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No Ordinary Man: A Life of George Carman [Hardcover]

Dominic Carman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Jan 2002
The successful defence of former Liberal leader, Jeremy Thorpe, on charges of conspiracy to murder, made Geroge Carman QC famous. His mastery of cross-examination and speech-making succeeded in winning a string of high-profile cases that earned him the titles of Great Defender and King of Libel. 'Gorgeous George' attracted a string of celebrity clients and his public triumphs made front page news. Yet, this very private man remained a mystery. In a full and frank account of his life, Dominic Carman explains how his father, the ambitious boy from Blackpool, fought to become the star of the Bar. This compelling account, reveals the story of a man whose private life was as extraordinary as his public life was successful.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (24 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340820985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340820988
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

It is quoted in No Ordinary Man that 10 days before he died of prostate cancer at the beginning of 2001, George Carman whispered quietly to his son, Dominic: "I'm not going to be able to do it," he said. "You'd better do it instead". After a lifetime at the Bar during which he had risen to become one of the highest profile barristers in British legal history, Carman's decision to ask his son to write his biography may just have proved to be the one of the few gambles he took that backfired. For sure we get plenty of details and insight into his celebrity trials, involving Jeremy Thorpe, Elton John, Tom Cruise, the Hamiltons, Jonathan Aitken et al, but what sticks in the mind is the portrait of Carman the private man. Dominic pulls no punches as his father emerges as a chain-smoking alcoholic with homosexual tendencies, who repeatedly beat all three of his wives. Some may view this as the ultimate in filial disloyalty, while others may see it as an abusive bully getting his just desserts. More importantly than either, perhaps, it's honest biography. Those who reckon that the great and the good should be exempt from close personal examination, and that they should stand and fall by their achievements, miss several tricks. Getting to the very top often involves a ruthless trampling over the feelings of colleagues, friends and families and it is to Dominic's credit that he is prepared to lay bare the price his father paid for his years in the limelight. It certainly helps to explain how barristers like Carman can live with the knowledge that their advocacy has kept a guilty person out of prison, or more worryingly, put an innocent one inside. We are told that Carman drew no pleasure from the fact that the Coronation Street star, Peter Adamson, admitted his guilt on charges of indecent assault five years after he was successfully defended, and yet Dominic goes on to say that "privately, many jokes were made about confessions emerging from other guilty people he had got off". Clearly, George was a man who liked to have things both ways. But Dominic's approach does leave just one last matter unsolved. Would his father be happy at the posthumous treatment he has received? On that one, the jury is likely to remain out.--John Crace


George Carman was the most talked about and respected barrister of his generation. His many celebrity cases included George Best, Richard Branson, the Marquess of Bristol, Tom Cruise and Mohammed Al Fayed. After his successful defence of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe on charges of conspiracy to murder, Carman became the only barrister (apart from John Mortimer) who was a household name. His string of celebrity clients and his public triumphs made him front-page news, but when he died of cancer few knew much about the man himself. In this candid and unsparing account of his life, Dominic Carman explains how his father, an ambitious boy from Blackpool, fought to become the star of the Bar. This compelling account reveals the story of a man whose private life turns out to be as extraordinary as his public life was successful.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very brave book 25 April 2002
By A Customer
The unfair criticism thrown at this book - mostly by men - has come because the author is a son revealing the sins of the father: wife-beating, drinking, gambling and mental cruelty. But the portrait painted in No Ordinary Man is compassionate, even generous to George Carman in its fulsome praise of his professional skills. It is a remarkable effort, an inspiring book and a really great read. In a word, superb.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing biography 12 Mar 2002
By A Customer
George Carman was a legend. His use of words and language to destroy witnesses and persuade juries was without parallel. Here we have a biography that does much to explain his tremendous gifts and equally outstanding weaknesses.
The fact that his son, Dominic, has managed to do this so objectively (given some of the terrible things which he saw his father do at
home)is in itself extraordinary. Yet he has managed to tell us all about George for good and for bad, without any hint of bitterness. I was hooked from first to last. An amazing book that reveals much about the good and great in the courtroom - and about the man who was so often their lawyer or opponent. The honesty is sometimes uncomfortable, but never less than compelling.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Ordinary Book 2 April 2002
The end of this account of George Carman's life came all too quickly. It left me wanting more - the sign some would say of a good book. Without doubt this is a very interesting story - sad, funny, poignant, annoying, destructive, frustrating, painful, maddening, terrible, dramatic, at times unbelievable - and always entertaining. Like the great barrister himself it is a mass of contradictions - all of which lead to the unanswerable question - what made him tick? The son gives us some explanation yet stops short of passing judgement. Instead he leaves it 'for each reader to decide.' A cop out? Maybe not. Whatever made George Carman succeed his billing as No Ordinary Man is fully justified. This unusual, uncomfortable journey through the life of a legal legend makes you pause for thought about what separates a good lawyer from a great one. Carman himself certainly knew the difference.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real life stranger than fiction 7 July 2006
When I heard George Carman on Desert Island Discs in 1990 I was disappointed how little he revealed about himself. So, apparently was Sue Lawley. Carman was like a witness determined to give nothing away under cross examination. The reason is revealed in this fascinating biography; Carman's private life was too desperately awful to be made public. So bad that it is astonishing that his high-profile career didn't implode under the weight of the sort of revelations that he was so expert at extracting from witnesses in court. It seems likely that Carman was a repressed homosexual. His only sexual contact with any of his wives appears to have been the minimum needed to produce a son. And yet he was anxious to be seen as a ladies' man and also to have a permanent female partner in life. A drunkard, serial wife-beater, intellectual and physical bully, and compulsive gambler, he earned more than a million a year at his peak and threw most of it away, staving off bankruptcy more than once by selling the family home. So disdainful of his own father that he had to be persuaded to attend his funeral yet making his son his principal confidant and almost a partner-in-crime.

