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Giant ambition

Despite his many faults, Gordon Brown was a towering figure who made the right calls on the biggest issues facing our world
My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown (Bodley Head, £25)

Two decades ago it became commonplace to describe Bill Clinton as the most psychologically complex occupant of the Oval Office since Richard Nixon. If we were to award a British equivalent of that accolade—nominating the most psychologically complex occupant of Downing Street since Churchill—there would surely be no contest. Compared to the breezy ease of Tony Blair, the granite certainty of Margaret Thatcher, the smooth-cheeked entitlement of David Cameron or the wily genius of Harold Wilson, there is only one figure who boasts the requisite contradictions and paradoxes, the towering strengths and profound flaws, to merit such a description. It is, of course, Gordon Brown—and now he has written his life story.

Wittingly or not, it’s all here in My Life, Our Times: the qualities that instilled such deep admiration and loyalty in colleagues and friends that they would work around the clock for him, alongside the behaviour that made others, including those surrounding Blair, curse him to the heavens. The result is a book that gives a full account of a character who can still baffle and perplex as well as inspire—and with a record that only looms larger the more distant from it we become.

The Brown-haters will find all the ammunition they want between these covers. Indeed, My Life, Our Times has already suffered the fate of many a political memoir. Commentators who had apparently digested its 500 pages in a matter of hours were eager to review the man rather than the book, and to do so negatively. In the Times, Daniel Finkelstein was scathing. Dismissing Brown’s claim that discomfort with modern media played a part in his woes, Finkelstein wrote: “The idea that Twitter was your big problem is absurd. It wasn’t 140 characters that led to your downfall, it was one character: yours.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s January 2018 issue: Five writers attempt to plot the impending advances in shopping, politics, sex, food and computing through 2018. James Plunkett looks at shopping and explains how personalised prices will hand even more power to the big companies; Theo Bertram outlines why political volatility is here to stay and what it means for us; Kate Devlin argues that sex robots are only a part of the impending sexual revolution; Stephanie Boland outlines why we’ll all end up eating lab grown food; and Jay Elwes explains the next steps in our computing quantum leap. Elsewhere in the issue: Dani Rodrik uncovers the truth behind the great globalisation lie—there were always going to be losers, Iona Craig delves into the war in Yemen—the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, Chris Tilbury explains why Britain urgently needs a plan for its failing prisons