Ruth Brandon began her working life at the BBC, which she joined as a general trainee after reading French and Spanish at Cambridge. After a few years’ working there and for ITV she became a freelance journalist, writing for the Times, the London Evening Standard, the TLS, the New Statesman, New Society, Nova and many other publications, while also working in TV and radio. She has not held a salaried job since.
She published her first book Singer and the Sewing Machine: a capitalist romance in 1977: like most of her non-fiction books, it uses biography as a way into social and cultural history. Since then she has written about spiritualism (The Spiritualists, 1983), the early socialists (The New Women and the Old Men, 1990), Sarah Bernhardt (Being Divine, 1991), Harry Houdini (The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, which won the Magic Circle prize in 1993), the Surrealists (Surreal Lives, 1999) and cars (AutoMobile: how the car changed lives, 2002, after which she wrote a motoring column for some years in the Independent). She has also written five detective stories (most recently Caravaggio’s Angel, 2009) and two literary novels, Tickling the Dragon and The Uncertainty Principle. Her books have been translated into many languages. Ruth’s latest non-fiction book is Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L’Oreal and the blemished history of looking good — a book about real fascism and body fascism.