> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 15 November 2012
  • ISBN: 9780701187439
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 128
  • RRP: $22.99

On Wheels




Wry, perceptive and very funny, an elegy to the glamour of the car from the celebrated biographer

Michael Holroyd confronts an army of automobiles in this book. Weaving together memoir and historical anecdote, he traces his relationship with cars through a lifetime of biography.
Learning to drive was no easy matter for Michael: the lessons required military precision when practising how to get in and out of his car correctly. His biographical subjects also had their difficulties: Bernard Shaw drove with reckless gusto when overtaking his eightieth year; Vita Sackville-West’s car became a chamber for sudden romantic assignations and getaways; while Augustus John and his family careered through vulnerable villages as the poor vehicle, piled high with bohemian friends, stuttered and jerked along in first gear.
Wry, thoughtful and very funny, On Wheels is an elegy to the glamour of the car. Subtle and perceptive, Michael Holroyd finds surprising ways to understand the past and challenge our view of the future.

  • Pub date: 15 November 2012
  • ISBN: 9780701187439
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 128
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Author

Michael Holroyd

Besides the Lives of Augustus John, Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey (which was filmed as Carrington), Michael Holroyd has written two volumes of memoirs, Basil Street Blues and Mosaic. His most recent book, A Strange Eventful History, winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Biography, was a biography of theatre greats Ellen Terry and Henry Irving and their children. He has been president of the Royal Society of Literature and is the first non-fiction writer to have been awarded the British Literature Prize. He lives in London and Somerset with his wife, the novelist Margaret Drabble.

Also by Michael Holroyd

See all

Praise for On Wheels

“A charming book...elegantly written”

Alexei Sayle, Telegraph

“Holroyd’s elegant little essays are a pleasure to read...these are witty, quotable jeux d’esprit”

Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

“A great Christmas present for those hurtling towards their driving test… A subtle delight”

The Lady

“Jolly, illustrated salute to the cars in his own life and the lives he has biographised in a long literary career. Lovely. Toot! Toot!”

Iain Finlayson, The Times

“A delightful memoir-cum-social history which is wry, self-deprecating and anything but stuffy… his elegant musings provide an ideal festive pick-me-up, compact enough to fit in a stocking, and packing enough pep to burn any rival off the road”

Andrew Lycett, Sunday Telegraph

“Michael Holroyd, esteemed and genial doyen of literary biographers, has wheels. Decades of dedication to literature and the life of the mind have at least raised his consciousness to the level at which he discerns the shaping presence of motorism in his own life and those of his biographical subjects… I can only rejoice”

Alan Judd, Literary Review

“A companionable book, made to be raced through in one sitting”

Gemma Kapalla-Ramsamy, Observer

“This is a great little addition to his existing volumes of memoir”

Katie Law, Evening Standard


Related titles