RECORD PLAY PAUSE by Stephen Morris

Stephen Morris never really got on with formal education. You’ll discover the extend of his aversion to the classroom through the early part of this excellent memoir. That he writes with a wit, with a passion and with aplomb is down to his passion for reading I reckon. He spent many an hour in his youth in libraries, book shops and, of course, record stores. But not so much in school! His love of music is maybe predictable but the extent of his passion for literature came as a pleasant surprise.

I ordered Record Play Pause after hearing Morris on Radio 4’s A Good Read. He impressed me with his enthusiasm and critical commentary on the books being discussed. Through this BBC podcast, he introduced me to the (very) leftfield world of author David Keenan (read my review of Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device here).

All of which meant I was very much looking forward to creasing the spine of Record Play Pause.

Well, what a joy this book is. There is always a level of trepidation when turning the first page of a memoir (or autobiography). How many are launched in hardback and given as Christmas presents – selling in large numbers simply because of the name on the front? Too many I reckon, and a large proportion will be dry, bland, descriptive affairs destined to gather dust and never be read.

I needn’t have worried. The attention to detail which we all enjoy so much in his musicianship is on display here in his words too.

There is a humble self awareness about Stephen Morris, which is comes through wonderfully on the page. Here we follow his childhood, teenage years and the all too short career of Joy Division (Morris is promising a Part II which will take in the New Order era), the book combines his determination to follow his dreams with a darkly humorous catalogue of mistakes and mishaps.

It would have been easy (and lazy) for him to let the narrative follow the life of Joy Division’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis, leaving Morris playing a secondary role – the mass media only ever mention Curtis and one particular Joy Division song (Love Will Tear Us Apart) – so he could have ‘cashed in’ on that angle of the story. Not a bit of it, this is the world of Stephen Morris through the words of Stephen Morris. Given the beautiful way with language the man has, my library of musical memoirs is so much richer because of this book.

The sad suicide of Ian Curtis is dealt with tenderly but without gushing romance. Morris’ fondness of his friend and bandmate comes through in the passages around the time of Curtis’ death. It is dramatic and a turning point in all the band member’s lives, but I like the way the author shows us that moment in time without melodrama nor voyeurism. He pulls no punches but also doesn’t add any unnecessary band-standing to the story.

I could claim that the book will appeal to everyone, whatever your musical tastes, age, or your record buying history, but that may not be completely true. It would more than stand up alongside any other autobiography of a musician trying to find his way in the world, but I found myself nodding along as Morris reminded me of bands and venues as well as music press and radio which have also featured in my life when I was a young man. Without these reference points, the reader might possibly become lost in the chronology. That said, because of the popularity of New Order, and the legendary status of Joy Division, I’m sure nearly everyone will enjoy the story.

Anyone with even a passing interest in music (and a love of the written word) will finish this book enriched. The very northern, very ‘real’ nature of Joy Division and their association with the emerging Factory Records and the legendary Hacienda night club is told in eloquent and honest detail.

Stephen Morris writes in a coy, subtly humorous and thoughtful voice which is a delight to read.

I heartily recommend this book and eagerly await Part II!

FRANCIS PLUG: HOW TO BE A PUBLIC AUTHOR by Paul Ewan

Regular readers (for there are a few!) might remember that I made a few pledges in my manifesto for 2021. One of those pledges was to keep buying books from independent publishers. I chose this beauty from Gallery Beggar in January. Like a full roast dinner I wasn’t put off by it’s size and woofed down all 300 pages in a couple of days.

Paul Ewan has created the fictitious Francis Plug and tells the tale of learning about how authors behave in public through Plug’s eyes. On the front cover The New Statesman declare it “a comic masterpiece”, and I’m not going to argue. From quite early on I found myself irritating my wife as I burst out laughing. Francis Plug isn’t so much a car crash waiting to happen, as constantly in the middle of one. On more than one occasion I found myself looking away from the page cringing as it became apparent what inappropriate questions Plug was about to ask.

Ewan pulls off a neat trick – quite early into the book I was living the story, I’d forgotten that Plug was a creation. He attends literary events, armed with a copy of each author’s Booker Prize winning novel and attempts to get them signed whilst observing the writers’ behaviour, attire and manner. All of this is research for the book he’s writing, How To Be A Public Author. Which, of course, is the book you are reading. Even though it is fictitious. For me, Paul Ewan has been fiendishly clever in making Plug believable – there are pictures of dedications to Francis Plug at the start of each chapter and Plug’s behaviour plays little tricks with the narrative in relation to each author. Or rather Ewan does.

