2022 Preview: Biography and Memoir

  28 Jan '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

We have a truly varied offering of biography and memoir titles in 2022, encompassing the figureheads of the rewilding movement, an extraordinary art collector, the musings of a lifelong teaching career, the genius Enlightenment thinker James Hutton, and much more besides.

  • William Burrell: A Collector’s Life, Martin Bellamy and Isobel MacDonald (March)
    In 1944, Glasgow received one of the greatest gifts ever made to any city in the world: a collection of over 6,000 artworks of many types spanning centuries and civilisations. The benefactors were Glasgow-born shipping magnate Sir William Burrell and Constance, Lady Burrell. Burrell’s business success him to amass an extraordinary collection, which he housed in the family home at Hutton Castle in the Scottish borders. When he decided to leave the collection to the nation, he considered donating it to Londonbased galleries before deciding on Glasgow Corporation, together with the residue of his estate to provide a suitable building. It was many years before the right location was found, and The Burrell Collection finally opened in 1983. This new biography is based on recent research, full access to the Burrell archive and in-depth knowledge of the collection. Sir William was a complicated and private man who shunned publicity, adored his wife, but had a tumultuous relationship with his daughter. In politics Conservative, he campaigned for better housing conditions as long as this didn’t cause further expense to the taxpayer. The authors take a candid and considered view of who William Burrell the man was, what sparked his passion for collecting, and what his gift continues to mean to the city.
  • James Hutton and the Evolution of the Earth, Ray Perman (October)
    Among the giants of the Scottish Enlightenment, the name of James Hutton is overlooked. Yet his Theory of the Earth revolutionised the way we think about how our planet was formed and laid the foundation for the science of geology. He was in his time a doctor, a farmer, a businessman, a chemist yet he described himself as a philosopher – a seeker after truth. A friend of James Watt and of Adam Smith, he was a polymath, publishing papers on sub-jects as diverse as why it rains and a theory of language. He shunned status and official posi-tion, refused to give up his strong Scots accent and vulgar speech, loved jokes and could start a party in an empty room. Yet much of his story remains a mystery. His papers, library and mineral collection all vanished after his death and only a handful of letters survive. He seemed to be a lifelong bachelor, yet had a secret son whom he supported throughout his life. This book uses new sources and original documents to bring Hutton the man to life and places him firmly among the geniuses of his time.
  • Is There a Pigeon in the Room? My Life in Schools, Cameron Wyllie (June)
    Is There a Pigeon in the Room? is a deeply personal book about a remarkable four-decade career in teaching. Incorporating a few of Cameron Wyllie’s own experiences as a schoolboy, it’s a tapestry of anecdotes and reflections on topics like drugs, parenting and sex education, laced with stories about memorable individuals. What did he say to the Third Year after drinking too much gin with the Head? Who was Adolf? What happened to the horrible bus driver? While the intention is to make the reader laugh plenty, Cameron also deals with discipline, refugees, tragic events, his own status as a gay man and tells us the story of Tes, an Eritrean boy who inspired hundreds of young people with his love of education. Cameron taught over 8,000 students in his career. Having been once described as ‘the place where Jean Brodie meets Kenneth Williams’ the book also charts the surprising trajectory of a career which culminated in his appointment as Principal of George Heriot’s, one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious schools.
  • Hindsight, Jenna Watt (July)
    In 2019, Jenna Watt took part in the stalking of a hind on the vast Highland estate of Corrour: part of an immersive attempt to understand the ideas that lie behind ‘rewilding’, and what it means emotionally and physically to participate in Scotland’s deer cull. Piece by piece and chapter by chapter she unravels the story of that one day spent hunting the hind, interlaced with her discovery that her ancestors were deer stalkers, game keepers and ghillies on a Highland estate, who once took part in now controversial land practices like muirburn, grouse shooting and species persecution. This exploration leads her into the complex and often conflict-ridden world of the rewilding movement. She meets the ‘Wolf Man’ of the Highlands, who wants to introduce the first wild wolves back into Scotland for over 300 years; a Danish billionaire who owns huge swathes of the Scottish landscape; landowners who are reintroducing species like beaver, ospreys and sea-eagles onto their estates; and a woman deer stalker, who is trying to introduce more women into the male-dominated world of stalking and game-keeping. In the process Jenna comes to better understand the meaning of ‘wildness’, the shifting baselines of ‘rewilding’, and, in a world beset by climate change and species extinction, how to cope, both as an individual and as a society, with the concept of ecological grief.
  • The Horizontal Oak: A Life in Nature, Polly Pullar (July)
    Ever since her pet sheep Lulu accompanied her to school at the age of seven, animals and nature have been at the heart of Polly Pullar’s world. Growing up in a remote corner of the Scottish West Highlands, she roamed freely through the spectacular countryside and met her first otters, seals, eagles and wildcats. But an otherwise idyllic childhood was marred by family secrets which ultimately turned to tragedy. Following the suicide of her alcoholic father and the deterioration of her relationship with her mother, as well as the break-up of her own marriage, Polly rebuilt her life, earning a reputation as a wildlife expert and rehabilitator, journalist and photographer. This is her extraordinary, inspirational story. Written with compassion, humour and optimism, Polly reflects on how her love of the natural world has helped her find the strength to forgive and understand her parents, and to find an equilibrium.
  • Cassius X: A Legend in the Making, Stuart Cosgrove (May)
    Miami, 1963. A young boy from Louisville, Kentucky, is on the path to becoming the greatest sportsman of all time. Cassius Clay is training in the 5th Street Gym for his heavyweight title clash against the formidable Sonny Liston. He is beginning to embrace the ideas and attitudes of Black Power, and firebrand preacher Malcolm X will soon become his spiritual adviser. Thus Cassius Clay will become ‘Cassius X’ as he awaits his induction into the Nation of Islam. Cassius also befriends the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke, falls in love with soul singer Dee Dee Sharp and becomes a remarkable witness to the first days of soul music. As with his award-winning soul trilogy, Stuart Cosgrove’s intensive research and sweeping storytelling shines a new light on how black music lit up the sixties against a backdrop of social and political turmoil – and how Cassius Clay made his remarkable transformation into Muhammad Ali.

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