Category Archives: Book Review

David Bowie – A Life


David Bowie – A Life
By Dylan Jones
Preface Publishing – £14.99

He was very disappointed in his relationship with Lou Reed because Lou Reed was such a cunt.

          Hanif Kureishi
          (‘Jamming Good With Weird And Gilly’)

The trilogy – Low, Heroes, Lodger – changed my life forever. In adjusting myself to the methodologies that were used, and the new form of freethinking, and linear thinking that I was exposed to, it changed me. They taught me that every time I came back to David, I needed to change. He wanted R&B, rock and roll, electronic music, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, romantic music. Stir the pot and out comes the Thin White Duke. He was such a restless person. He didn’t like being comfortable. Comfortable is genre-driven, and be careful, because it will outlive you and it will surpass you. David had a lovely saying, ‘Let go, or be dragged.’ He was David 2.0, 3.0. If I wanted five amplifiers, he’d get them for me. If I wanted to mike something differently, we’d do it. It was change, change, change. Bryan Ferry would introduce something and stay there. David would introduce something and leave it.

          Carlos Alomar
          (‘Sit In Back Rows Of City Limits’)

When he didn’t need you, he’d discard you.

          Trevor Bolder
          (‘Jamming Good With Weird And Gilly’)

David Bowie – A Life, sheds an abundance of luminary light by simply sharing (the many varying) literary trajectories of those who passed through it. From friends and former girlfriends to besotted long-time fans; from countless collaborators and former teachers; through to a menagerie of peers in (constant) waiting and inspired producers.

It’s all here: from lock, stock and the complimentary, right through to the dispelling of idiosyncratic myths. All sex and drugs and warts’n’all.

As such, each of the book’s thirteen chapters, take both the reader and the fan on something of a kaleidoscopic, roller-coaster ride through the countless changes and seismic stages of the artists’ life.

And what a life it was.

If there is one thing one can say about David Bowie, it’s that he most certainly and undeniably lived life to the full. If not – during the seventies at least – the extreme.

Without any shadow of the most remotest of doubts, artistically.
Most certainly socially.
As for sexually: ”I was a nymphomaniac at the time, and I suppose Bowie was a sex addict. He just had a good time. He may have intellectualised it, but it was really just sex. Lots of sex. You have to remember we were living through a sexual revolution. It seemed natural to me to have as much sex as possible. You didn’t go to gyms so dancing and sex were our exercise. You could fuck your fat off. Sex was an act of rebellion at the time – fuck the Church, fuck the establishment. Let’s fuck.” Cherry Vanilla (‘So I Turned My Self To Face Me’).

As David Hepworth has since written with regards this book: ”Dylan Jones has assembled a brilliant cast of eyewitnesses to create a gripping, gossipy account of the world David Bowie came from, the world he helped shape and the way he managed his mystique to the end.”

It should therefore come as absolutely no surprise that throughout these 510 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, Chronology, Dramatis Personae and Index), one will invariably stumble upon an abundance of very readable, interesting material. Unlike the rather tedious, nigh unreadable piece of crap that was the self-penned, Rod Stewart biography, of a few years back. A story, that upon reflection, really ought to have been a gazillion times better than it was/is.

So far as this actual book is concerned, there are a number of great quotations from which to pick and choose – so many of which account for it’s prime validity.

Just the following alone from Rick Wakeman, places David Bowie – A Life, within the stately pantheon of must read books: ”’I want you to listen to these songs.’ And then he played ‘Life On Mars?’ and it was fantastic. It ticked every box. Great melody. Great chords, surprises, and then when you thought it was going to go to a certain place it went somewhere else. He was very good at that. When I asked him why he was playing his songs on a tatty old twelve-string guitar, he said ‘If it sounds good on this, think about what it will sound like with good musicians on good instruments.’ He said that too many people fool themselves by playing on great instruments, but it’s actually the great sound that they’re listening to” (‘So I Turned My Self To Face Me’).