For anyone who followed Carman's legal career in the media this book is a must-read to learn about the man behind the headlines. The facts portrayed are stranger than fiction and the description of Carman as "no ordinary man" is revealed to be a considerable understatement.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I for one couldn't put it down! 8 Oct 2010
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have to say that I found this one of those books that I found hard to put down. Whether that was because I come from a Police background and knew some of the QCs and Judges names or not I don't know but I found the whole story of George Carmans life fascinating and at times it was ALMOST as if he was suffering from a split-personality disorder? He was a wife-beater, gambler,drunkard - almost to the point of being an alcoholic I would think - and womaniser but he was seemingly unable to perform the sexual act with any of his 3 wives on a regular basis? He was probably bi-sexual and he was the most-feared Defence Barrister and Cross Examiner in the land. Apart from including detailed accounts of some of Carmans more notable trials - Al Fayed, Branson, The Hamiltons, Taylforth to name a few, in my opinion Dominic Carman has written a "warts and all" account of his father clearly showing that he was incapable of being an "ordinary" loving family man and father figure like most children have to look up to. "George" couldn't give of himself that love that is required to nurture normal family life. And without doubt that "holiday" to Rome in 1938 when he was 8 years old was an event which contained a series of events that sealed how he was to behave towards his fellow human beings for the remainder of his life? I have NO hesitation in giving this review 5 stars. I really didn't want the book to end!
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating account of a courtroom star 15 Mar 2002
Like many people, my perception of trial lawyers is shaped by the small screen characters: Perry Mason, Rumpole and of course, Kavanagh QC.
But this remarkable biography of the real-life star of the bar, George Carman, is much more extraordinary than these fictional characters.
With good narrative style, Dominic Carman explains how his father carefully destroyed Aitken, Hamilton & Co while succesfully defending Fayed, Thorpe, Branson, Maxwell and Dodd. Some client list! As evident from the account of each trial, Carman lived for his victories. But beyond the well told and often racy accounts of these famous cases, we have a painfully and brutally honest story of Carman the man. The contrast of brilliant barrister with the lonely, desperate, confused and at times frightening person outside his work reminded me of some of the great Hollywood stars.
And perhaps Carmnna really was a performer in that mould rather than just a very clever lawyer. Certainly he comes across as a maverick on-off who wrote his own rule book of life in and out of court. My only regret at the end of this book is that I never had a chance to watch him in full flow, arguing his case with such style.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and eminently readable
This book is fascinating throughout, and I have read and enjoyed it a number of times. Dominic's ambivalence about his father shines through, and who better than him to give you... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Hilarion
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting book . . .
A very interesting read and a true no-punches pulled insight into the life of George Carman. Clearly a brilliant advocate but a deeply flawed human being. Read more
Published 21 months ago by smcardle
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and compulsive reading
This was a fascinating account of a complex, interesting man. As well as enjoying reliving all Carmen's legal case highlights, and the personal background to them, I was... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Karen Ludlow
5.0 out of 5 stars No ordinary man
I purchased this volume when my grandson stated that he was reading it. Having no knowledge of criminal law but considerable experience at a general secretarial level I read and... Read more
Published on 6 Dec 2011 by S. L. Franklin Evans
4.0 out of 5 stars Now I understand !
For some time I had heard that this was a biography that should be read but I couldn't understand why. After all lawyers are boring aren't they? Read more
Published on 6 Dec 2008 by D. W. Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars what's an ordinary man?
Reviewers of No Ordinary Man seem to make this biog a real love it or hate it effort. Whatever your view, Carman jnr's well crafted story of his father's life definitey makes you... Read more
Published on 17 Jun 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity
A fasinating and provocative subject but unfortunately a missed opportunity. Although Dominic Carman clearly tries to write a critical and objective account of his father he leaves... Read more
Published on 10 April 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars good read - shame about the subject
why do we like to read about people with problems? Well it seems that Carman as a graduate of the ''great talent and great problem school'' captivates us ordinary folk because he... Read more
Published on 4 April 2002
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