Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
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?"
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Mal Peet dead at 67: Tributes to children's author who was 'universally adored'
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin