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Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity [Hardcover]

Sonia Purnell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Sep 2011

A major and controversial new biography of one of the most compelling and contradictory figures in modern British life.

Born Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to most of us he is just ‘Boris’ – the only politician of the age to be regarded in such familiar, even affectionate terms. Uniquely, he combines comedy with erudition, gimleteyed focus with jokey self-deprecation, and is a loving family man with a roving eye. He is also a hugely ambitious figure with seemingly no huge ambitions to pursue – other than, perhaps, power itself. One of the most private men in public life, we all know of Boris, but so few can truly claim to know him. He invites attention, but has evaded scrutiny. Now, from the vantage point of a once close colleague, Sonia Purnell charts his remarkable rise and offers the first forensic account of just how he did it.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with Boris’s friends, rivals, admirers and enemies, this revealing biography examines how a shy, young boy from a broken home grew up to be ou r only box-office politician – and most unlikely sex god; how the Etonian product fond of Latin tags became a Man of the People – and why he wanted to be; how the gaffe-prone buffoon charmed Londoners to win the largest personal mandate Britain has ever seen; and how the Johnson family has built our biggest – not to mention blondest – media and political dynasty.

At times, allegations of infidelity, journalistic chicanery, rivalries with fellow Tories and scandal at City Hall have threatened to upset his rise, but still it continues. With his unruly mop of hair, trusty bicycle and the surest of popular touches, he remains a Teflon-coated breed apart – but for how long?

In Just Boris Sonia Purnell unravels this most compelling of political enigmas and casts light on his record and his character. Finally, she asks whether the Mayor who dreams of crossing the Thames to Downing Street has what it takes to be Prime Minister.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 459 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd; 1st edition (26 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845136659
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845136659
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Through fast prose and a vast array of interviews, Purnell ... portrays better than any predecessor the arrogance, opportunism, and irresistible buffoonery of our most celebrated politician.'

(Independent on Sunday )

'If you want the full Johnson experience, do read Sonia Purnell's new biography, Just Boris ... Johnson's supporters have depicted the book as a hatchet job. But actually it struck me as commendably fair'

(Andrew Sparrow The Guardian )


(Quentin Letts The Daily Mail )

'Future biographers will always be in her debt. Purnell has accumulated a wealth of previously unknown detail'

(Andrew Gimson The Spectator )

'Filled with gems ... will make uncomfortable reading for Boris'

(Camilla Long The Sunday Times )

'Thorough study...sharply narrated and dilgently researched.'

(New Statesman )

'A rollicking narrative'

(Observer )

'This is a thorough biography and Johnson is a compelling subject'

(Financial Times )

‘Whether you like Boris or loathe him, he is a class act and Sonia Purnell’s excellent book is a must read for those who want to understand this mystery wrapped in an enigma.’ – Jerry Hayes

(Spectator.co.uk )

‘One of the many virtues of Purnell’s forensic biography is that she broadly leaves the reader to make up their own mind about the true nature of this political phenomenon. Writing as a trained journalist, what Purnell does admirably is marshall the facts, warts and all, about this man.’

(Conservativehome.blogs.com )

‘Fill your Christmas stockings with this' - Nick Ferrrai

(LBC )

'Colourful biography...Purnell decodes Johnson's complex personality'

(The Guardian )

‘Sonia Purnell’s Just Boris stood out as a critical, illuminating view of London’s great blonde egomaniac’ - Anne McElvoy

(New Statesman )

‘Meticulous and quietly devastating’

(Standpoint )

‘Meticulously researched and well presented’

(The Oldie )

'Gives good pointers on Johnson’s real beliefs as to who should be the [Conservatives’] leader, and on his future relationship with Cameron' - Stephen Hammond MP

(Total Politics )

‘Thoroughly researched and well-crafted … If you want to know who and what Boris is, read Sonia Purnell's book.’

(Literary Review )


‘Sonia must have had huge fun writing this wonderful book. The only person who won’t be amused is Boris himself’

(Michael Crick )

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What lies beneath 3 Oct 2011
It's always disturbing to learn about the murkier side of any politician's life but this time it's also hilarious and fabulously shocking. Intellect has no doubt propelled Boris a long way but it's his blind, ruthless ambition that really comes through in the book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boris uncovered 28 Oct 2011
The cult of personality is alive and well and living, not just in North Korea, but also in central London. 'Just Boris' illuminates a driven, complex, contradictory personality who is well on the way to conquering a great many more of us with well-practised smoke and mirrors. Sonia Purnell's forensic examination of the man would would be PM reveals, with humour and considered analysis, something of the real man behind the engaging clown Boris Johnson would have us believe he is. If only Johnson believed in himself, he might have made it. Purnell tracks the rise of a man who has had an astonishingly privileged bike ride through the corridors of power. For all of her revelations, Purnell is as intrigued as the rest of us by one of the most engaging yet baffling politicians in decades. An excellent read.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for all London voters 3 Oct 2011
I'll confess, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter and was aghast when Boris Johnson beat Ken Livingstone to become Mayor of London in 2008. Indeed, I bought this book precisely because I wanted to arm myself with evidence to help sway those of my friends considering voting for Boris again in 2012. And there's certainly much for anti-BoJo types to quote from here. In particular stories about his 'part-time' approach to the mayoralty, some alarming allegations from a former Met officer about political interference in London's policing, and revelations about quite how much the 'Boris Bikes' and other so-called 'vanity projects' are likely to cost Londoners.

