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VINE VOICEon 20 September 2011
Were you to have asked me, prior to reading this book, who was my favourite political biography, I would have replied, Chris Mullin. The reason for that choice was based upon the fact that here was a man who could laugh at himself, as well as others. Mullin has no pomposity and the same can be said of Alistair Darling. The advantage which Darling holds over Mullin is that he held a senior government position (Chancellor of the Exchequer) during a significant historical era (the financial crash of 2008).

It is refreshing to read a political biography in which the main character was not the only person who realised, the exact situation, from day one, and how it should be handled. Alistair Darling is generous with his praise and quick to acknowledge the input of his colleagues, even when they are not bosom buddies.

Reading this book made me realise just how serious the banking crisis had been. One of the great problems with life today, when news is to hand twenty-four hours a day, is that a news programme needs sensation. Everything becomes the most serious crisis that man has ever faced and, naturally, the listener becomes blasé. Darling's book is written in a much more modest style and so, when he paints a picture of near collapse, it is so much more chilling. The section dealing with the banks is more gripping than any financial thriller that one may have read. Darling is honest enough to admit that nobody, himself included, really knew how to deal with events and leads us through the path that he, and Gordon Brown, took to reaching an effective course of action.

Darling is also of great interest when dealing with the Labour Party leadership. He served at close quarters with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He does not make one into a saint, and the other into a sinner, as so many of these biographies have. His account of the Brown government is particularly valuable. Gordon Brown is something of an enigma: he is obviously intelligent, clearly not strong upon personal relationships and he undoubtedly had some bad luck. Darling adds to this by showing a certain level of paranoia. Brown seems to have genuinely believed that the Treasury was trying to bring down his premiership: were I to be a psychologist, I might suggest that this was a guilt complex brought about by his clear attempts to topple Tony Blair from this branch of government. But, I am not, and so I wont!

This book was one of the lower key releases subsequent to the demise of the Labour Government. I believe that, in the long term, it will be considered one of the most significant. Anybody interested in the World financial situation, or the British Labour Party, will find this book demands a place of pride upon their bookshelf.
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on 30 October 2011
Alistair Darling provides a straightforward and readable digest of his time at number 11 in which he bares all about his experience of working with a difficult, indecisive and paranoid Gordon Brown. Darling comes across as a sober, if sometimes dull, politician whose heart appears to be in the right place and who is keen to do the right thing not just for his party but for people in general. He sets the record staight too about the inheritance he left behind and how Labour have failed to portray how well they dealt with the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. A damn good read with much less of the hubris in evidence that you usually have to put up with from political memoirs.
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on 8 September 2011
This is a view of the financial meltdown from a man right at the very heart of it. There are good books that pull together facts from interviews and other sources (I recommend Too Big to Fail: Inside the Battle to Save Wall Street thoroughly), but this view from someone on the inside was what compelled me to read.

Much has been in the media of the relationship with Gordon Brown, and the criticisms Darling has for his boss, but the book contains much more than that. Darling is both frustrated and filled with contempt when the bankers can't quite grasp the situation they are in and the lengths the Government have to go try and clean up their mess. He is lucid about the stress of the situation that he is put under, from the lack of sleep to the strains of dealing with the media and his own people. And yes, he is candid about Gordon Brown's leadership - particularly about the strain of the "election that never was".

Don't get me wrong - I don't particularly like the way this has come out. Couldn't he have said something at the time? Done something different? Had more backbone? I don't know. Suffice to repeat my old Grandad's phrase - "you make your bed, you lie in it". Despite that, I found it to be a good read - I'm not usually into books from politicians but the writing style is good and it flows well.
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on 11 January 2012
It is certainly part of the motivation for buying this book to get a view from the inside of dealing with the then prime minister Gordon Brown. Darling has taken advantage of this and uses the opportunity to tell us about various events and how he dealt with them.
One gets the impression that he was driven mostly by what his civil servants told him he had to do. His part was to find a meeting point between what his advisors told him and what Brown wanted. This was the root of the tension between the two men: Darling wanted to run his department efficiently according to his own values, while Brown was desperately trying to find something to boost his popularity. This created a leadership vacuum which was filled by the civil service - but leadership is not what they are there to do.
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on 16 November 2011
Really enjoyed this book. A few days of holiday reading and it kept me gripped thru til the end, what it did tell me was that Darling was a grafter, he glued the Labour financial programme together in the last few years of the administration and importantly, helped the UK thru some very trying times. A lot of respect for this man, who comes across as a genuine and honourable man.

