A magisterial new biography reveals the real W.G. behind the record-breaking cricketer who was also the most recognisable public figure in Victorian Britain.
On a sunny afternoon in May 1868, nineteen-year-old Gilbert Grace stood in a Wiltshire field, wondering why he was playing cricket against the Great Western Railway Club. A batting genius, 'W. G.' should have been starring at Lord's in the grand opening match of the season. But MCC did not want to elect this humble son of a provincial doctor. W. G's career was faltering before it had barely begun.
Grace finally forced his way into MCC and over the next three decades, millions came to watch him - not just at Lord's, but across the British Empire and beyond. Only W. G. could boast a fan base that stretched from an American Civil War general and the Prince of Wales's mistress to the children who fingered his coat-tails as he walked down the street, just to say 'I touched him'.
The public never knew the darker story behind W. G.'s triumphal progress. Accused of avarice, W. G. was married to the daughter of a bankrupt. Disparaged as a simpleton, his subversive mind recast how to play sport - thrillingly hard, pushing the rules, beating his opponents his own way.
In Amazing Grace, Richard Tomlinson unearths a life lived so far ahead of his times that W. G. is still misunderstood today. For the first time, Tomlinson delves into long-buried archives in England and Australia to reveal the real W. G: a self-made, self-destructive genius, at odds with the world and himself.
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.
"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, Paula 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