After his mountainous Gladstone and Churchill and barely less substantial study of the post-1886 chancellors of the exchequer, Roy Jenkins here enjoys himself in what by his standards is a mere jeu d’esprit. His new book is a collection of essays on 12 cities which he has lived in or often visited and which are in some way intertwined with his life. It is not, he emphasises, a disguised second shot at an autobiography: ‘One navel-gazing is wholly permissible,’ he writes. ‘Two would point to self-obsession.’ But the essays are intensely personal: this is Jenkins’s Paris, Jenkins’s Bonn, seen through his eyes and lit by recollections of his visits.
There are surprising omissions. London, Jenkins concludes, is too big; Oxford is a university and not a city; Washington would have tilted the book too far towards ‘a sort of Michelin guide to British embassies’. Of those cities that secure entry, four are in Ireland or Great Britain, another six in Europe, two in the USA. The Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Africa, have entered Jenkins’ life but never fully engaged his attention.
There are elements of the travelogue – Chicago is particularly rich in architectural detail – but the only essay which makes the reader want to pack his bag and catch the next aeroplane is on Naples. Under the Romans, Jenkins writes, it ‘became an amalgam of Brighton, the C