fbpx

Parisian Lives

A The Times & Sunday Times Literary Nonfiction Book of the Year

‘Fascinating… Wonderfully entertaining and absorbing’ Sunday Times


‘Gripping…
A story well told.New York Times Book Review

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography 2020

In 1971 Deirdre Bair was a journalist with a recently acquired PhD who managed to secure access to Nobel Prize-winning author Samuel Beckett. He agreed that she could write his biography despite never having written – or even read – a biography herself. The next seven years of intimate conversations, intercontinental research, and peculiar cat-and-mouse games resulted in Samuel Beckett: A Biography, which went on to win the National Book Award and propel Deirdre to her next subject: Simone de Beauvoir. The catch? De Beauvoir and Beckett despised each other – and lived essentially on the same street. While quite literally dodging one subject or the other, and sometimes hiding out in the backrooms of the great cafés of Paris, Bair learned that what works in terms of process for one biography rarely applies to the next. Her seven-year relationship with the domineering and difficult de Beauvoir required a radical change in approach, yielding another groundbreaking literary profile.

Drawing on Bair’s extensive notes from the period, including never-before-told anecdotes and details that were considered impossible to publish at the time, Parisian Lives is full of personality and warmth and gives us an entirely new window on the all-too-human side of these legendary thinkers.

Looking for Theophrastus

Who is Theophrastus, and why should we care?

Once, he was the equal of Plato and Aristotle. Together he and Aristotle invented science. Alone he invented Botany. The character of the Wife of Bath is his invention, the Canterbury Tales as a whole, perhaps, the product of his inspiration. When Linnaeus was developing our modern system of plant taxonomy, it was Theophrastus’ work on plants that he used as a basis. So how could one man do so much and still sink almost without a trace?

This is the story of a journey to find him and bring him back from oblivion. Looking for Theophrastus, in all the places he must have walked and lived, it tells how he and Aristotle, his friend and tutor, broke with the philosophical conventions of the Academy and left on their own adventure; of how together they invented what we now take for granted as the Natural Sciences; how, not content with that, they made the great experiment of applying philosophy directly to the practicalities of government through the tutoring of Alexander the Great; how they were disappointed and how, in the end, they returned to Athens and founded the famous Lyceum.

Against the dramatic context of his time – the end of democracy in Athens and the rise of Alexander the Great; the great battles and vast territorial expansion that followed; the flowering of the philosophy schools on which so much of our culture and thinking is founded – and on, following his cultural legacy through to the modern day, it explores how we perceive, understand and, most importantly, how we relate to the world around us, questioning what we lose from our way of living when we forget those ancients who first taught us how to see.