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Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge

– tekijä: Tom Bower

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
633326,155 (3.3)-
This title tells the tale of how the wannabe aristo Conrad Black and his ambitious wife Barbara made their way into the City, the Tory party, Wall Street and High Society. This is an entertaining account of gullibility in high places.
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näyttää 3/3
Black, Conrad (Subject); Black, Barbara (Subject)
  LOM-Lausanne | Apr 30, 2020 |
Now that the levee has broken, you would have to go a long way to garner sympathy for a couple with the hubris of Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel, but in his splendidly vituperative "Outrageous Fortune", Tom Bower almost pulls it off. This is a real piece of work (though, as Bower might say, if the shoe fits...) and no effort has been made to present any sort of balance whatsoever: Even the title is snide: Not "Conrad and Barbara Black", nor "Lord and Lady Black", but "Conrad and *Lady* Black" - a snipe at her overweening delight at ennoblement, and perhaps a cute reference to Black's habit of referring to his wife (from well before his peerage) as "the Little Lady".

Make no mistake, this is a rip-snorter of a read: I've been devouring pages, missing stops on the tube, walking into lamp-posts and zoning out of conference calls on its account: it is the Barbarians at the Gate of the new Millennium - tempered only by the fact that its characters seem transparently unleavened by the financial expertise, corporate understanding, commercial cunning, capitalist audacity and iron balls of the KKR crowd: these protagonists, as Bower paints them, are as self-absorbed, self-aggrandising and self-enriching as the best of them, whilst still being deluded and dim-witted schmucks.

Which is rather suspect in itself. If you accept that view then it is truly remarkable that the Blacks lasted as long as they did at the top of the pile. Bower does not dispute that Conrad Black attracted - and retained for decades - some high-quality help: Lord Carrington proposed his ennoblement and Baroness Thatcher seconded it (despite Bower's assertion that she found Black "ordinary"); Henry Kissinger sat on Hollinger's board even until the endgame played out (as did Richard Perle and KKR founder Henry Kravis' wife). So either Conrad Black was an extraordinary con-artist, or Bower is not giving credit where it is due.

Nor is much credence given to Conrad Black's intellect or Amiel's journalistic prowess: Bower would have you believe that Black simply has a large vocabulary, a photographic memory and a penchant for gormlessly reciting details of naval battles at dinner parties, and suddenly took a couple of months to dash off a rangy biography of Roosevelt, which did nothing but illustrate his own shoddy scholarship. Now I haven't read this book (and nor, at 1245 pages, am I planning to), but the critical reaction to it on this site - which I have a healthy respect for - has been almost unanimously positive. Again, you get the sense that credit might not have been given where due.

Finally, the book is studded with of startling exchanges which are set out as direct quotations - in situations where it is difficult to believe that the remarks could have possibly been recorded nor word-for-word remembered: Amiel's off-the-cuff remarks during dinner parties and to household staff and Black's asides to his co-directors during meetings and on the telephone over a twenty five year period are faithfully reproduced as if from a stenographer's notebook. I can't help thinking Bower is talking a biographer's licence here - that's a polite way of saying he made these quotes up - perhaps on the basis of a vaguer recollection like "then Conrad said something rude" or some such thing.

Tom Bower has certainly done some homework and tracks the financial shenanigans skilfully, and I doubt there will be much sympathy out there amongst the schadenfreude for the misfortune of an unpleasant couple who are in the process of getting what has been coming to them, but all the same this relentlessly brutal entry can't help but remind us that this celebrated president's biogrpaher isn't the one writing this part of the last century's history. ( )
  ElectricRay | Sep 30, 2008 |
compelling narrative of unbridled greed, pathetic posturing and pure narsicism. Reading Macbeth at same time - another Lord and Lady. May 2007 ( )
  triscuit | May 7, 2007 |
näyttää 3/3
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This title tells the tale of how the wannabe aristo Conrad Black and his ambitious wife Barbara made their way into the City, the Tory party, Wall Street and High Society. This is an entertaining account of gullibility in high places.

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