Likewise, this rather melancholic, eye-opening quote from Bob Harris: ”Mick Ronson was fantastic in the studio, and while I know that David gets the production credit for Lou Reed’s Transformer, the hub of it was Mick. But because Mick was a modest sort of guy, really, despite the showmanship, he never really wanted to push anybody else out of the spotlight and claim it for himself. You can’t over estimate Mick’s contribution to the sound, the look, and the image of Ziggy Stardust. Much later I spent some time with him in Woodstock while he was hanging out at Bearsville Studios, and I got the sense that he felt very sad and disillusioned by the fact that David had moved on from him so comprehensively. I just felt he had this sadness about him, I think he found it very difficult” (‘Jamming Good With Weird And Gilly’).

Not to mention the following from fellow journalist, Charles Shaar Murray: ”David wanted to work with Lou again, but Lou was notoriously stingy about sharing credits, let alone royalties, and he didn’t want to write with him again. He had an auteur complex, and Bowie didn’t fit into that. Lou was a prime member of the awkward squad. He could lose a charm competition with Van Morrison” (‘Jamming Good With Weird And Gilly’).

I defy anyone to read this book and not be entertained, enlightened and enthralled.
Simply terrific.

David Marx




By Nick Ray & Ashley Harrell
Lonely Planet

When one thinks of Cambodia, one cannot help but slip into a certain mind-set of darkness and morbidity. What with The Killing Fields and the horrendous trajectory of everything that that entailed (and to a degree, still does), it might well become inadvertent second nature to completely dismiss the country.

Both out of hand and out of sight.

To be sure, an instinctive survivalist mechanism seems to invariably take hold; wherein places like Andalucia, the Norwegian Fjords or indeed, the Caribbean, seem far more preferable as actual holiday destinations.

There again, it all depends on what one is actually going on holiday for.
Everyone is different after all.
And as such, wants different things.
As this ”Best-Selling Guide to Cambodia” makes abundantly clear, there is something for everyone in the country: from culture vultures to adamant adventurists, from those (naturally) in search of history to – and dare I say it – children.

Yes, that’s right.
One wouldn’t perhaps normally (and understandably) associate the land responsible for the penning and the execution of Year Zero with children, but as the two authors, Nick Ray and Ashley Harrell explain, Cambodia’s capital city is a veritable playground of (perhaps hidden) sorts: ”With chaotic traffic, a lack of green spaces and sights that are predominantly morbid, Phnom Penh would not seem like the most child friendly. Think again, as there are plenty of little gems to help you pass the time with your children in the capital. Plus, most children love a remork-moto (tuk tuk) ride.”

Indeed they do. I (still) do!

While for the aforementioned culture vultures and those in search of the architecturally profound, Cambodia offers an abundance of, well, everything; as Messrs Ray and Harrell continue to make clear: ”One of the world’s most magnificent sights, the temples of Angkor are so much better than the superlatives suggest. Choose from Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building: Bayon, one of the world’s weirdest, with its immense stone faces: or Ta Prohm, where nature runs amok. The ancient Khmers packed the equivalent of all Europe’s cathedrals into an area the size of Los Angeles, so there are plenty of temples to choose from: the beautiful carvings of Bantaey Srei, the jungle ruin of Beng Mealea and the Mayan-style pyramid temple of Koh Ker.”

Hmm, ”the ancient Khmers packed the equivalent of all Europe’s cathedrals into an area the size of Los Angeles….”
Now there’s something to think about…

As is the relative norm so far as Lonely Planet Travel Guides are concerned, Cambodia’s 377 pages – excluding Index – covers not only a very wide terrain, but the correct terrain.
And therein lies the most distinct difference.

David Marx

The Painter’s Touch


The Painter’s Touch –
Boucher Chardin Fragonard
By Ewa Lajer-Burcharth
Princeton University Press – £50.00

But if luxury is to become personal, materialistic luxury, it must be predicated on an awakened sensuousness.

          Werner Sombart
          (‘Luxury and Capitalism’)

To achieve happiness, everyone has to grasp the type of pleasure that is proper to him.

          Therese Philosophe
          (‘Eros and Individuality’),

Nature has the same interest in perpetuating all species. She bestowed on each one the same motivation, which is pleasure.

          (‘Love and Life’)

The above three quotations will no doubt trigger a trajectory of accumulative thought within the great sphere of art and life and surely all things (or should I say, all varying aspects) that therein lie in-between.

Everything from lust to longing, hopelessness to happiness, and of course, individuality to inspiration.

The latter two, clearly being the key words at play here, as one can argue that the prime concern with individuality and artistic self-individualisation, lie at the very core of Francois Boycher (1703-1770), Jean Simeon Chardin (1699-1779), and Jean-Honore Fragonard’s (1732-1806) respective practices.

As much is steadfastly stated in the book’s Introduction, wherein Ewa Lajer-Burcharth nigh immediately writes: ”this does not imply, however, a return to the celebrity approach of the Goncourts. Individuality is considered not as a ”natural” effect of artistic talent but as a self-aware pursuit manifest in specific pictorial strategies and modes of operation.”

To be sure, one of the central themes of this unsurprisingly lavish book, is that all three artists recognised and self-consciously embraced the material, and rather, technical aspects of interpretation, as a means of self-definition. Or, as already touched upon, individuality. Though indeed, each pursued idiosyncratic interpretation for totally different reasons (and to varying degrees, in totally different ways).

In fact, it is precisely the material level of their actual production(s), that invariably brings The Painter’s Touch to the fore: ”Recognised as important already in their time, these artists were ”rediscovered” in the second half of the nineteenth century by the brothers Goncourt who championed their individual pictorial styles as the epitome of eighteenth-century art. Since then the three painters have entered the art historical canon. No survey of eighteenth-century art can be written without including a discussion of Boucher, Chardin, and Fragonard. Yet the position they occupy in the art historical narrative of the early modern period is odd, at once very prominent and under-defined. This is largely due to the fact that the models of analysis that served to construct this narrative do not easily accommodate these artists’ work. Neither stylistic, nor semiotic, nor socio-cultural criteria that have been used to situate these painters in the accounts of the artistic culture of their time have rendered justice to their individuated modes of practice and their importance as such.”

Until now.

In three distinct parts: Boucher’s Tact, Chardin’s Craft and Fragonard’s Seduction, The Painter’s Touch is without doubt, the most substantial account of the above touched-on practice. Apart from being an altogether wonderful book to behold, these 237 pages – excluding seven pages of colour plates at the very outset, Acknowledgements, the most comprehensive of Notes, Bibliography and Index – are almost perfectly presented.

Along with a terrific cluster of black and white etchings and engravings by way of an assortment of pen with brown ink, blister wash, black, red and white chalk(s), not to mention stumping(s) on gray brown paper; the book also contains an abundance of exquisite, colour plate reproductions of all three of the painters’ work.

And it is (fundamentally) here, where the reader/participant is essentially transported unto another place. A place of random undertaking and free-form beauty; which, after all is said and scientifically dissected, bequeaths the viewer with a certain exquisite innocence.

A quality that is all but elaborated upon throughout this overtly beautiful book.

For instance, in relation to three of Jean-Simeon Chardin’s paintings (Turnip Scraper, La Pourvoyeuse and The Diligent Mother ) in Chapter Two’s ‘Underneath the Visible,’ the authoress writes: ”What do we make of the scene of distance, detachment, or distraction that so consistently mark the women featured in Chardin’s genre scenes? To my mind, these symptoms signal a lack of internal content, a dimension of blankness or negativity within the self. The inert Turnip Scraper and the distracted mother are figures of subjective evacuation; it is not only silence or a retreat from language, but a kind of emptiness, an absence of of inferiority that they convey.”

Lajer-Burcharth – who is the William Dorr Boardman Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard University, and whose books include Chardin Material and Necklines: The Art of Jacques-Louis David after the Terror – further concludes by asking: ”What is the nature of this subjective experience that is based on the subject’s absence?”

Vivid hallucination (as remarked upon by Norman Bryson)?

Either way, The Painter’s Touch is a first-class re-assessment of three totally unique, top-noth, terrific painters. It is as such, a book that stands entirely alone.