That all said, I can't say the book is overtly hostile to Boris. If I was forced to guess, I'd say Sonia Purnell probably voted for him. There's a certain quality of admiration in her writing. At the very least, she's genuinely fascinated by Boris and her depiction of him as the most cunning, charismatic and complicated character in British life today is hard to deny.

Which is probably why, despite myself, I found the Boris presented by this book so entertaining. His isn't the dull story of uninterrupted privilege and career politics that Purnell seems to believe David Cameron has enjoyed - although that's not to say Boris isn't privileged. There's much wit, roguish behaviour, and just plain bad behaviour to be enjoyed here. And some of that behaviour is so bad you could be forgiven for wondering, 'How can he ever have become an MP, let alone Mayor after that?' But, as Purnell argues convincingly, his carefully crafted public persona - Boris the Buffoon - acts as a Teflon shield that allows him to get away with it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By SE1
Outwardly, Boris Johnson seems like one of Britain's least-subtle politicians - brash, blustering and always aware of his own abilities.
What Sonia Purnell's biography makes clear is that there is significantly more to Boris than would appear from his hyperactive TV appearances.
Purnell paints Boris as a complex figure, whose startling self-confidence is at times offset by deep character flaws: selfishness, a seeming inability to forge intimate relationships, recklessness and occasional moments of startling bad judgement.
Purnell has clearly spoken to people who know the man well and has provided a valuable look into his formative years.
The sections on his early career in journalism - from Brussels with the Telegraph to his time at the helm of The Spectator - are particularly interesting. Purnell has interviewed countless Boris confidantes and detractors who provide a well-rounded look at the Mayor.
The tone of the book suits its subject - stentorian at points, knowledgeable, but light and heaped with lashings of mocking poison.
Laced with anecdotes, the book provides new insights into the country's most famous politician in every chapter.
One memorable scene in the section on Johnson's 2008 Mayoral campaign has his election supremo threatening violence in a well-heeled restaurant.
Things get more serious when the book reaches Boris's first term as London Mayor. Purnell has found people willing to spear Johnson for perceived failings in the way he has run London. At times the picture painted of City Hall under Boris is as ramshackle as the man himself.
Although Johnson's womanising may be tried and tested ground, there are enough new elements to keep those sections interesting - though other chapters contain the real revelations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just Brilliant 6 May 2012
This is a splendidly written biographical account of the rise and rise of Boris Johnson which from start to finish managed to keep me captivated and if anything vindicated my pre-existing opinions on the subject. It would be fair to say that Sonia Purnell comes across as neither disinterested nor enamoured about her subject and there does seem to be a certain amount of antipathy towards Boris apparent at various points in her account, however it is far from an outright and unsympathetic hatchet job and Ms. Purnell is certainly not the first (and wont be the last) person to write a biography about a person whose fanclub she/he does not belong to.
The book seems to have been well researched and is pretty much bang up to date; but what is done so well is the wit with which she writes- something that Boris Johnson himself- in editor mode- could indeed be proud of.
If you want to know more about the background of this fascinating character who despite a seeming propensity for horrendous and well documented foot in mouth gaffes still seems able to bestride the world (or at least The Thames) with his other foot like a colossus - then this is the book to read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
interesting insight into Johnson and is ambition, not often flattering.
Published 22 days ago by JPW
Published 27 days ago by CENTRAL LONDON MAN
5.0 out of 5 stars Not so bumbling Boris
Read this and you'll realise that all that bumbling and floppy hair is a façade. This guy knows what he's doing, where he wants to be and how to get there and it's not on a bike. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs. B. Groot
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful study of the Mayor of London
This extremely well-written book provides the evidence that Boris Johnson is promoted well beyond his competence. Read more
Published 7 months ago by William Podmore
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
The best book I have read about Boris, very well researched. I wonder if he really is suited to higher office, even if he is popular.
Published 10 months ago by Delilah
4.0 out of 5 stars Just Boris
A good read. I fervently hope he never becomes Prime Minister. I tend to agree with the journalist who called him a "nasty piece of work"
Published 12 months ago by 2356STOTT
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time
A poorly written book, with a poor choice of title. A real lightweight read which I could not bring myself to finish.
Published 14 months ago by Miss Caroline M Hamilton
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative
I found this very informative about British and European politics as well as the more trivial but entertaining information regarding the lifestyle of Boris. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ginty
5.0 out of 5 stars History of the current Mayor
I could not put this book down and promptly re-read it a 2nd time. It astonishes me that he had fooled so many people that he is a suitable person either as Mayor or as a... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Sheila Goddard
1.0 out of 5 stars book?
not ordered! hhhhh hhhh gggg nnnnn nnnnn nnnnn nnnnn nnnnn go away what a silly system bbbb bbbbb bbbb bb
Published 18 months ago by lynne harvey
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