relief was a large swig of brandy. Onto this scene came John Elliotson, the dazzling new hope of the medical world. Charismatic and ambitious, Elliotson was determined to transform medicine from a hodge-podge of archaic remedies into a practice informed by the latest science. In this aim he was backed by Thomas Wakley, founder of the new magazine, the Lancet, and a campaigner against corruption and malpractice.Then, in the summer of 1837, a French visitor - the self-styled Baron Jules Denis Dupotet - arrived in London to promote an exotic new idea: mesmerism. The mesmerism mania would take the nation by storm but would ultimately split the two friends, and the medical world, asunder - throwing into focus fundamental questions about the fine line between medicine and quackery, between science and superstition.
By Michael Coveney
WINNER OF BEST MEMOIR AT THE WOMAN & HOME READERS' CHOICE AWARDS 2016 AND A BBC RADIO 4 BOOK OF THE WEEKNo one does glamour, severity, girlish charm or tight-lipped witticism better than Dame Maggie Smith, one of Britain's best-loved actors. This new biography shines the stage-lights on the life and work of a truly remarkable performer, one whose career spans six decades.From her days as a star of West End comedy and revue, Dame Maggie's path would cross with those of the greatest actors, playwrights and directors of the era. Whether stealing scenes from Richard Burton (by his own admission), answering back to Laurence Olivier, or impressing Ingmar Bergman, her career can be seen as a Who's Who of British theatre in the twentieth century. This book also covers her success in Hollywood, inaugurated by her first Oscar for her signature film, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, as well as her subsequent departure to Canada for a prolific four-season run of leading theatre roles.Recently Dame Maggie has been as prominent on our screens as ever, with high-profile roles as Violet Crawley, the formidable Dowager Countess of Grantham, in the phenomenally successful television series Downton Abbey, and as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter film franchise: what she herself describes as 'Miss Jean Brodie in a wizard's hat'. Yet paradoxically she remains an enigmatic figure, rarely appearing in public and carefully guarding her considerable talent. Michael Coveney's absorbing biography, drawing on personal archives, interviews and encounters with the actress, as well as conversations with immediate family and dear friends, is therefore as close as it gets to seeing the real Maggie Smith.
My Life with Wagner
By Christian Thielemann
Over a distinguished career conducting some of the world's finest orchestras, Christian Thielemann has earned a reputation as the leading modern interpreter of Richard Wagner. My Life with Wagner chronicles his ardent personal and professional engagement with the composer whose work has shaped his thinking and feeling from early childhood.Thielemann retraces his journey with Wagner - from Berlin to Bayreuth via Venice, Hamburg and Chicago. The book combines reminiscence and analysis with revealing insights drawn from Thielemann's many years of experience as a Wagner conductor. Taking each opera in turn, his appraisal is illuminated by a deep affinity for the music, an intimate knowledge of the scores and the inside perspective of an outstanding practitioner. And yet for all the adulation Wagner's art inspires in him, Thielemann does not shy away from unpalatable truths about the man himself, explaining why today he is venerated and reviled in equal measure.My Life with Wagner is a richly rewarding read for admirers of a composer who continues to fascinate long after his death.
By Brian Matthews
Manning Clark was one of the most influential Australian intellectuals of the last half century. His political pronouncements were often highly provocative and his sweeping judgements, dire denunciations and oracular prophecies infuriated conservatives and made him a controversial figure.His most enduring legacy, however, was his magisterial six-volume History of Australia. In it he reshaped the now familiar story of our nation's modern evolution; from the First Fleet's arrival, the convicts, the rum rebellion, gold, the sheep's back, Federation, and the glorious defeat at Gallipoli, up to the nation emerging from the Great Depression and on the threshold of a new world war. Within the dramatic narrative, which he envisaged as an epic, are highly original and insightful portraits of its great men with their tragic flaws: Phillip, Macquarie, Burke and Wills, Bligh, Wentworth, and above all Henry Lawson. But behind this ambitious work - with its more than a million words and twenty-five, long slogging years of research and scholarship - was a man as flawed as the historical figures he was presenting, figures in whose personalities and life events he often saw himself dauntingly mirrored. He was wracked with self-doubt, and dogged by fears of failure and personal weakness, he craved forgiveness for the betrayals that stalked and threatened his marriage to Dymphna, and wrestled with an elusive Christ in whom he longed to have a secure faith. Behind the signature broad hat and the stern unsmiling visage was a tortured man.That is the complex, enigmatic and thoroughly enthralling Clark who emerges in this remarkable biography by Brian Matthews, whose previous acclaimed memoir of Louise Lawson was judged to be both ground breaking and revolutionary. Manning Clark: a life draws a compelling portrait of the great historian, who attracted both critics and acolytes alike in equal number. Both sides can expect to be astounded and captivated.