The Man Who was W.G.
By Richard Tomlinson
Richard Tomlinson's magisterial new biography reveals the real W.G. behind the record-breaking cricketer who was also the most recognisable public figure in Victorian Britain.
William Gilbert Grace (1848-1915) looms as large in the history of modern sport as Bach in the history of music or Michelangelo in the history of art. Physically immense, with a luxuriant black mane of a beard, Grace's performances on the cricket field towered above his peers. When 'W.G.' became the first-ever batsman to score 100 first-class centuries, his nearest rival had only scored forty-three.
With his rustic accent and village school education, Grace was also the victim of immense snobbery, during his lifetime and ever since. In this definitive biography, marking the centenary of W.G.'s death, Richard Tomlinson mines a trove of previously undiscovered archive material in England, Australia and North America and at last connects Grace's astounding achievements on the field (he took 3000 wickets as well) with the private life he hid from the world.
Agnes, W.G.'s beloved wife, steps from the shadows of her ruined family background as the woman who rescued Grace from his own worst nature and shared his torment at the loss of their only daughter Bessie. We meet as well the swarm of chancers who preyed on Grace, from the doomed gold speculator who first brought him to Melbourne to the sex-crazed cricket grandee who captured W.G. for England's sporting aristocracy. And we join W.G. on his rounds as a lowly parish surgeon in the slums of Bristol. His patients - the paupers and tramps along the Stapleton Road - hailed their doctor each summer as he set forth from his surgery to vanquish his cricketing enemies.
Through it all, W.G. emerges as one of the last Victorian inventors, transforming the game he loved and showing the modern world how to play all sport - to the death, mercilessly, with beers all round in the funeral parlour. A century after W.G. was buried with his secrets in a forlorn suburban graveyard, Amazing Grace gloriously unveils one of sport's greatest untold stories.
A historian and former playing member of MCC, Richard Tomlinson received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University before becoming an award-winning international journalist with the Independent, Fortuneand other publications in Europe, North America and Asia. In Amazing Grace: The Man who was W.G., Tomlinson combines his passion for cricket and historian's eye to connect Grace's astounding feats on the playing field with an imperial landscape populated by a Dickensian cast of characters who crossed his majestic path, from failed Australian gold rush speculators and an American Civil War hero to the syphilitic secretary of MCC.
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- Publication date:
03 Sep 2015
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Richard Tomlinson's magnificent biography of sport's first global superstar — Jim White, Daily Telegraph
Amazing Grace is a fluently written study, imbued with humour and sympathy, that yields many insights as well as much pleasure — David Kynaston, Daily Telegraph
What makes [Tomlinson's] book so refreshing is that he is entirely clear-sighted about his subject's foibles . . . [he] effectively conveys the sheer competitive drive that made him so successful . . . offers some intriguing glimpses of the anxieties that made him stay so long and probably made him such a great player . . . [Grace] emerges from this book as Ian Botham, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham rolled into one: a symbol not just of Victorian England, but of sport itself — Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
A compelling book that uncovers a man as complex and contrary as any in Victorian society — Mail on Sunday
It's a pleasure to read a biography as thoughtful and assiduous as Richard Tomlinson's . . . Tomlinson clearly likes [Grace] as well as revering him, and so did I after finishing this lovingly crafted piece of work — Markus Berkmann, Daily Mail
Industrious, witty, insightful, this biography ought to be the standard work on W.G. for years to come — Sam Kitchener, Independent
Scrupulously researched and well written — Simon Heffer, New Statesman
My biography of the year . . . a revelatory study of the giant who remains cricket's most iconic figure — Tom Holland, Evening Standard
The cricketer W. G. Grace is instantly recognisable as an icon of the Victorian age, if only by virtue of his impossibly bushy beard, but as Richard Tomlinson emphasises in this terrifically readable biography, he was, in his time, at the cutting edge of modernity. Grace dominated the game to an extent matched later only by Australian Donald Bradman and was the word's first sporting superstar — Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday