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Wainwright: The Biography

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Alfred Wainwright's unique hand-drawn and hand-written Pictorial Guides to the Lake District have been an inspiration to walkers for over forty years. Yet despite many bestselling books and three television series, Wainwright remained an intensely private person. With full access to Alfred Wainwright's private letters and unpublished material, Hunter Davies reveals a man m Alfred Wainwright's unique hand-drawn and hand-written Pictorial Guides to the Lake District have been an inspiration to walkers for over forty years. Yet despite many bestselling books and three television series, Wainwright remained an intensely private person. With full access to Alfred Wainwright's private letters and unpublished material, Hunter Davies reveals a man more passionate, witty and generous than readers of his guides have come to expect. His biography throws a new and surprising light on a man who has been an enigmatic and misunderstood person. 'Hunter Davies tells this absorbing tale with the self-effacing manner it needs. To Wainwright's many fans, it is pure nectar' - Paul Johnson, Sunday Telegraph


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Alfred Wainwright's unique hand-drawn and hand-written Pictorial Guides to the Lake District have been an inspiration to walkers for over forty years. Yet despite many bestselling books and three television series, Wainwright remained an intensely private person. With full access to Alfred Wainwright's private letters and unpublished material, Hunter Davies reveals a man m Alfred Wainwright's unique hand-drawn and hand-written Pictorial Guides to the Lake District have been an inspiration to walkers for over forty years. Yet despite many bestselling books and three television series, Wainwright remained an intensely private person. With full access to Alfred Wainwright's private letters and unpublished material, Hunter Davies reveals a man more passionate, witty and generous than readers of his guides have come to expect. His biography throws a new and surprising light on a man who has been an enigmatic and misunderstood person. 'Hunter Davies tells this absorbing tale with the self-effacing manner it needs. To Wainwright's many fans, it is pure nectar' - Paul Johnson, Sunday Telegraph

30 review for Wainwright: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Fisher

    A hugely revealing, fascinating account of a misunderstood, difficult, gifted, funny, shy, antisocial, misogynistic and kind man. Davies is happy to show both the good and the bad in what is a charmingly-written biography that draws on plenty of primary material including some of AW's huge correspondence and assorted pamphlets made for the amusement of friends. I think this is the only dedicated AW biography, and there is certainly no call for any other.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christopher James Hale

    Brilliant book Excellent book to read. Highly recommended to people to read. He spent a lot of time up in the lakes

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This was an enjoyable, sympathetic but I think not rose-tinted biography of the doyen of writing (and of course illustrating) on Lakeland fell walking. Wainwright comes across as someone who inspired loyalty sometimes richly deserved and sometimes frankly not and he seems to present a real puzzle, unless you put it down to capriciousness and occasional bad judgment. From unhappy although unexceptional beginnings in poverty, Wainwright became a local authority accountant first in his hometown Blac This was an enjoyable, sympathetic but I think not rose-tinted biography of the doyen of writing (and of course illustrating) on Lakeland fell walking. Wainwright comes across as someone who inspired loyalty sometimes richly deserved and sometimes frankly not and he seems to present a real puzzle, unless you put it down to capriciousness and occasional bad judgment. From unhappy although unexceptional beginnings in poverty, Wainwright became a local authority accountant first in his hometown Blackburn and then in Kendal until his retirement, whilst writing his unique handwritten and illustrated walking guides. He was famously reluctant to take on the yoke of celebrity, but his apparently unremarkable personal life includes the rather startling divorce and remarriage after his retirement and then his later willingness to engage with television, so plenty of mystery for Hunter Davies to get his teeth into. Davies speculates a little on how he came to marry his first wife which Wainwright at least seems to have realised was a mistake pretty quickly but perhaps not enough. Reading between the lines the poor woman seems to have been a means to some sort of end - most likely an 'end away' to judge by some of Wainwright's preoccupations in his livelier correspondences with his peers at the time, but it really is a mystery. It was impossible not to feel for both parties and it is made very clear that the fellwalking was a means of coping rather than the reason for the problems. However, Wainwright's attitude to women is shown as rather iffy all along and it is hard to feel there wasn't some other way to approach a difficult situation other than treating his wife as little better than a slave and showing her an almost total lack of respect. Again, it's the 'almost' that makes for such a puzzle - why did he dedicate a book to her given the rest of his behaviour? Why was her photograph amongst those found in his wallet after his death? I almost said aloud "I beg your pardon?!" when he arranged that she should make a difficult journey every week to keep doing his laundry after they agreed to separate and almost cheered with relief when she changed her mind and said no. Even sadder was his relationship with his son in later life after a touching start. Wainwright shows an at best curiously blinkered and unimaginative attitude and at worst downright nastiness. Mainly he seems to have been a fundamentally capricious, mood-driven man capable of great kindness and humour if the wind was blowing in the right direction that day and who would have benefitted a good deal by those close to him telling him where to get off on occasion. Although there was a lot about the production of the books from concept to marketing, somehow there didn't seem to be so very much about the actual experience of fellwalking. It was certainly there and perhaps Davies reasoned that Wainwright had, almost by definition, said what there was to say on that subject for himself already. It was a thought provoking biography.

