JOSePH ANTON: A MEMOIR (Cape) By Salman Rushdie recollects the author’s days in hiding with a death sentence hanging on him. It is written entirely in the third person, as if it is the life of Joseph Anton, the name given to him by his minders and which is derived from Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. Racy and readable. Honest and compelling. Occasionally gossipy.
Rammohun Roy: A critical biography (Viking) By Amiya P. Sen is a short but comprehensive biography of an outstanding scholar (in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit) and social reformer. Sen takes up complex issues and writes about them lucidly. In spite of its brevity, this is a major book.
THE PATAGONIAN HARE: A MEMOIR (Atlantic) By Claude Lanzmann tells the story of an extraordinary life that moves from the French Resistance to Parisian literary and political circles, from Germany to Korea and to Israel and the making of Shoah. This is a gem of a book that opens up parts of Europe’s post-war history.
CATHERINE THE GREAT: PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN (Random House) By Robert K. Massie describes the life of one of the most powerful women in history. Born as Sophia in an obscure German principality in the 18th century, through luck, beauty and indomitable will she became the empress of Russia. Massie’s biography is exhaustive in its depiction of power, enlightenment and sexuality.
INSIDE THE CENTRE: THE LIFE OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER (Cape) By Ray Monk shows the profound dilemmas of bomb physics through the anguished life of one of its makers. Written by one of the outstanding biographers of contemporary times, the author of the lives of Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, this is a landmark biography.
TITIAN: HIS LIFE (Harper) By Sheila Hale presents the Venetian Renaissance painter in the context of the turbulent times he lived and worked in. This is a vivid portrait of the artist whose paintings were described by contemporaries as “mirrors of nature’’. This biography is based on detailed research and draws on the latest scientific techniques to look at and evaluate the paintings.
Charles Dickens: A life (Viking) By Claire Tomalin is as gripping a life of the novelist as the latter’s novels. Dickens emerges from these pages as a fascinating figure in his complicated humanness and undimmed brilliance.
SUNLIGHT ON THE GARDEN: A STORY OF CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH (Viking) By André Béteille is a delightful remembrance of things past by India’s leading social anthropologist who has a unique lineage. The author grew up in Chandernagore and Calcutta, and those days are recalled with honesty and wry humour. A fine memoir.