Hatchet Job (?) of the Day
Historian and journalist Paul Johnson’s collection of personal reminiscences of the great and the good, Brief Lives, was the subject of a very funny review by A.N. Wilson in the Spectator:
Paul, as readers will quickly become aware, is an excellent judge of character. General Pinochet, who entertained Paul and Marigold Johnson to tea (‘tea is the most important meal in Chile’), is ‘perhaps the single most misjudged figure of the 20th century’ … perhaps Paul was able to share with the General his view that Picasso was ‘probably the most evil man I ever actually came across’.
The problem with satirical reviews is that they can be quoted out of context by shameless (or moronic) publicists, such as the one working for Johnson’s publishers, Hutchinson, who used the following endorsement to promote the book on Amazon:
Where would the popes, presidents and princesses of the world be without Paul Johnson, the former editor of the New Statesman and much loved columnist in this and other periodicals? As his latest book shows, he is an all but indispensable asset, a social equivalent of the Admirable Crichton. – AN Wilson, Spectator
Thank heavens then for unambiguous responses like Peregrine Worsthorne’s in this week’s New Statesman. Johnson, he declares, is the “Thomas Carlyle of our age” whose “gift for witty dialogue rivals that of Oscar Wilde”. He also quotes a fabulous passage about Jim Callaghan’s willy, which is well worth a look.