John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem (Riverrun, £30), is a winner, though it might have been improved by cutting. Attlee was a more interesting man than people supposed. He read an average of four books a week, wrote a good deal of verse and almost made a movie. He was acerbic. The sharpest letter I received during the six years I edited the New Statesman came from him. My consolation was that he regularly received similar rebukes from his fierce wife, Violet, delivered verbally.
The book I most relished was Edgar Peters Bowron’s Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, two volumes in a boxed set (£195). It fully holds up Yale’s reputation as the world’s best art publisher: scrupulous scholarship, superb illustrations and matchless reproductions. Batoni was the most accomplished of the Grand Tour portraitists and for anyone building up a library of 18th-century culture, this is a must.
Finally a word in favour of Grumbling at Large: Selected Essays of J.B. Priestley, with an introduction by Valerie Grove (Notting Hill Editions, £14.99). The master-craftsman misleadingly known as ‘Jolly Jack’ writes: ‘I have a sagging face, a weighty underlip, a saurian eye and a rumbling voice. Money could not buy a better grumbling outfit.’
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