David Marx


The Canary Islands


The Canary Islands
By Lucy Corne
Lonely Planet – £12.99

”Looming volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls, lava fields and trails of camels loping into the sunset…Those who love the Canary Islands know there is a captivating flip side to those seafront resorts”

         Josephine Quintero

There are few destinations as underrated and maligned as the Canary Islands. My first real encounter, working in a Gran Canaria resort, wasn’t the best introduction to the islands’ scenic and cultural wealth. But on escaping I found dramtic mountains, quaint pueblos and charming seaside villages. I was enamoured with the underdog archipelago and moved there soon afterwards. For years I explored every island and was wowed – and wooed – over and over. On returning for this book I fell in love with the islands again. And when you hike through Tenerife’s lava fields, drive Gran Canaria’s central mountains or enjoy a plate of cheese in a hilltop puebleo, I suspect you might fall in love too.

         Lucy Corne

If the above opening quotes don’t wet your appetite to visit the very varied, yet captivating Canary Islands, then I really I have to say, I don’t know what will. For if nothing else, this sixth edition of Lonely Planet’s introduction to the archipelago will no doubt entice unto the point of forget-me-not-longing.

With the Canary Islands consisting of seven separate islands (La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura), this altogether self-explanatory travel Guide is also divided into seven prime sections; each of which bequeaths the would-be traveller with an account of each individual island’s own unique flavour.

Having recently visited three of the islands myself – La Palma, Gran Canaria and Tenerife – I have to say, The Canary Islands captures the divine delights of each one perfectly.

The latter especially, where authoress, Lucy Corne writes: ”Tenerife is the striking (and slightly saucy) grand dame in the archipelago family. Attracting over 10 million visitors a year, the island’s most famous southern resorts offer Brit-infused revelry and clubbing, combined with white sandy beaches and all-inclusive resorts. But step beyond the lobster-red tourists and what you’ll find is a cultured and civilised island of extraordinary diversity.”

Indeed you will.

But so far as the island’s capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is concerned, there’s a quintessential (and alluring) cultural persuasion at play. A mere stone’s throw from the quayside for instance, I immediately stumbled upon an exhibition of Picasso’s Guernica, which, given the fact that I was there a mere couple of days before Christmas, was a most inviting, not to mention welcoming in-take, of much needed fresh air.

To be sure, said exhibition at said time of year, really does underline the following: ”Don’t bypass the bustling capital, the port of Santa Cruz, in your haste to reach the beaches. This good-looking and wholly Spanish city is home to evocative, brightly painted buildings, sophisticated and quirky shops, excellent museums, a show-stopping auditorium, and a tropical oasis of birdsong, fountains and greenery in the city park.”

All true. I have countless photographs (”of evocative, brightly painted buildings”) to prove it! That said, I unfortunately never got to visit Tenerife’s La Laguna’s Historic Old Quarter; which, if this most trustworthy of guides is anything to go by, remains a mighty shame.

Apart from the fact that each of The Canary Islands (individual islands) benefits from an abundance of unique information, there’s a worthy section towards the back of the book, simply entited: ”Understand the Canary Islands.” A section, which I can only describe as an acute and articulate assimilation of the aforementioned ”archipelago family” wherein Corne writes: ”Tourism continues to represent an essential pillar of the Canarain economy and, in 2014, reached an all-time high with the number of foreign tourists holidaying here peaking at just over four million (some 20 per cent of the total number of visitors to Spain). This is all the more impressive as, during the economic crisis of 2009-10, tourism dropped significantly.”

With an A-Z Directory, there are also sections on Transport and Language; along with Itineraries, Need to Know, Travel with Children and Regions at a Glance. Admittedly, there’s not loads of photos (well, not any), but the oodles of information and really helpful maps more than makes up for this.

Thus making for an all round superlative, literary fountain of captivating wisdom.

David Marx


Matisse and Decoration


Matisse and Decoration
By John Klein
Yale University Press, New Haven & London – £45.00

The decorative for a work of art is a very precious thing. It is an essential quality.

          Henri Matisse, 1945

Matisse’s impulse to decorate began in his uncle’s dining room and ended in a distant chapel he never saw. In between he stumbled over stained-glass window design (but later succeeded brilliantly); decorated other dining rooms and, over and over, his bedroom; considered the illustrations for his most influential book a failure; more than once sabotaged a major project through inattention to basic details; helped to revive a moribund French luxury textile industry; and elevated a shoebox to the level of sacred art.

          John Klein, 2018

There’s something about the work of Henri Matisse that is so silently and undeniably optimistic – if not uplifting – it’s exceedingly hard, if not nigh impossible to qualify in words. Apart from being inadvertently drawn in to the work(s) themselves – obviously some more than others – one cannot help but occasionally veer towards a systematic re-evaluation of the medium within which he clearly excelled.

While paying homage to said medium, Matisse and Decoration does just as much to beguile the art lover into once again, re-evaluating all that they thought they invariably knew about the artist. After all, one doesn’t often associate Matisse with the term ‘decoration.’ Yet between 1935 and his death in 1954, the artist undertook a vast array decorative projects and commissions. Among them: mural paintings, stained glass, ceramic tiles, lead crystal pieces and tapestries.
Even carpets.
Not forgetting fashion fabrics and accessories.
In other words, works which have received significantly little treatment; if not no association whatsoever.

In presenting a wealth of varying insights and unpublished material, including that from the artist’s own correspondence (which understandably, never fails to shed an assortment of more than interesting light); the internationally renowned specialist in the art of Matisse, John Klein, offers a fundamentally new, and what’s more, balanced overview of the artists’ quintessential ambitions and achievements, in the oft over-looked latter phase of the Frenchman’s career.

As much is only partially made clear by the second of the above opening quotations, although further substantiated when Klein continues: ”This impulse led to not only some of his most resounding triumphs but also agonizing setbacks from which, to his great credit, he almost always recovered to complete his task. Doggedness as much as inspiration contributed to his success as a decorative artist and a painter and designer of decorative works for architecture.”

As part of France’s renewed sense of cultural preeminence, this altogether exquisite book does much to open a window onto the revival and promotion of traditional French decorative arts following World War II. Indeed, for the first time, the idea of the decorative in Matisse’s work and the actual decorations he designed for specific settings, are herein integrated into one hefty, unrivalled and explanatory account.

Thus amounting to a far bigger understanding of this (still) modern-master’s work.

A work, which still to this day, remains simultaneously nuanced and acutely comprehensive: ”While it is the claim of this book that decorativeness, rather than a more visual attribute of Matisse’s art, is a quality embedded in his very idea of expression in all media, the notion of the decorativeness of Matisse’s art is contested. A popular conception may find his best-known paintings and paper cut-outs to be decorative, owing to their intense colour in often glorious combinations, and composition that forms a pleasing synthesis without being close enough to abstraction to require explaining. Other approaches are more nuanced. Until recently, more serious analysis of his work, expressed in art criticism, art-historical accounts and museum collecting practices, have made distinctions among different tendencies and periods in his work. These efforts tend to separate his decorative endeavours from what is claimed there to be his more central and self-defining activity as a painter, and to relegate to a separate category decoration in media other than oil painting” (‘The Decorative Aesthetic in Modernism’).

Perhaps by way of having been lavishly designed and compellingly put together – these 249 pages (excluding Notes, Select Bibliography, Photographic Acknowledgements and Index), really are something of an artistic, as well as literary gem. The former simply because it’s Matisse, the latter due to Klein’s unquestionable vast knowledge and inherent analysis. A quality, already made abundantly clear in the book’s overtly considered Introduction: ”One of the premises of this book, is that Matisse certainly designed architectural decorations as well as made designs for other purposes, which required him to think projectively, and consequently to separate conception from realization. Indeed, he could not avoid the separation, all the more because it was not he who wove the tapestry, blew the glass, or fired and assembled the ceramic tiles. He addressed this separation by typically (but not always) making a design the same size as the eventual decoration. But beyond the question of scale, there were still several challenges of projection, some of which he could not meet more successfully than others. Matisse’s designs moved from the intimate conditions of their creation in the studio into realms beyond his control, beginning with the processes of translation of his design and its fabrication (if that was called for). The design would be his, but the result was usually predestined for an array of ”others”: other materials; other places; other people (clients); other times (the future); other purposes (perhaps non-artistic).”

Along with such analysis, it really does need to be clarified that this book is beautifully presented; as scattered throughout, are colour reproductions of advertisements and brochures of Matisse’s work. For instance, on page 203 – directly opposite a colour reproduction of 1951’s Mimosa (wool and cotton woven accent rug) – are two such colour replica’s: one an advertisement of the Mimosa rug, while the other, the accompanying brochure thereof.

So in a way, there’s a certain amount of historicity taking place within these pages: ”Examining many little-known commissions, and in some cases their relative failure, Klein reveals a gradual change in Matisse’s response to the demands of his patrons, and to the various media to which he gradually submits. Matisse, a stubborn man, prone to dissatisfaction with the translation of one of his designs into a medium he did not directly control, learned how to take advantage of a given medium’s limitations. This arc is formidably traced in this book, radically changing our understanding of Matisse’s career.”

In and of itself, this might well be another worthy reason to investigate this finely nuanced (and again, wonderfully put together) book. Prime reason being, just its historical investigation alone, sheds new light and almost re-introduces Matisse as if a new artist.

To not only those already well versed in his work, but newcomers too.

Finally, written in not too high-brow a language (so’s to be utterly unattainable), Matisse and Decoration is within absolute reach of the average Joe Blow in the average museum. Thus, very much widening the spectrum of Matisse’s work and all that which he strove to achieve.

For this reason alone, this book is worth its artistic weight in sparkling French gold.

David Marx


Where We Are


Where We Are –
The State of Britain Now
By Roger Scruton
Bloomsbury – 16.99

As utterly insufferable as most of the ramblings of Sir Roger Scruton invariably are, I’ve always felt compelled to give him both the patience and the time of day. But lo-and-be-fucking-hold, there comes a point in any sane reviewer’s occupation, where surely enough has to (instinctively as well as intellectually) be enough.

The sublime pomp of Where We Are – The State of Britain Now, reads as if the singer Meatloaf has gone into a terribly ill-advised bout of political warbling.

Warbling, being the most apt, if not operative word here.

There isn’t a remote section within any of this book’s 227 pages (excluding Index), where Scruton – Professor of Aesthetics at Birkbeck College, London – doesn’t inexorably beat the reader over the head: over and over and over and over and over and over again…

Whether it’s page 12 (‘Our Country: Right Or Left’) where he writes: ”The history taught in my grammar school sixty years ago, was the ‘proud islanders’ version. After all, we had recently won (my italics) a difficult war against a dangerous enemy and in doing so had made the world safer for everyone, the Germans included.”

Hmm, so some thirty million Russian deaths – not to mention the colossal input of American, financial aid – contributed nothing to Britain supposedly ‘winning’ the Second World War?

Or whether it’s page 160 (‘The Impact of Globalization’) where he most bizarrely writes: ”The question has been planted in the hearts of disaffected Western Muslims by the messages beamed to them from outer space (once again, my italics), inviting ‘brotherhood’ for Allah’s sake. And after all the fragmentary responses it finds an answer at last in some spot of earth, where the brothers can come together in an act of sacrifice […]. Reactions to terrorist attacks also increasingly take the form of a reaffirmation of settlement.”

Hmm, sensible stuff, no?

As is surely self-evident, Scruton writes with about as much plausible and intuitively well informed literary finesse; as Tommy Robertson might, were he to attend a T.S. Eliot Convention on the Aesthetics of Poetry.

Hog-wash of the first order (M’Lord).

David Marx

A Certain Idea Of France


A Certain Idea Of France –
The Life Of Charles De Gaulle
By Julian Jackson
Allen Lane – £35.00

De Gaulle’s admirers have included both Henry Kissinger and Osama bin Laden. He has been compared by admirers and detractors to French figures as diverse as Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Richelieu, Henri IV, Louis XIV, Danton, Saint-Just, Napoleon I, Chateaubriand, Napoleon III, General Boulanger, Leon Gambetta and Georges Clemenceau; and to non-French figures as diverse as Bismarck, Franco, Kerensky, Mussolini, Salazar, Mao, Bolivar, Castro and Jesus Christ. The range of these comparisons reflects de Gaulle’s extraordinary contradictions: he was a soldier who spent most of his career fighting the army; a conservative who often talked like a revolutionary; a man of passion who found it almost impossible to express emotions.