Well recommended if you want to learn more about economics and politics...
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on 14 October 2011
I enjoy reading political memoirs - particularly when there is some score settling to be done! I was never impressed with Darling's performances at the despatch box but in the book he comes across as a basically decent bloke trying to do a decent job in the face of a mounting and horrifying crisis. Most of us were aware of Gordon Brown's 'dark side' from other reports and Darling only reinforces the image most of us have of him and his team. More interesting is the insight in to Darling's view of Mervyn King and the fact that he was allowed to keep his job only because they could not find anybody better to do it. On the negative side there is a little bit of 'nothing to do with me guv' about the roots of the 2008 financial crisis precipitated in the UK by the Northern Rock debacle and, from a former member of the Treasury team AND Chancellor that is a little hard to swallow. Well worth a read
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on 12 September 2011
Misled by pre publication hype, I rather expected to get several hundred pages of Brown bashing! Certainly Darling paints an unflattering picture of the former Prime Minister, the temper, outbursts and inability to act as a team player we knew about, but Darling tells us more.'It was obvious to me even at this early stage in his premiership that there was no sign of clarity or direction' Damning words indeed and Darling goes on 'It was all about tactics rather than strategy.'
The book is a careful and detailed analysis of the banking crisis in Britain from the near fatal collapse of Northern Rock and RBS. Musing wryly, as he prepares to pour public money into this ailing bank, Darling comments that some of his Labour predecessors would have loved doing this to a bank. We are told all the details of this terrible crisis which led us to a breath away from finding all cash points closed down. Darling takes us up to, but does not dwell on, the election of 2010. He claims that Labour lost'because the public did not believe that we dealt with the economic crisis as well as we should have done.' You like me, may believe there was more to it than that.
The book is not as gossipy as Mandelson's nor as adolescent and celebrity/media obsessed as Campbell's and so in some sense it is not such a good read. I am not any kind of economic expert, but the prose was clear enough for me to follow what went on in these turbulent times. It is a valuable addition to the chronicles of New Labour
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VINE VOICEon 13 September 2011
Perhap like others, I was drawn in by the pre-publication publicity that that we might get a bit of a political block buster. Having read it in one go (illustrating that at least it is well written) it is more about the banking crisis than politiics, though politics is interspersed and the last chapter of the book is all about politics.

We knew that he had fallen out with Gordon Brown (of whom we learn little more than others have said already, albeit this being a bit more personal). Overall this book appears to be an attempt to preserve the record of the final Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last administration in the face of what seemed like an all-or-nothing gamblers approach to the country's finances in order to win the 2010 election and the personal efforts he deployed in his attempts to dissuade those that were bettnig everything on "Red". However even if he had fallen out the sub-text of the book is that of a committed Labour Party poltician and he considers that the other parties are lesser creatures.

At the time Alistair Darling came across as a decent sort of guy, and to some extent this book confirms this impression. Some of the asides revealed a man whose head had not been turned by the trappings of power and (unusual for a politician) seemed more concerned for the fortunes of the country though obviously based on a left-of-centre analysis, than his personal position.

Never mind Gordon Brown, and while he's not a fan of George Osborne either - the politician who got many mentions and never flatteringly is Vince Cable.
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on 21 July 2014
As of 2014, Alistair Darling is comfortably occupying the position of least worst chancellor of the 21st century and this book, focussing largely on his three years at No. 11 is a gem. Half of it is given over to pooterish musings, the rest to hard economics but at no point do the joins show. Unusually, for a New Labour autobiography, this doesn't read like apologia. Instead, and rather remarkably, this is a proper memoir. Darling describes events, without embellishment, as he experienced them. There's no fat here, and no self-justification. Instead, we get a first hand account of what it was like to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the worst financial crisis in eighty years. None of this would matter if the book were badly written, but it isn't. One might expect Darling, a career politician, to know how to string a narrative together but this is as well-plotted as many novels.

At the time of my submitting this review, Darling is making a pig's ear of the 'No' campaign in the Scottish indepependence referendum, Astonishingly, he might yet need to be bailed out by his old boss who at least seems to be making a bit of an effort. It's surprising, as Back From The Brink proves Darling is a good egg who can string an argument together. Whatever the outcome of that debate, however, Darling can take some satisfaction from having written what is presumably destined to become a seminal piece of source material for students of the credit crunch.

Etienne Hanratty: Don't Carp, Marley Tiffin
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on 25 March 2013
This firsthand account of what it was like to be in the eye of the financial storm that engulfed the economies of the developed world between 2007 - 2010 is a timely reminder of what the real causes of the financial calamity we're currently experiencing actually were, and it gives the lie to the Tories' claim that the whole situation was the fault of the last Labour Government when, in fact, it was the unregulated financial misdemeanours of the likes of Dick Fuld, Adam Applegarth and our own dear sir, now plain ordinary, Fred Goodwin who believed that risk in financial markets could be quantified and minimised, if not actually abolished, and also the fault of financial institutions encouraging people who couldn't afford them to take on mortgages because the bull market in housing was going to last forever. They were encouraged in this belief by the ratings agencies who gave this tomfoolery triple 'A' ratings. Alastair Darling gives us a glimpse of how close the economy came to having cashpoints seizing up because the financial situation of many banks was dangerously close to the abyss. The book is written in an easy style, affording anyone with minimal knowledge of how economies and financial institutions work to understand the real causes of the financial storm still engulfing us. Jargon is kept to a minimum and the book flows from Darling's arriving at the treasury to handing over to the hapless Gideon Osborne in May 2010. If you want an insiders view of how a credit crunch arises and what almost became financial armegeddon, this book is timely and instructive.
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