  4. 5 out of 5

    aNorthernSoul Lightbown

    Somewhat of a niche interest title, Wainwright: The Biography is the tale of how a Blackburn local government accountant went on to map the Lake District, and in so doing help promote fell walking throughout The Lakes to this very day. It's a very well-written work, but I also like how Davies allows Wainwright's own writing the space so as to be able breathe, and as such the reader is able to ascertain the famous walker's own views of the land, in addition to his (somewhat lugubrious and tacitur Somewhat of a niche interest title, Wainwright: The Biography is the tale of how a Blackburn local government accountant went on to map the Lake District, and in so doing help promote fell walking throughout The Lakes to this very day. It's a very well-written work, but I also like how Davies allows Wainwright's own writing the space so as to be able breathe, and as such the reader is able to ascertain the famous walker's own views of the land, in addition to his (somewhat lugubrious and taciturn) outlook on life. The Lake District will have changed in many ways since Wainwright's death a quarter of a century ago, but the beauty of the fells, the lakes, and the mountains live on, not least through his works as well as the BBC TV series Wainwright Walks which was subsequently based upon them, as was the BBC's Coast to Coast walk series. Highly recommended for those who love the best (and most beautiful) part of Britain: Lancashire, NW England, and the Lake District.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mac.Hawk

    I enjoyed the book but did it really tell me anything I didn't already know? Well actually yes. It's common knowledge he was a cranky man, with a variety of views that would be deemed hopelessly politically incorrect nowadays, the surprise is that he seems to have held these views throughout his life and not just in his elder years. Another surprise was the amount of money he gave to animal charity, particularly since he seemed to have no great fondness for them in his private life. I think the bo I enjoyed the book but did it really tell me anything I didn't already know? Well actually yes. It's common knowledge he was a cranky man, with a variety of views that would be deemed hopelessly politically incorrect nowadays, the surprise is that he seems to have held these views throughout his life and not just in his elder years. Another surprise was the amount of money he gave to animal charity, particularly since he seemed to have no great fondness for them in his private life. I think the book is quite kind to the man and I simply don't buy the idea that his obsession with walking was caused by an unhappy marriage rather than his obsession with walking caused that unhappy marriage. Hunter Davies, to his credit, does try to balance AW's feelings to his first wife, Ruth, with reports from family, friends and colleagues who knew her that give a far different picture of her that AW would have you believe.

  6. 5 out of 5

    AJW

    I enjoyed this biography of a cranky, right-wing, obsessive fellwalker who expressed his devotion to the hills in a series of beautifully drawn and handwritten books. Wainwright was intensely private (hiding his first name Alfred behind the initial A, for example) so Hunter Davies does well in shining a torch into his hidden personal life. By the end of this book, I felt I had got to know A.Wainwright well and saw that he definitely had feet of clay - and I'm not talking about the mud on his hik I enjoyed this biography of a cranky, right-wing, obsessive fellwalker who expressed his devotion to the hills in a series of beautifully drawn and handwritten books. Wainwright was intensely private (hiding his first name Alfred behind the initial A, for example) so Hunter Davies does well in shining a torch into his hidden personal life. By the end of this book, I felt I had got to know A.Wainwright well and saw that he definitely had feet of clay - and I'm not talking about the mud on his hiking boots here! I can recommend this biography for anyone who loved his idiosyncratic guide books and/or those who share his passion for walking in the hills.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This is another book that took me a long time to read. I started it last summer and gradually got about 2 thirds through. I picked it up in the week and after a concerted effort got right into the story of this enigmatic man. He is without question a one off - an eccentric. His character at once cold, withdrawn and obsessive is also wry, creative and passionate. He was unimpressed by wealth, grandeur and fame, he loved the lakes, blackburn rovers and fish and chips. This is a well written book w This is another book that took me a long time to read. I started it last summer and gradually got about 2 thirds through. I picked it up in the week and after a concerted effort got right into the story of this enigmatic man. He is without question a one off - an eccentric. His character at once cold, withdrawn and obsessive is also wry, creative and passionate. He was unimpressed by wealth, grandeur and fame, he loved the lakes, blackburn rovers and fish and chips. This is a well written book which goes some way to capturing the contradictory nature of A. Wainwright and in such a way that I for one dropped a tear near the end... and felt a great affection for this fell walking man.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    Wainwright's books are a joy to me. When using them as a guide i always feel like i had a jocular companion, explaining and helping me find my way round the fells. It was a surprise to me to learn that many found him gruff and unsociable. This book concentrates on the man behind the myth. Its not always pleasant reading, there are dark times, ladles of unhappiness but it is full of surprise and joy. Its not just a biography of Wainwright it is also a social commentary on a way of living that has Wainwright's books are a joy to me. When using them as a guide i always feel like i had a jocular companion, explaining and helping me find my way round the fells. It was a surprise to me to learn that many found him gruff and unsociable. This book concentrates on the man behind the myth. Its not always pleasant reading, there are dark times, ladles of unhappiness but it is full of surprise and joy. Its not just a biography of Wainwright it is also a social commentary on a way of living that has faded, its a story of loyalty, loss, persistence, determination,simple honest living and the joy of fish and chips..

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Grinstead

    A fasinating account of a Northern icon. Hunter Davies dismantles the aura around the enigmatic Wainwright revealing much of his fragility, insecurity and defensive posturing. Falling into an unhappy marriage - for which he seems to blame his wife! - he escapes to the Lakes, to Kendal and a new love. Victim or villian, you choose but the account by which he researches, compiles and eventually comes to publish his guide books is at once fascinating and revealing of the character of the man.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    A must-read for anyone who, like me, adores Wainwright's pictorial guides and is fascinated to learn more of the enigma behind them. It's a wonderfully written biography - being sympathetic but honest and objective.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tobias

    ....

  12. 5 out of 5

    D

  13. 5 out of 5

    John

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Bennett

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tony Lewis

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  18. 5 out of 5

    N

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tina Turnbull

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anneli

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Price

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul M

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Bennett

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sayma Chowdhury

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tony Wilkinson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  27. 5 out of 5

    Louise Edwards

  28. 4 out of 5

    Phil

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deb

  30. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

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