BESPOKE, by Richard Anderson
Simon and Schuster, £14.99
Savile Row is not just a street in London, but a whole way of life for those who have been seduced by the experience of owning and wearing a custom-made suit. Richard Anderson is one of the new breed of tailors on Savile Row - classically trained at Huntsman, he has his own shop placed firmly in 20th century commerce, but with its roots in centuries-old tailoring traditions. Straight from school, Anderson was thrown headlong into the arcane world of the 'cutter' and soon learned how to meet the demands of the great and the good, and the not so good - one famous client asked for a row of loops to hold the syringes for his drug habit. Each client has a particular set of demands that this man takes great pride in satisfying, creating the sense of wellbeing and empowerment that comes with wearing a suit that shows off every good feature and disguises every bad. Simon Cowell reckons that Anderson is the 'best out there', which probably means you should watch the position of the waist band should this book inspire you to order a new suit.
TO SEA AND BACK: The Heroic Life of the Atlantic Salmon, by Richard Shelton
Atlantic Books, £19.99
A fish of some mystery, the Atlantic salmon is able to survive in both fresh and salt water. It also manages to get itself thousands of miles through the northern oceans before returning to the burns of Scotland to give birth to its young, starting the whole process all over again. Richard Shelton is a man obsessed with both the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of words. He describes here with anthropomorphic insight the life of a fish that seems at once far removed from our own life-cycle, and yet so closely linked. He is not the first to be captivated: as he recounts here, the Victorian naturalist Frank Buckland spent hours and days poking around in rivers with measuring sticks, charting the health of the fish in the deep that acted as a clear indicator of the health of the water and the environment in general - lessons that we might have done well to heed a little better. A fantastic read for any of Britain's three million anglers and for any lover of the natural world.
TITIAN, The Last Days, by Mark Hudson
Mark Hudson's interest in Titian began when, as an 18-year-old art student, he went to draw Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne at the National Gallery. Drawn back to London's impressive collection of paintings by the master, he found his interest deepening, not only in the artist's style and innovation, but in the man himself. Travelling to Venice, where Titian lived his last days, he found himself retracing the steps of the artist to the very studio where he painted his last - lost - paintings, standing at the very door that had been nailed with the sign of the plague that was nearly the death of the city in the 16th century. Working backwards from this point, we are transported into the world of this 'man from nowhere' who made it to the top of artistic circles a rich man, friend to popes and kings, but always his own clever master. Award-winning writer Hudson has given us much more than a description of this great artist's life -- he's lived it for himself as method-actors approach a role. The result is a great achievement.
CHARLES DICKENS'S ENGLAND, by David Nicholas Wilkinson and Emlyn Price
Guerilla Books, £25
If ever there was an author able to evoke a sense of time and place it is Charles Dickens. This journey follows the length of England from Yorkshire to the Isle of Wight to photograph and describe the real-life inspiration for Dickens's best loved books. The images of Dickens and the characters that he created have passed beyond the fictional and entered our national consciousness, and the world he created feels almost palpable here as we visit his offices in Covent Garden, and, nearby, The Old Curiosity Shop itself. The numerous houses in London in which he and his family lived include Devonshire Terrace (the entrance is now in Marylebone High Street), from where he wrote prodigiously from 1839 to 1851, producing, among others, David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol. Offering a real insight into the life of one of the greatest men of English literature, it reminds us that his literary inspiration is still there all around us in the streets of London and that Dickens's social insights are very much still a part of our lives.
THE SECRET LIVES OF SOMERSET MAUGHAM, by Selina Hastings
John Murray, £25
Somerset Maugham's name is more synonymous with luxury and glamour (there is a suite named after him at the Dorchester) than it is with the stupendously successful playwright he was at the turn of the century, shocking audiences of the day with his production of Lady Frederick - the tale of a femme fatale and her 22-year-old lover - at the Royal Court. His success allowed him to live the life of a rich man on the Riviera, leaving behind his interior designer wife (Syrie Maugham, famous for her 'white rooms') and setting up camp with his dissolute lover(s) under the palm trees next door to the Bernini sculpted fountain at his villa there. Selina Hastings has been given unprecedented access to his letters and papers - which Maugham had asked never to be published - and sets out here the real story of the man behind the mask, detailing his activities as a spy working for British Intelligence in both the first and second world wars, and as an eminence grise in the society of his day.
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