The Stuntman

Review of Tom Bower’s biography, Branson: Behind the Mask. Richard Branson “pretends to be much richer than he really is”. His business strategy is “to get as close as possible to the people with power and then exploit the connection for all it’s worth”. His Virgin empire is “a brilliant smoke-and-mirrors operation, driven by the undeniable charm of the man himself, along with his occasionally breathtaking shamelessness” (4,500 words)

Fergie Time

Shrewd, illuminating review of My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson. “It is a hectoring, petty, repetitive book. Ferguson returns again and again to the things that nag him. It’s ugly, it’s grinding, but it gives you the flavour of the man. The only other autobiography I’ve read recently that comes across like this is Tony Blair’s, which was also so disconnected, erratic and self-referential that it had the unmistakeable ring of authenticity” (3,890 words)

The Trouble With Democracy

A bad couple of months for Western democracy: NSA scandal, US government shutdown, Syrian fiasco. Are these structural problems, and are they getting worse? Yes and no. “The pattern of democratic life is to drift into impending disaster and then to stumble out of it. What is hard for any democracy is to exert the constant, vigilant pressure needed to rein in the forces that produce the crises. It is so much easier to wait for the crisis to reveal itself” (3,900 words)

The Camelot Delusion: John F. Kennedy’s Legacy

Review of new books on Kennedy by Jeffrey Sachs and Thurston Clarke. “The luckiest president of the past century has been Lyndon Johnson, the subject of a monumental, multivolume labour of love by the pre-eminent political biographer Robert Caro that has redeemed the ex-president’s reputation. As LBJ’s stock has risen, that of his predecessor has fallen. John F. Kennedy has become the man who merely talked” (2,100 words)

Not For Turning

Review of Charles Moore’s biography, Margaret Thatcher. “The person on display here is not more intelligent than her rivals, or more principled. She chops and changes as much as they do. But she is a lot more relentless: if anything, she keeps chopping and changing long after they have gone home. She didn’t outsmart or outperform her enemies. She outstayed them. Her modus operandi, in private life as in public, was to go on and on and on” (9,050 words)

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