He attends some events as a genuine ticket holder, others he simply waits outside for the signing and others still he enters through devious and dubious means. The same goes for the books themselves, although I won’t spoil this brilliant little twist for you.

For sure it is a literary tale, there are anecdotes about 25 or more Booker Prize Winning authors, but the joke never tires because it is different every time. Parallel to Plug’s literary journey is the disintegration of the rest of his life. There are moments of poignant beauty alongside the humorous carnage. Plug is a lost and lonely soul and I couldn’t help but feel sad for him as his work and meagre domestic life start unravelling. The drink is never far away as he battles his own self-destruction. The ultimate goal is to culminate his research at the actual Booker Prize ceremony leaving him both able to complete the book and also prepare himself for when he is awarded the prize himself. He is happily deluding himself that this is a given.

Written in a such a way that I couldn’t help but march forward from chapter to chapter. Plug notices some charmingly obscure details in each of the surroundings he finds himself. He takes these little details and creates new behaviours for himself. Peeling stickers off the books on supermarket shelves to decorate the trolley handle, whilst adorning the books with labels he’s taken off the fruit. Maybe it’s just my humour, but those quirky anecdotes kept me smiling throughout the book.

My lovely wife Nicky has just started reading Wolf Hall and so I had to share with her Plug’s challenge that maybe Hilary Mantel had made up the name of the town where she lived, Budleigh Salterton, in order to throw people off the scent. A quite lovely scene.

Now that I’m working harder at my own writing I can only imagine the years which have gone into creating such a richly detailed tome, whilst retaining the light hearted romp through the literary world.

There is a sequel. It will soon be joining my ‘to be read’ pile.

If you’re interested in what else I’ve been reading have a gander here. Or for more reviews, why not feast your eyes here.

THE MOTEL LIFE by Willy Vlautin

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, reading books is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Unless, I suppose, if you only read one author in one genre of fiction. 

So, with Nicky having given The Motel Life an “It’s…… o…..k…” I thought I’d find out for myself. Some books have a build up – this was featured on Radio 4’s A Good Read and Benjamin Myers (one of my absolute favourite authors) described Willy Vlautin as one of (if not the) best American novelist around.

What is all the fuss about?

I’ll tell you, The Motel Life is a novel about life. About two brothers living on the margins of society. About rolling with the punches but also about being defeated by the punches. About loyalty, family, responsibility. About opportunity, but mostly about the lack of it. About guilt and a deep sense of right and wrong. About finding (or not finding) love. About pain.

Two brothers, surviving on the scraps thrown to them, go on the run after an error of judgement leads to a fatal accident. They then rummage through the mess of small town America. Our narrator, Frank, and his elder brother Jerry Lee (along with the dog they acquire along the way) bounce off a small cast of characters. They are far from simple, but their story is told with an uncomplicated delivery. 

Vlautin’s prose is personal, crisp and percussive – I could feel the rhythm of the story pulling me through the pages. I’m no American cultural expert, but The Motel Life could be an early Springsteen album. Jerry Lee drives the narrative – cracking the top off another beer and facing each challenge without a dramatic build up – and is a comfort to his brother as their luck deteriorates and a boost when good fortune comes their way. He also did that for me as a reader, Vlautin (through Jerry Lee) explores a persistent but fragile humanity which I felt obliged to believe in and left me needing to root for the brothers despite their desperate, poverty stricken cause.

Day to day life is often complicated for ‘normal’ people and Willy Vlautin demonstrates this with these naive but strangely determined brothers. I suppose you could call it Americana (it just wouldn’t fit set in my small town here in the UK) and for me it is an understated gem.

I absolutely loved it.

To see what else I’ve been reading, have a click here or for more reviews here.

The Human Son by Adrian J Walker

After reading the hundred year old dystopian classic, We, I thought I’d bring myself right up to date with the genre. I have previously devoured two of Adrian J Walker’s futuristic tales (The Last Dog On Earth and The End Of The World Running Club). Both were excellent page turners, emotionally charged and set against desolate, post apocalyptic landscapes. Was I hoping for more of the same? Another dystopian journey while our actual lives during the last year has at times felt like they are being lived in a bleak work of fiction, is that what I wanted?

I needn’t have worried. Walker’s latest opus (it was published during 2020) is not only quite different from other futuristic tales, but also a beautiful read.

At first glance there appears to be all the ingredients for a dystopia – 500 or so years in the future, the earth no longer inhabited by humans, but with this book we are almost immediately treated to some hope. The race (The Erta) who now sparsely inhabit the planet were originally one of the last human projects. A last ditch attempt to reverse human damage. Well over those few hundred years that is exactly what The Erta have achieved. So, unlike a typical dystopian, or science fiction tale, the earth is in fine fettle.

Why The Human Son? Well, The Erta decide that their work is done and an experiment should be carried out in trying to create Homo Sapien again in the form of one child, to see how he (for it is a boy, eventually named Reed) will respond and adapt.

Walker has an eye for the soul in his characters, and so Ima (chosen to be the boy’s ‘mother’) immediately had my backing in the project. The writing is almost poetic at times. The book became part of me for the whole read. I always know I’m enjoying a book when my phone goes untouched during my break at work. Or if I read a few pages while I cook.

With reference to some of the literature, journals and podcasts about literary fiction I’ve been consuming lately, The Human Son felt almost refreshingly light in its delivery. Not that it is lacking in any depth at all, just not trying to go beyond giving the reader the actual story. Despite this, there is nothing formulaic. Walker has created Ima to be ‘imperfect’ and the idea that the science of The Erta will trump the emotion of humanity is challenged throughout.

The Human Son is imaginative, but so much more too. The deeper I went in, the more I was getting out. I found myself using the book as a mirror too. The human behaviour which led to the earth reaching its tipping point in the book is going on all around us right now. This isn’t force fed by Walker, it is crumb fed. And that feels right. 

Sure it’s a climate emergency book, but it is also a study of how society can fall apart, how even a supposedly scientifically created race can lapse into factions and quarrels. Not only that, it is a wonderful study of parenthood, of childhood and coming of age. 

Boasting almost 500 pages, the book soon had me turning the pages and there is nothing daunting about the story. I’m finding myself tired of book labels – who decides what is genre fiction, or literary fiction? What I like about Adrian J Walker’s books is that he seems happy to be classed however the world of books decides. For me, his books are thrilling, exciting, dramatic and pacy, like any thriller. And yet, the levels of poignancy and moments of stillness lend his books an atmosphere of contemplation at times too. That particularly goes for The Human Son. Emotions are gently exposed and discovered as the truth of Reed becomes apparent to both him and Ima.

Walker also pulls off the trick of narrating in the first and second person – Ima is telling the story for Reed to find at a later date. This produces a little bit of clumsiness for me towards the end of the book, but not enough to put me off my reading pace. 

A fine read which had me asking myself plenty of questions about existence and truth.

I heartily recommend.

Please check out my previous book reviews, and my reading list for 2021. And if you’re really down with kids, why not have a gander at my Instagram Page too. 

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I posted a picture of this book on social media recently prompting a good friend to remark that he read it 50 (fifty!) years ago. And it was already nearly 50 years old by then. Written originally in Zamyatin’s native Russian in the 1920’s, it wouldn’t appear in print in his homeland until the 1980’s. There have been various translations over the lifetime of the book. My copy is the 1996 Clarence Brown translation, which seems to be universally acknowledged as faithful to the original.

Often, probably too often, We is referred to as the book which inspired George Orwell’s 1984. I don’t dispute the comparison, and the timing is certainly right, I’m looking forward to re-reading the Orwell classic to make my own mind up about this. As an aside, Aldus Huxley is rumoured to have been unlikely to have had a chance to read We before publishing Brave New World.

None of that mattered once I’d sat down with the book, it is a fine piece of stand alone literature. I’m a sucker for a good dystopia, but this is so much more than that. It’s more of an anti-utopia I reckon.

Set in One State, a world where nature and the ancient ways are excluded by a green wall. One State is ruled by The Benefactor, to whom all humans now both worship and service. It is narrated in the first person, by way of a series of written records to be carried to other worlds, by our protagonist, D-503 (people all have code numbers instead of names).

It is an intense read, it doesn’t have the grand gestures or jingoism of other dystopian fiction. The narrator gives us the story of rebellion and glimpses of past worlds (as well as the life still happening outside the wall) with a very personal, intimate and increasingly emotional delivery.

Like 1984’s Winston, D-503 is drawn into becoming involved with anti-One State thoughts by a woman. I-330, as she is known, is a corrupter, seducer but more, she is a leader, capable of influencing even the most loyal minds to follow her rebellion.

Often the prose is, to use modern slang, quite ‘naval gazing’ and, like I say, very personal to D-503. His mental health deteriorates and improves in waves as his loyalties are drawn from side to side. I sometimes found the abstract telling of his thoughts quite challenging and there was a bit of re-reading as I tried to uncover his motives.

I imagine generations of people have read We and used the story to hold a mirror to the fears of whichever time it was being read in. That the masses actually felt that One State was utopia, perhaps echoes the fears of what is sometimes imagined to be socialism, certainly communism. But, conversely, the tables could be turned and fears of a fascist state with a leader who can’t be removed are also here.

It would be churlish of me to expand further and spoil the plot. We is a powerful and deeply thought provoking book which does require the reader to get involved in order to enjoy its full impact. Don’t expect a racy, pacey, hard hitting dystopia, but do expect to be challenged and maybe need to look away occasionally as the text provokes your own reactions.

If I’m going to be ever able to say “I read We fifty years ago” I will need to live to an unlikely age…….

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan

What can I say? I read it in a couple of days, despite work etc, so I must have loved it! 

Let’s set the scene – a novel about the post-punk music scene in Airdrie (think early 1980s). But it’s entirely fictional. But told as a sort of documentary. But a documentary collated and curated by two (fictional of course) non-journalistic types. It is wonderfully chaotic.

Through conversations, interviews, letters and memories, the short life span of the band, This Is Memorial Device, is pieced together. There is no ordered chronology which seems to be pitched perfectly for the book. The level of detail in here kept me having to remind myself that it is indeed fiction. This includes a discography as one appendix, with a list of all the bands and derivatives, in Airdrie, during the period the book covers in another.

Like I say, it really is chaotic – a cacophony of random noise and an entourage of bizarre narrators, each offering their mostly psychedelic  takes on the music, the relationships and the band itself. These voices are friends, family members, lovers, members of other bands and the curators themselves. If you find yourself irritated by a narrator, fear not, there’ll be another one along in a minute. And then another, and then another……

Having briefly been in a band and enjoyed the interplay between the characters, I found myself smiling at some of the ensuing carnage. But this carnage is at a whole new level. As is the prose, this book will never be criticised for ‘descriptive’!

Pretty much all of the voices are a step removed from the physicality of what they are describing. There is so much psychological wandering with dreamy and figurative metaphor. Apart from the sex! The ‘cocks’, ‘scrotums’ and ‘tits’ are described in admirable detail. 

Honestly, I’ve never read anything like it. I bought into the story completely and devoured it in a couple of days. But you need to want to read it, you can’t just fall into it. I’m just glad my life has none of the random unpredictability the book describes.

If you’re looking for something new and completely different to challenge your reading brain, and maybe are of a certain age to appreciate some of the reference points in the book, I’d recommend giving this a whirl.

Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Matt Haig has cemented his place firmly in the nation’s hearts. Last year’s The Midnight Library was a huge best seller and a quite glorious read. I heard him recently on Radio 4’s Open Book talking passionately and eloquently about libraries which have featured in great literature. As I have discovered with Reasons To Stay Alive, Haig’s journey to revered author has been rocky to say the least.

I stepped back to 2015 and soaked up this clever, poignant and quite frankly, important book. Part memoir, part pocket guide, Reasons To Stay Alive is oozing honesty and charm. So much of what we read holds a mirror to our minds or guides us to a view through the open window. This does both.

. That’s a mirror I mostly avoid. As he points out repeatedly, it is good to remind yourself where you’ve been.

But I also found myself nodding and smiling, sharing with the author a passion for those great medicines for our minds – the outdoors, exercise, loving, reading and, of course, writing.

As Matt Haig himself explains, often authors explore their relationships with themselves, the world around them and their own mental through works of fiction. He cites his own novel, The Humans, as an example of this. But with Reasons To Stay Alive, the story is ruthlessly personal. That Haig can achieve this without any sense of ‘woe’ or self pity is testament to the quality of his writing.

The book is written in easily digested passages, switching between his own story, pointers to surviving our times and a series of checklists. The shifts in focus feel effortless as you move through the book. In fact, the brief snippets are clever antidotes to the tougher memoir passages. My favourite has to be the list entitled “Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression”

Reasons To Stay Alive is readable and relatable without ever being bossy. Yet it is full of great advice and nudges us towards accepting our own minds and their workings.

It should be a lazy cliche to describe it as ‘important’, but as an open and gentle guide to living life alongside our mental health, I reckon it really is.

It is a quick read and a ‘pocket sized’ book, but one that’s worth keeping to hand as one of our tools for navigating our way through life.

DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz

The sticker on the front of Angie Cruz’s 3rd novel informs me that it was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize For Fiction in 2020. Have a look, it is in fine company. I’m proud to have matured enough as a reader to no longer naively believe these female author’s books are aimed solely at women readers. Sometimes publishers can mislead with the colour schemes or cover art but, for me, a book is a book.

So what did I find when I turned back the cover to start Dominicana. Nicky (my gorgeous lady) had already had a great time getting lost in this book, so she was looking forward to seeing how I enjoyed it.

From the outset the story feels personal. Cruz drew on the experiences of her own Mother and other families to inform and inspire the tale. A fifteen year old girl in the Dominican Republic is found she is left with no choice but to say yes to a marriage proposal and head to New York. Ana, the main character, is hardly taken with Juan (her now husband), nor indeed with the prospect of life in New York, but she is fulfilling her whole family’s dream of immigration.

From the off, Angie Cruz shows Ana’s voice as tender and innocent to the greater world. The writing is crisp, direct and has a marvellous dark humour bubbling underneath it. Ana sees her sister fall in love and has her heart (and body) set on a tender local boy who seems set on loving her. These moments are dealt with brevity but also left me with a deep understanding of Ana’s heart as she prepares to leave.

The story of Ana’s life in New York, her marriage and her encounters as she finds her way is riveting. For a reader like me who enjoys a modern New York story it is a revealing insight into how the racial make up of the city evolved. it is set to the back drop of a civil war back home in the Dominican Republic and the aftermath of the killing of Malcom X which happened in the very street where Ana ends up living.

The story is intimate and at times torturous, a marriage of agreement played out in a city coming to terms with its changing demographic. The pains and betrayals are so cleverly portrayed through Ana’s eyes. I kept having to remind myself that those eyes were a mere 15 years old.

Beyond the small victories and defeats of Ana’s day to day existence in the 6th floor apartment lie the greater issues of family, of loyalty and of the lengths people will go to at the expense of others’ feelings. The story is set some 56 years ago but feels vibrant, fresh and important.

That Cruz has delved so deep into her own family’s history comes through in the narration, and the dialogue. Every word, every thought and emotion, are all so delicately paced in the text. I don’t doubt, as absorbed as I was in the book, I wore a slightly furrowed brow as Ana’s world became occasionally unbearable.

A fine book made even better for me (as an aspiring novelist) by the thorough list of acknowledgements and the history offered in the back. These give a great insight into the amount of work which goes into producing such a belting piece of fiction.

Honestly, have a read.

If you’ve enjoyed my review of Dominicana, why not spread the word?

See all my other book reviews and lists of what I read in 2020 and so far in 2021.

Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan.

On a day off work, with our exercise, work and dog walking done, we enquire of each other “are we in?“.

Yes we are!

Gentle music on, dog snuggled on the sofa, books out. Interrupted only by the need to eat.

Our two-people-and-a-dog-book-club goes from strength to strength.

We very often end up enjoying the same books. If we time it right, we simply swap as we both close the cover on our latest reads.

Nicky has recently enjoyed Strange Flowers and was fairly certain I would too. “Quite different and exploring so much.” she described it to me. So, as Nicky got stuck into Deborah Orr’s childhood memoir, Motherwell, I set about Donal Ryan’s latest offering, Strange Flowers.

I recently heard the author, Donal Ryan interviewed on Radio 4’s Books And Authors and found him to be engaging, humble and quietly hilarious.

I wasn’t to be disapointed, it is an exquisite read.

If I wrote human beings even a hundredth as beautifully as Donal Ryan, I’d be a proud scribe. Ryan’s characters aren’t just fully formed, they’re multi-dimensional, you can feel them around you. He places them. I experienced the story from all angles, like being sat amongst the most subtle of surround sound systems, every voice pulls your attention in another direction.

Set in rural Ireland, the story starts in 1973 when Moll, the only child of Paddy and Kit, ups and disappears aged 20. The parents lead a simple life which is devastated with the gradual realisation that Moll may be gone forever, her fate unknown.

The pain suffered in the years after Moll’s disappearance, and the toil of Paddy and Kit’s life is deftly articulated. As they toil on through life, never recovering, one day Moll simply walks back through the door.

Where she has been, why she left, and what and who she brings back into the simple, rural life is a master class in plot and story telling. There’s no dramatic revelation, no big, attention grabbing scenes. The lives of those close to the family, the people Moll has been with while away, and those of the rest of the villagers are gently knitted together as beauty, tragedy and realisations ease into the story.