De Gaulle may have had a certain idea of France ‘all his life’ but it was not always the same idea.


De Gaulle had genuinely convinced himself that it was his mission to introduce participation into French society, despite the fact that his way of exercising authority was the antithesis of participatory.

(‘The End, June 1968 – November 1970’)

During the Charles de Gaulle era, it could be argued that France was and quintessentially remained, a work in progress. A (working) prognosis of assumptive thought, fundamentally underlined by the many perplexing parameters of an idea. An idea, not only occasionally derided and deliberated upon within the seemingly impossible context of both persuasive and non-persuasive French politics itself – but the very rubric of a seemingly idealistic idea.

And regardless of anything other – such as irritating outside influence – the varying ideas and the utmost dense trajectory thereof, remained totally de Gaulle’s and totally De Gaulle’s alone.

After all, ”in the 1960s, when he was President of France, it was often said that he governed through the magic of his rhetoric and his mastery of television.” A quality, which (if true) may partially explain the country’s inexorable, political bumpy road, and its most fraught, internal passionate division – with which de Gaulle is still associated.

Indeed, a non-diversionary division, which de Gaulle was supposedly, so very capable of igniting among his followers and non-followers alike.

A quality, which as Julian Jackson makes clear right at the very outset of A Certain Idea Of France – The Life Of Charles De Gaulle, was overwhelmingly inflammatory to say the least: ”The extraordinary unanimity around de Gaulle in France could not have been predicted when he left power in 1969. It airbrushes out of history how much, throughout his career, he was a brutally divisive figure. During his thirty years in politics, de Gaulle was the most revered figure of modern French history – and the most hated. He was reviled and idealized, loathed and adored, in equal measure. Other twentieth-century French political figures have been hated but none with such intensity as de Gaulle. For some people hating him gave meaning to their lives; others were driven mad by it.”

Now there’s a certain calamity for thought.
Voltaire wouldn’t have been at all pleased.

Although when current French President, Emmanuel Macron, had his first official photograph taken, he had on the table behind, him a copy of Charles de Gaulle’s memoirs, the aforesaid division really does need to be placed into some sort of considered context.

As such, these 777 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, several pages of maps – among them, De Gaulle’s Paris and The Free French in London – Biographical Notes, Biographies, Notes and Index), are an altogether exquisite and rather erudite examination of one of the most towering figures in French history.

To be sure, many would no doubt argue the most towering figure; which , either way you choose to look at it, more than substantiates this veritable tomb of both book and analyses. Two reasons for the latter being the degree to which Jackson was given unrestricted access to new archives, and his altogether commanding knowledge of the period.

Just one example of this (and there are many) really does come to light throughout the book’s penultimate chapter – the afore-quoted ‘The End, June 1968 – November 1970’ – where Jackson resoundingly writes: ”[…] Nixon was accompanied by his main foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger, who had his first and only opportunity to meet the man on whom he had written so perceptively when still an academic:

Somewhat awestruck, I approached the towering figure. Upon seeing me he dismissed the group around him and, without a word of greeting…welcomed me with this query: ‘Why don’t you get out of Vietnam?’ I replied with some diffidence that a unilateral retreat would undermine American credibility. De Gaulle was not impressed, and asked where such a loss of credibility might occur. When I indicated the Middle East, his remoteness turned into melancholy and he remarked: ‘How very odd. I thought it was precisely in the Middle East that your enemies were having the credibility problem.”’

It is just such investigation which alerts the reader to the fact that A Certain Idea Of France – The Life Of Charles De Gaulle really is – in and of itself – something of a mighty achievement.

It’s designated five parts (‘De Gaulle before ‘De Gaulle,’ 1890-1940,’ ‘Exile, 1940-1944,’ ‘In and Out of Power, 1944-1958,’ ‘Republican Monarch, 1959-1965’ and ‘Toward the End, 1966-1970’) are profoundly revelatory in detail, and written in such a way as is almost impossible to put aside.

In conclusion, this is a tremendous modern biography of a man who both saved and remade France at nigh the same time. I therefore, wouldn’t be surprised if it re-sets the bar; due to quite possibly being the finest biography written on de Gaulle.

David Marx