David Waller is an author specialising in business and historical biography. His new book The Reputation Game, co-authored with Rupert Younger of Oxford University, looks at the way reputations are built, maintained, lost and rebuilt in private, public and commercial life.
His other books include The Perfect Man, a biography of Eugen Sandow, the man the late Victorians reckoned to have the best body in the world as well as The Magnificent Mrs Tennant, a life of a Victorian society hostess who had a fling with Gustave Flaubert. The book was compared to “Thackeray at his best” (Independent) and Valerie Grove in The Times wrote: “Waller’s story has terrific pace and wit. It is rich in period detail and places events unobtrusively in context. It is a real discovery.” It was also praised by Miranda Seymour in the Guardian.
Iron Men, David’s account of technological innovation in Victorian engineering published by Anthem Press last year, was described by Sir Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital as “an absorbing tale…[capturing] the ingenuity, defiance of a small group of Britons whose inventions made their country the epicentre of technology”. Lord Norman Foster said “David Waller has done us a great favour in highlighting [the engineers’] boundless creativity and energy”.
David has combined his work as a writer with a full time job as a City communications expert. He is often asked how he managed to write so many books alongside having a proper job, to which his answer is that he never watched TV so he was able to press on with his research when everyone else in the house was glued to the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
His day job included working for the Man Group, where he was responsible for overseeing the company’s sponsorship of the Man Booker prize. This gave him a place on the advisory committee of the prize, and contact with some of his literary heroes. Sitting next to Philip Roth at dinner in New York’s Museum of Modern Art was a highpoint, as was lunch with Hilary Mantel, a conversation on the tube with Julian Barnes, and a drink with Simon Armitage in the Royal Palace of Jaipur.
Perhaps the most evocative moment in his literary research was when he discovered, and held in his hand, a lock of hair belonging to Caroline Flaubert, the beloved sister of the novelist Gustave, who tragically died shortly after giving birth to her first child.
The subject matter of his history books may seem eclectic, but David was delighted to learn that there was a pattern. Speaking at the launch of Iron Men, Prof Hilary Fraser of Birkbeck described how the trilogy of biographies had a number of common themes. They told the forgotten stories of individuals who lived at the margins of history and had been consigned to the literal footnotes until David brought them back to centre stage. In telling these stories with a rich emphasis on detail and cultural context, David brought the nineteenth century to life, Prof Fraser said. David found these comments from his former tutor on the superb Birkbeck Victorian Studies MA very flattering.
His business books grew out of his former profession as a financial journalist, working for the Financial Times in the UK and Germany. The Reputation Game, while not strictly a business book, reflects the preoccupations of his day job as a reputation consultant. Like a mental health professional unable to define the mind, he was worried for years that he didn’t know how reputation really worked, in public and private life. Together with his co-writer Rupert Younger, he hopes that he has now provided some answers.
David has three children and divides his time between a flat in London and a cottage on the north Norfolk coast. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, Balliol College, Oxford, and Birkbeck College, London.
David Waller is represented by Bill Hamilton at AM Heath