Donal Ryan, who has twice previously been long listed for The Booker Prize, tells of love in layers. He shows love for some can be delicate, fragile, brittle almost. But he also shows love at strongest, combined with loyalties which can suffocate. The way faith is threaded through the relationships and how religion can both dominate and soothe is also carefully and honestly portrayed.

It is a tale of people. In this small family, and those close to it, Ryan has held a mirror up to us readers and let us deal with our own instincts. The complexities of race, of religion, of status, class and ownership, of sexuality, of coming of age and of bravery and fear are all exposed. His telling of the characters gets the reader under the skin of their exchanges. The man knows people, he knows emotion. The novel oozes emotion on every page.

I found I needed to absorb every single word. to me there isn’t a wasted sentence in the book. It’s early in the year but if there’s going to be better reads than this in 2021, I’m going to be feasting on words. When the book ended, which it does with a gorgeous light touch, I found myself nodding and watery eyed but contented and almost wishing to go straight back to page one and devour it again.

I heartily recommend.

Check out what else I’ve been reading in 2021 and the books I enjoyed in 2020 too. If a book has grabbed me and time allows, I tend to write a few words about it.

A Promised Land

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Eager and daunted in equal measures, I greedily gathered a couple of copies of A Promised Land when it hit the shelves.

The place in history into which Barack Obama has comfortably nestled meant I had no doubts when passing the second copy to my Dad.

I don’t do politics on the blog, cyber social is choked with opinion as it is. Let’s just say that my father and I are not usually politically aligned. Yup, I think I’ll leave it there. I mean, in some parallel world, Dad might read this blog, as well as the 700+ pages he devoured of Barack Obama’s memoir.

Another favourite political opus I’ve previously lent to my Dad, was Citizen Clem, John Bew’s insightful and compelling biography of the former Prime Minister. I waxed lyrical about Bew’s book in this blog post.

This Promised Land is a historical document for sure, but it is also bang up to date. Obama has his sharp mind tuned in to current events and this comes through the prose as he recounts the build up to his election and first term in office. Even though Obama’s is a very recent history, it has many parallels with the Attlee story. Many will read A Promised Land and long for the days of leadership like this, based on compassion and a (maybe naïve) desire for a more bi-partisan politics. Although, with my Dad and I in agreement about so much in the book, maybe it’s not such a naïve dream!

But, is it any good?

Well. Yes. Yes it is. Obviously that would be down to the individual reader to decide for themselves. But anybody that remotely shares my interest and outlook will definitely enjoy A Promised Land. You will need to have at least a passing interest in recent American and political history of course. And there’s no let up in the detail. You’ll need to enjoy a bit of detail. Oh, and there are over 700 pages. If you get it in hard back, it is bloomin’ heavy too.

Aside from that, it is a cracking read. Obama’s Dreams Of My Father (1995, republished in 2004) confirmed to me that here was an excellent writer. He manages to liven up and put pace into subject areas which could potentially be dry and laborious. His choice of language, the colour he injects and the balance of confidence and humility in his writing draw you in. You want to read on, to find out how each episode during his first term in office worked out.

Financial crisis, wars, terrorism, ecological disasters, devastating weather occurrences arrive in a barrage. Not forgetting of course the never ending saga that is the Middle East. Each is described calmly, yet with enough jeopardy to keep you scanning the words. Obama surrounded himself with the right people for every occasion. His descriptions of the team he put together are so observational, you really feel like you are in the room when the crucial decisions are being thrashed out.

This first volume – yes there will be at least another 700 pages at some future point – ends with the mission to remove Osama Bin Laden and the incredible tensions and risks that surrounded the planning and executing of such a dangerous, high profile mission. That this mission was successful was in some way reward, in my opinion, for the no-stones-unturned, no-expert-ignored approach to Obama’s presidency.

My biggest takeaway from this absorbing read is humility. When decisions lead to events not going as well as hoped, Barack Obama is straight out and holding his hands up. If promises he made can’t be kept, he takes ownership, offers suitable apologies and starts to build trust again. If, in the heat of the moment or via some trick ‘gotcha’ questions from a suspicious press, he offers up a quote which he later regrets, he takes to the stand or the airwaves and addresses the error.

He manages to describe the vile hatred, the abuse, the thinly veiled racism and even the threats to him and his family with an admirable grace and also with an attempt to understand the motivations of others.

I’m sure, on both sides of the Atlantic, there are more than a few who would like a return to the leadership styles of Barack Obama, or indeed Clement Attlee.

in my humble opinion, this book is a triumph.