Hot off the Press: Burden of Power by Alastair Campbell
This is the sort of book whose reviews are so predictable, there’s not really any point in reading them. In fact, you could probably write your own without reading the book:
Those looking for revelations about Iraq will be disappointed … We don’t find out anything about Blair/Brown we didn’t know already … The prose is plain at best: Alastair Campbell is no stylist … Its value lies in its warts-and-all, no-holds-barred insider account of life at the heart of Number 10 … Despite its flaws, an indispensable record for future historians.
Which is essentially what Christopher Meyer (Evening Standard), Philip Stephens (Financial Times), Chris Mullin (Guardian), John Kampfner (Observer) and David Aaronovitch (Times) all said, but with more words.
The funniest sentence comes from Meyer’s review:
‘Who cares what Charles Clarke or John Reid thought about this or that? Who were Charles Clarke and John Reid, for that matter?’
Kampfner relays the best anecdote:
Campbell was chatting to George W Bush, during a break in the official meetings. “I asked him how much he drank. He said two or three beers a day, a bit of wine, some bourbon… I went through the kind of quantities I was drinking at the end and said they dwarfed his efforts. I said that having a breakdown and not drinking had been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was like seeing the light? But you still don’t believe in God? he asked. No I don’t.”
While David Aaronovitch provides the most controversial insight: ‘Campbell comes over as clever, loyal, uncultured (he goes once to the ballet and hates it) and driven.’
This comment provoked a furious — but entirely justified — response from online commenter Tom Beck, a man after my own heart:
Uncultured because he doesn’t like ballet? I have translated Pushkin into English, various English poets into German, have published extensively on all aspects of 20th music, written for German and Swiss newspapers, broadcast in England and Germany and did a music D.Phil in Oxford, play the lute…. I could go on… And I LOATHE the ballet, not the music, but the stupid hopping about, never on the beat, by a load of creeps who have no idea how damned silly they look.
A boringly feminist but necessary note to end on: why are women never allowed to review political memoirs? Maybe they have better things to do.