Hermione Lee on Tom Stoppard


Tom Stoppard: A Life

The key book for all time on Tom Stoppard: the biography of our greatest living playwright, by one of the leading literary biographers in the English-speaking world, a star in her own right, Hermione Lee. 

With unprecedented access to private papers, diaries, letters, and countless interviews with figures ranging from Felicity Kendal to John Boorman and Trevor Nunn to Steven Spielberg, Hermione Lee builds a meticulously researched portrait of one of our greatest playwrights. 

Drawing on several years of long, exploratory conversations with Stoppard himself, it tracks his Czech origins and childhood in India to every school and home he’s ever lived in, every piece of writing he’s ever done, and every play and film he’s ever worked on; but in the end this is the story of a complex, elusive and private man, which tells you an enormous amount about him but leaves you, also, with the fascinating mystery of his ultimate unknowability.

Shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize, 2020

Longlisted for the Carnegie Medals for 2022

“The Best Books We Read in 2021” (New Yorker, December 13 2021)

New York Times Critics’ “Top Books of 2021” (NYT, December 15 2021)

American Vogue “Best Books of 2021” (Vogue, November 28 2021)



Tom Stoppard: A Life. Faber & Faber, 2020. ISBN: 9780571314430

Tom Stoppard: A Life. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. ISBN: 9780451493224

Tom Stoppard A Life by Hermione Lee


"One of the pleasures of Lee’s book is the glimpse it offers into Stoppard’s working practice." -- Gaby Wood, The Atlantic, March 2020

"In Tom Stoppard, Hermione Lee Takes On a New Challenge: a Living Subject." -- Charles McGrath, New York Times, 13 February 2021

"Lee’s book has the scope of a novel; it is superbly researched and written with a rare empathy and understanding of human nature...This is a hugely impressive work...He is a great playwright, and this is a great biography." -- Anthony Roche, Irish Times, October 24 2020

"He has entrusted his life to Hermione Lee and been spectacularly well rewarded...a highly readable eye-opener...Lee skilfully interweaves the story of the life with analyses of the plays and suggests there is a far greater connection between the two than we had imagined...This is a seriously good book and will remain the standard work for many years to come." -- Michael Billington, The Oldie, November 2020

"Tom Stoppard has always made the most of his fate...All those marvellous plays and now this prodigious biography - how lucky can you get?" -- John Stokes, "Unstoppable Stoppard", Times Literary Supplement, October 9 2020

"Another jewel in Lee’s literary crown...Thorough, sympathetic, and eminently readable...this expansive portrait of a significant twentieth-century artist is a biographical masterpiece. Stoppard chose his biographer well." -- Kirkus Review, October 7 2020

"A small part of Stoppard’s good luck is that, unlike the subject of most worthwhile biographies, he’s alive to enjoy this one...She’s wonderful at people, being warmly perceptive but not without sharpness...From the point of view of a fan, student or scholar...this book will be indispensable...Sympathetic, sensitive, often moving, and as we would expect of its author and hope of any book about Stoppard, stylishly written." -- Jeremy Treglown, Literary Review, October 2020

"Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard is a prodigious achievement...Stoppard’s life will not need writing again." -- John Carey, Sunday Times, October 4 2020

"Hermione Lee has been allowed to go backstage, enabling her to tell the story in unmatchable detail...It seems unfair that a man of such outrageous gifts should also have been allowed to magic up the perfect biographer to write his life...Her astute accounts of Stoppard’s complex creations are among the great strengths of this exceptional biography...It is one of Lee’s several triumphs to identify the emotions that drive so much of his work." -- Stefan Collini, "An Exceptional Biography", The Guardian, October 3 2020

"Nothing much seems beyond Lee’s reach...[She] tracks with remarkable ease both the life and the art of a man resistant to undue examination who has submitted here to one of the fullest biographical excavations of recent times." -- Matt Wolf, The Arts Desk, October 7 2020

"As literary history, Lee’s biography never disappoints...her research is encyclopedic, her hero charismatic, her scope expansive. She captures the essential morality of Stoppard...Hers is an essential contribution to theatre history." -- Kate Maltby, Financial Times, "The Real Thing", October 3-4 2020

"It takes a persistent, unflappable and penetrating biographer to take [Stoppard] on. Hermione Lee is perfect casting...Lee’s studies of the plays are masterly...and her book will be a formidable resource for Stoppard enthusiasts. She makes a persuasive case for the importance of emotion, challenging...the old complaint that Stoppard is all head and no heart." -- Kate Kellaway, Observer, Smuggling Heart into a Scholar's Story", October 4 2020

"So compellingly does Lee convey the exuberance and unpredictability of both his plays and his life that I’m now yearning to see a Stoppard play in a theatre again." -- Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Daily Mail, October 2 2020

"It is hard to imagine a more distinguished biographical pairing than a book on Sir Tom Stoppard written by Dame Hermione Lee....Hermione Lee is the dream biographer...a meticulous researcher...To complement the hard graft and good writing style, she also brings to bear the skills of a critic who is able to analyse and explain the work but also evaluate it." -- Philip Fisher, British Theatre Guide, October 3 2020

"Lee has triumphantly reached the full Stoppard." -- Mark Lawson, The Tablet, October 2020

"Theatre buffs rejoice: leading literary biographer Hermione Lee has turned her sights to one of the UK’s leading literary playwrights...An unprecedented look into...Stoppard’s extraordinary life." -- Rhiannon Thomas, Radio Times, September 29 2020.

Stoppard is the latest in a long line of writers to undergo Lee’s forensic, critical, but lively and compassionate brand of literary biography....Lee’s book is comprehensive and scholarly, but it’s very affectionate too." -- Anna Leszkiewicz, “Hermione Lee on How to Write a Life,” New Statesman, 23-29 October 2020


Tom Stoppard & Hermione Lee in Conversation

Hermione Lee interviewed Stoppard for the London Library on 6 May 2016, and in conjunction with the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust and TORCH: The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities on 19 May 2016 (see video).

In 2018, Lee interviewed Stoppard at an event held at the 92nd St Y during which they discussed Stoppard's new play, The Hard Problem, which was set to open at Lincoln Center (see video).

In 2021, Lee interviewed Stoppard in an event sponsored by Greenlight Bookstore in support of the publication of Lee's Tom Stoppard: A Life (see video).

Lee conducted several interviews in support of the publication of her biography of Tom Stoppard. A selection of recorded events is available below: