Saturday 08 February 1997
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner (HarperCollins, pounds 9.99) If Darian Leader treats psychology as an art, the American Howard Gardner takes a comparatively plodding approach in his "scientific" analysis of leadership qualities. His potted biographies of eleven 20th century leaders - including Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher and Jean Monnet, but not Hitler, Lenin or Mao - are interesting enough in themselves, but have you wishing for more depth and detail. Likewise, Gardner's theory that what a successful leader needs above all else is a strong "identity story" seems far too universalising and reductive. Compared, say, to Alan Bullock's magisterial double biography of Hitler and Stalin, this is thin and unconvincing.
The Vintage Book of Love Stories edited by Helen Byatt (pounds 7.99) This is a superb anthology. Not only are the stories all top notch in quality; they also sit well together, creating a volume which crackles with contrast and diversity. The range of literary styles is matched only by the range of emotions which are offered up as constituting "love". Highlights include an unusual Pre-Raphaelite romp by Robert Louis Stevenson, set in the middle ages; Elizabeth Taylor's poignant, Brief Encounter-style tale of middle class adultery; Angela Carter's carnivalesque "Puss-in-Boots"; and Sylvia Townsend Warner's daring account of incestuous passion.
The Statement by Brian Moore (Flamingo, pounds 5.99) This short thriller, which probes deep into the murky recesses behind the glossy facade of modern France, will hook those who usually detest the genre. After being protected for four decades by far-right elements in the Catholic church, Pierre Brossard, a collaborator, becomes the quarry of both a mysterious retribution group and a state investigator. As each struggles to reach him first, wartime evils re-emerge, alongside the ancient tension between church and state. Not a word is misplaced in this masterly novel.
The Fatal Englishman by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, pounds 6.99) The subjects of this triple-decker biography have several factors in common. They were brilliant middle-class boys who were all damaged in some way - painter Christopher Wood by polio and opium-addiction, airman Richard Hillary by a horrific crash, and journalist Jeremy Wolfenden by alcoholism. All three died between the ages of 22 and 31. This common tragedy brings the authorial advantage that they can be conveniently compressed into a single volume. In fact, there's no great lesson to be learned from yoking them together, but their brief lives were packed with interest and shared a very un-English intensity. Surprisingly enjoyable despite its dark theme.
Our Lady of the Potatoes by Duncan Sprott (Faber, pounds 6.99) Like Louis XV, we are seduced by the sprawling female in Boucher's soft-core portrait which glows on the cover. Sprott has written a picareque yarn based on the life of Marie-Louise Murphy, daughter of an Irish cobbler, who was briefly taken up by the Sun King and installed in the squalid luxury of Versailles. Written without sentimentality (the damp silk on which "Morfi" posed for Boucher was "alive with bugs"), this enthralling narrative culminates in the ageing heroine coming within a hair's breadth of the guillotine.
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