While presenting Great Lives on Radio 4, Matthew Parris noticed a trend in the lives of the exceptional men and women the programme covered: many of them had been marked by extreme trauma and deprivation. They seemed to have succeeded not only in spite of their backgrounds, but perhaps even because of them.
Charlie Chaplin spent much of his childhood in a south London workhouse, while Ada Lovelace was paralysed at the age of thirteen. Edward Lear was the last of twenty-one children, and suffered from severe epilepsy and depression, and Coco Chanel was abandoned by her father in a freezing-cold church orphanage. Yet they would all grow up to be not just successful, but to create paradigm shifts in their fields, and create work that still influence our lives today.
As Matthew Parris brings each individual's story to life in this original and compelling study, it becomes clear that we must rethink the origins of success, as well as the legacy of trauma.