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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So much more to give, 31 Dec. 2013
This review is from: A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries (Hardcover)
I have been reading Tony Benn's diaries for twenty years or more; it's a little sad to consider that physical frailty has meant the end of his diaries when there is so much intellectual life left in the man and so much left to share. You would expect the final volume, written by a man in his eighties, to be the work of a spectator. In fact, he makes strenuous efforts to be at the centre of things by keeping his friendships with key figures in good repair, making extensive use of his Commons pass years after resigning his seat.

Because he dictates his diaries at the end of each day, before committing them to paper, this is as raw as it gets. When he forgets a name, however notable, he just leaves it in there. Because we are being provided with a largely unedited stream of consciousness as the thoughts pass through his fatigued brain last thing at night (he rises at 5 most mornings), all of the contradictions are very much on display, provoking raw reactions in the reader too, as no doubt intended. I felt frustration at the author as he reacted to the detention of a teacher, imprisoned by an Islamic regime for the naming of a teddy bear, by merely criticising the extent of the press coverage and how well the poor woman was treated in prison. No questions are asked about whether or not she was given a fair trial by a jury of her peers - of course she was not. By contrast, he campaigns tirelessly against detention without trial of terror suspects in the UK. Ours is not to ask how Sinn Fein and Hamas, both of which he champions and admires, would fare if held up to the standards he demands of a Western democracies when lamenting the decline of 'civil liberties' in the West. When he marvels at technological advances and the low cost of shopping at Tesco, you wonder if he asks himself whether all of this would be possible if goods and services were nationalised and provided by a cooperative state, in consultation with strong trades unions.

The reason these thoughts do not detract from my pleasure in the book is that the book puts all of these views out in the open, hiding nothing. The more he puts out there, the more food for thought he throws out to the reader. All of these questions are meant to be asked of him, and he answers those which he chooses to answer and not others. The phrase I like best, used time and again is along the lines of 'I need to think more about this'. We are in a dialogue with someone thinking things through and speaking his mind as he does so; what more can we ask?
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