Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 01 March 1997
How to be a Minister by Gerald Kaufman (Faber, pounds 8.99) The Commons' best (and only?) expert on classic Hollywood musicals dusts down his 1980 primer on another kind of song-and-dance. Aimed at promoted party hacks with their hands on the Red Boxes at last, Kaufman's guide to survival in Whitehall advises office-holders how to stop the wiles of the civil service from turning them "into a pod straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Robust, witty and sardonic, his book only loses the plot in its dated anecdotes. Tales of Our Hero, in his glory days of the 1970s, trumping the Sir Humphreys to rescue a widget mill in Pontefract or Dewsbury have all the sepia charm of a Wakes Week photo album. Laugh? I almost went out for beer and sandwiches with the TUC.
Hungry Ghosts: China's secret famine by Jasper Becker (John Murray, pounds 13) The media requiems for Deng Xiaoping have given the impression that only the Tiananmen Square carnage seriously blotted the Great Reformer's copybook. Yet, in his loyal Maoist days of the mid-1950s, Deng helped launch the mis-named Great Leap Forward in the Chinese countryside. Botched collectivisation and Stalinist mumbo-jumbo dressed up as genetic science managed to ruin the rural economy. A staggering total of up to 30 million peasants may have starved from 1958 to 1962 in this, the century's worst man-made calamity. As for Deng, Becker's superbly researched and horrifying history shows that he did, in time, come to respect the damning evidence. He launched a campaign to reverse the deadly policies in favour of sane farming, made an enemy of Mao and so provoked his own disgrace during the Cultural Revolution. On Deng's part, the famine may count as a fatal blunder rather than a crime - but that made little difference to its victims.
The Unruly Queen by Flora Fraser (Papermac, pounds 10) Although there are sinister parallels between our current version of the Princess of Wales and poor Caroline of Brunswick, whose fate it was to marry the Prince Regent in 1795 - they both suffered from crowded marriage syndrome, caused constitutional uproar by separating from their husbands and were suspicious of palace courtiers - Diana wins hands down when it comes to fashion. Caroline, as Flora Fraser notes in this excellent biography, was a short, dumpy sloven who owned nothing but coarse petticoats, wore her stockings inside out and, on the eve of her wedding, had to be given "some frank instructions about her washing habits" by Lord Malmesbury. It's hardly surprising that Caroline finally took revenge on her adopted country, attempting to storm Parliament during the Coronation and asking while on a visit to inspect the maimed pensioners at Greenwich Hospital: "Do all Englishmen have only one arm or leg?"
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for beauty pageant
- 2 Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
- 3 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians