Boris Johnson has led a colourful life and one would expect this biography to be a colourful read. It is.
But as with the proverbial parson’s egg, it is and it isn’t. Tom Bower is an accomplished biographer with subjects such as Tony Blair, Richard Branson, Conrad (and Lady) Black and Robert Maxwell among his subjects. This book covers a lot of ground that with which we are already familiar. His philandering is well known. So too is his fickle relationship with the truth. Even his days at Eton and Oxford with his membership of the Bullingham Club have been covered in the media before.
Where Bower comes up with fresh material is at the start (and the time before) of Johnson’s life. His childhood and the insecure family life. The other place where Bower scores is the in the present day. The author goes into great detail of the current Covid-19 crisis and before that Brexit.
Johnson has a need to be liked and (in some cases) loved. Hence the need for Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s hacket man. If there is bad news to be had or a bit of stick to be put about Cummings is you man. Or Johnson’s man actually. Cummings knows who to blame for the Covid Cock-up.
Bower goes into great detail about the government turned down numerous offers of help to set up an effective testing system and a supply of PPE for the medical professions. The ineptitude of the civil servants and others charged with handling the Covid-19 crisis should be left at the door of the Prime Minister as the man in charge. But Bower pulls his punches and spreads the blame elsewhere.
And it is that pulling of punches that makes this a weak biography and one that is too soft on its subject. But Tom Bower is married to Veronica Wadley (aka Baroness Fleet) who has known Johnson for more than 30 years. She served as a senior advisor to the Mayor of London when that post was occupied by Johnson. It was Johnson who ennobled her in the 2020 Political Honours List. This may be why this book is too comfortable with its subject.
There must be a more rigorous biography to be had about the life of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.