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Saturday 28 March 2015

Review: Richard Davenport-Hines, Universal Man, The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes

Back on 13 January 2013 I enthusiastically reviewed Richard Davenport-Hines' An English Affair, a history of the Profumo scandal. So when I saw his new book on the Waterstone's table, I bought it.

Unfortunately, it lacks the structure and the passionate sense of injustices done which drove the previous book. A lot of this new book reads like cut and paste ( a frequent problem with modern books which are never written out from start to finish) and the attempt to impose structure through chunking Keynes' life into seven compartments doesn't eradicate or even disguise this weakness. As a result, the book isn't very readable - something which surprised me.

It does contain a lot of information, sometimes elegantly dispensed, and it does deal with things - notably Keynes' sex life - which previous biographies have pussy-footed around. Keynes wasn't coy about his sex life and regarded it as very important  - important enough to chronicle and then archive -  so the lurid details are fully justified.

Keynes' success owed itself to three things: his intellectual brilliance, his capacity for very hard work, and - despite his sharp-tongued willingness to cause offence - a superb ability to make use of the many Old Boys' (and Young Boys' ) networks in which he was enmeshed. That last is one reason the Establishment to which he whole-heartedly belonged never persecuted him in the way that it persecuted Alan Turing. Good luck is another.

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