Books by Richard Holmes

Richard Holmes is Professor of Military and Security Studies at Cranfield University and the Royal Military College of Science in Britain. He was educated at Cambridge, Northern Illinois, and Reading Universities. Holmes is the author of several books, in

Released: March 7, 2017

"Unparalleled research, transparent prose, and wide eyes can serve as a model for other biographers—indeed, for all other writers."
The third in the author's series of riveting titles about the histories, activities, duties, and effects of biographers. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 29, 2013

"Meticulous history illuminated and animated by personal passion, carried aloft by volant prose."
The biographer of two great Romantics (Shelley and Coleridge) relates yet another romantic tale—the story of the human passion to fly up, up and away in a beautiful balloon. Read full book review >
THE AGE OF WONDER by Richard Holmes
Released: July 14, 2009

"Enjoyable excavation of a time when science and art fed off each other, to the benefit of both communities."
Energetic analysis of the "Romantic Age of Science." Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 2005

"A nuanced portrait of leadership, and a fine complement to recent portraits of Churchill by, among others, John Keegan and John Lukacs. "
The greatest Briton—so a 2002 BBC poll declared Winston Churchill—comes in for scrutiny in this absorbing profile by military historian Holmes. Read full book review >
THE WESTERN FRONT by Richard Holmes
Released: July 1, 2000

" A concise, balanced study of one of history's most cataclysmic events."
A history of the Western Front (northern France and Belgium) of WWI, invaded and occupied by the Kaiser's German armies of 1914-18. Read full book review >
COLERIDGE by Richard Holmes
Released: April 15, 1999

This long-awaited second volume completes the definitive biography of the great Romantic; it illuminates how, in the course of great struggles with the demons of addiction and despair, the poet became a philosopher. Many of Coleridge's contemporaries saw him as an indolent, impecunious, opium-addled political turncoat, issuing wild literary pronouncements while urging that the government prosecute the Napoleonic wars abroad and persecute the English radicals—his erstwhile allies—at home. All this was true enough, Holmes shows. Yet he also shows how Coleridge struggled to overcome his passions with the consolations of philosophy. From a vast array of journal and notebook entries, letters, table talk, and later reminiscences, Holmes assembles a convincing history of the tortured interior life of the thinker who, had he never composed his epochal verses—"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," and "Christabel"—would still stand as the presiding genius of the Romantic movement. Holmes details Coleridge's tempestous relationship with Wordsworth, his unhappy marriage, his unrequited love for Wordsworth's sister-in-law, his propensity for drink and laudanum, his horrible bowel ailments, and the disastrous disregard for publication deadlines that left him poor and underpublicized. But the focus is on Coleridge's indomitable imagination and on the enthusiasm that his ideas generated in friends, like Wordsworth and Charles Lamb, in enemies, like William Hazlitt, and in younger writers like Keats and the Shelleys. Holmes steers his reader through all the moments of crystalline brilliance that eddied out of the stream of Coleridge's life, while giving a full sense of the messy turbulence of his existence. His critical readings of Coleridge's verse and prose are pointed and judicious; psychological speculation is clearly marked and kept to a minimum. In a way, Holmes himself needed to speculate little, given the plethora of revealing fantasies scattered through his subject's poems, prose, notebooks, and monologues. An original among modern egomaniacal geniuses, Coleridge is an ideal subject for biography; yet while he would seem an inexhaustible subject, Holmes's masterful volumes will probably take at least a generation to digest. (Volume One, Coredidge: Early Visions: 1772—1804, is being simultaneously reissued in trade paperback by Pantheon.) Read full book review >
DR. JOHNSON AND MR. SAVAGE by Richard Holmes
Released: Aug. 29, 1994

Holmes (Footsteps, 1985) once again brings his humane intelligence and imagination to bear in an exemplary and delightful piece of biographical detection. Working with what he admits are scarce documentary resources, Holmes unravels an enigma that has troubled admirers of Dr. Samuel Johnson from James Boswell forward—i.e., the moralist's two-year friendship with the notorious poet Richard Savage after Johnson's arrival in London in 1737 as a young man. Johnson became his friend's biographer and apologist after Savage's death in debtor's prison—the sorry end to a colorful, if reprobate, life. Savage titillated le tout London in the 1720s by claiming to be the illegitimate son of a countess and an earl; condemned to hang for murder after a coffee-house brawl, he obtained a royal pardon; and he was lionized and then vilified by London society. He was charming and violent, ingratiating and ungrateful, a poet and an extortionist. What drew the scholarly young Johnson to such a man? Closely reading Johnson's Life of Savage, Holmes learns as much about the biographer as about his subject, uncovering a surprising and moving portrait of Johnson as lonely literary aspirant and political radical, a man of intense, if tragically unsatisfied, erotic passion. As a down-and-out newcomer to an unwelcoming London, he roamed the city's streets at night with Savage, who was then shabby but proud and who railed against the society that had rejected him. To Johnson, he represented the poet as outcast—and in this image Holmes locates some unexpected seeds of Romanticism, as well as the model for Thales in Johnson's work London. While recognizing Savage's faults, Johnson remained faithful to his friend. Holmes concludes that for Johnson ``the moral meaning of Savage's existence...lay in the capacity of even a flawed man to struggle nobly against the misfortunes of life.'' A brilliant excursion in the company of three fascinating men- -Samuel Johnson, Richard Savage, and Richard Holmes. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1986

A companion piece to an upcoming BBC TV series of the same title from the authors of, respectively, Six Armies in Normandy and Acts of War. The profusely and imaginatively illustrated text represents a contribution to the bloody, hellish history of war, primarily for its compassionate appreciation of the battlefield experience. Keegan and Holmes (both members of the Sandhurst faculty) eschew a strictly chronological approach, canvassing instead the evolution of weapons and their users. According to the authors, soldiers—warriors who fight for pay—"are comparative latecomers to the field of human conflict." Among the survivors of this exacting trade, they point to the infantryman whose ancestry includes Mesopotamian spear carriers, Roman legionnaires, French poilus, and American GIs. Foot soldiers have endured down through the ages to fight in Vietnam, the Falklands, and Afghanistan. Their mounted counterparts, Keegan and Holmes show, have proved more vulnerable. Horsemen dominated the world's battlegrounds for many centuries, and Russia's Marshal Koniev had six divisions under his command during the final stages of WW II. But muskets, then cannon and machine guns have long since limited cavalry's role. Eventually, tankers became the military's mobile strike force; in turn, however, their tactical utility has been curbed by the march of technology which produced fragmentation warheads "dispensed by aerial bomb, missile, and artillery shell." In the meantime, the already lethal state of the ordnance art has advanced to the point where latter-day gunners can deliver nuclear as well as high-explosive payloads at intercontinental range, Also covered are the routinely courageous exploits of airmen and combat engineers—"the stagehands of the theatre of operations, without whose brave and laborious efforts armies could scarcely find the means to come to grips with each other." Nor do Keegan and Holmes scant the contributions of rear-echelon supply specialists who attend to logistics and of commanders whose awful responsibility it is to be both wise and bold in the expenditure of life. In addition to detailing the many ways in which man has done battle, the authors bear constant witness to the high price of armed conflict. Their humane regard for both victims and victors is explicit in a separate chapter on casualties, which tells graphic terms just how dreams of glory can end in gore. A thoughtful, focused study of warfare, brimful of front-line insights and intelligence. Read full book review >