Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars The Making of London's Mayor, 12 July 2012
This review is from: Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson (Hardcover)
Boris Johnson's life already provides enough material for several biographies, which is fortunate as there'll likely be several written, probably including one by himself eventually. Andrew Gimson's has the advantage and the drawback of being the first.

What's clear is that Boris makes for an excellent subject - the book's packed with amusing (and occasionally head-slapping) anecdotes of the man. At a time when many politicians are terrified of appearing different, Boris has gone to the other extreme and prospered there, though not without incident along the way. Indeed, a less energetic, big-hearted and at times shambolic individual couldn't have survived what Boris has surmounted.

Little dates as quickly as a biography of a man or woman on the up. Inevitably, if their greatest achievements are still to come, those events will not be in it; if the subject's already passed their peak, the book merely becomes a study of wasted talent. In this case, the biography, begun in 2004 and completed in 2006, leaves Boris in a state of limbo - overtaken by Cameron in the leadership stakes but before he finds his considerable niche as mayor of London.

All histories, including biographies, tend to be influenced by the fact that the reader and the author knows something that the actors in the book didn't: what comes next. One reason that it's an interesting and potentially valuable book is precisely because Gimson didn't and couldn't know that. Any newer biography would undoubtedly pay more attention to David Cameron having been a near contemporary at Eton and Oxford, and less to scandals that didn't turn out to be as significant as thought at the time. They'd also make reference to Ken Livingstone - Boris' future opponent: Gimson mentions neither him nor the position of London mayor once.

Gimson's style of writing adds to the immediacy of the work. It doesn't read like a traditional biography - the author is not a remote narrator but is frequently present within the text, whether as interviewer, observer or participant in the story. As such, it feels more like an extended article within a magazine or periodical, as well as adding a little warmth to it all. Gimson also sometimes drifts into the present tense - extremely unusual for a biography and a factor that reinforces it being a work of the moment.

Less appealingly, Gimson is rather too fond of telling the reader what to think, or at least, what he thinks about Boris and his behaviour. He'd have done better to leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from the evidence he presents.

All in all, it's a decent book; generally well written and researched and one that never pretended that it would (or could) be the definitive life of Boris Johnson. Even as newer biographies bring the story up to date, this is still worth a look through both because Boris' character is unlikely to change and this is an excellent study of how and why he is who he is, and because it's unsullied by a then-unknown future and so brings a perspective later works won't.
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