Richard Holmes


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Richard Gordon Heath Holmes, OBE, FRSL, FBA (born 5 November 1945) is a British author and academic best known for his biographical studies of major figures of British and French Romanticism. Richard Gordon Heath Holmes was born on 5 November 1945 in London. He was educated at Downside School, Somerset, and Churchill College, Cambridge. He is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the British Academy. 

He was a professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia from 2001 to 2007. He had honorary doctorates from the University of East London, the University of Kingston, and the Tavistock Institute. In the 1992 Birthday Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He lives in London and Norfolk with his wife, British novelist Rose Tremain.

Holmes's major works of Romantic biography include Shelley: The Pursuit, which won him the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974; Coleridge: Early Visions, which won him the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Prize (now the Costa Book Awards); Coleridge: Darker Reflections, the second and final volume of his Coleridge biography which won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award; and Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage, concerning the friendship between eighteenth-century British literary figures Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage, which won the James Tait Black Prize.

Holmes is also the author of two studies of European biography. Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer is a highly acclaimed volume of memoirs and personal reflections on the biographer's art, and Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer collects his shorter pieces, including an early, groundbreaking essay on Thomas Chatterton and an introductory account of the lives and works of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

He is the editor of the Harper Perennial series Classic Biographies, launched in 2004. His 2005 monograph on biography and portraiture for the National Portrait Gallery, Insights: The Romantic Poets and their Circle, was unusual in that it included scientists alongside literary writers. He has also written many drama documentaries for BBC Radio, most recently The Frankenstein Experiment (2002) and A Cloud in a Paper Bag (2007) about 18th-century balloon mania.

October 2008 saw his first major work of biography in over a decade, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, published by HarperPress. In it, he explores the scientific ferment that swept across Britain at the end of the 18th century. Holmes proposes a radical vision of science before Charles Darwin, exploring the earliest ideas of deep time and deep space, the creative rivalry with the French scientific establishment, and the startling impact of discovery on great writers and poets such as Mary Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Keats. The book received wide review coverage (see below), was featured on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week, and became a best-seller.

In Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air (2013), Holmes approaches the history of ballooning by presenting biographies of French, English, and American balloonists. The personalities and experiences of those involved are varied and surprising. Balloons were used successfully to send information out of besieged Paris in 1870 and unsuccessfully to fly to the North Pole in the 1890s, to name only two examples. In Holmes' history of ballooning, science meets showmanship, and both literary flights and actual adventures capture the imagination.

Best author’s book


The Age of Wonder