In brief

“Saving the World”?: Gordon Brown Reconsidered, by William Keegan, Searching Finance RRP£9.99, 124 pages

Gordon Brown may not have been a brilliant election tactician; and he sulked too much while waiting to succeed Tony Blair. But he came good in the financial crisis of 2008. As William Keegan documents in his short but highly readable account, Brown took the lead in organising an international rescue mission.

In early 2009, while institutional changes such as the increase in IMF resources made the headlines, the key decisions were to put short-term budget-balancing on hold and to launch – if not a co-ordinated – at least a parallel demand boost in the certain countries, reversing the downturn. Yet once the crisis was over, each country returned to old habits. Still Brown deserves some credit for the fact that the major western economies are at worst “flatlining”, rather than plunging into depression.

My one ignoble quibble is whether Keegan would have written a similar book if Brown’s role had been played by a Conservative politician.

Review by Samuel Brittan

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Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature, by Rick Gekoski, Profile RRP£14.99, 256 pages

In 1911, Franz Kafka queued up outside the Louvre with hundreds of others to see the space where the “Mona Lisa” had hung until its recent theft. From this famous disappearance, Gekoski explores what Kafka called the “invisible curiosities”: art and literature that has either vanished or been destroyed – and in the process taken on an added potency.

Gekoski, a writer and rare- book dealer, has carved out a niche addressing liminal subjects: Tolkien’s Gown (2004) told the fascinating stories behind a handful of rare books and Outside of a Dog (2009) addressed the role of reading in his life.
In Lost, Stolen or Shredded he brings the same wry and analytical eye to bear on some fascinating tales: from the extravagantly bound book that sank with the Titanic to Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, destroyed by Churchill’s wife.

An illuminating and eclectic book that addresses some of the big questions: what is art and why does it matter?

Review by Carl Wilkinson

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The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, by Angus Roxburgh IB Tauris RRP£12.99, 400 pages

Angus Roxburgh, former BBC Moscow correspondent and one-time PR adviser to the Kremlin, brings a wealth of political detail, experience and insight to this vigorous analysis of Vladimir Putin.

From his early efforts to woo America, Putin sought to be respected as an equal in global politics but felt rebuffed and patronised. Roxburgh notes that western leaders could have been more sensitive to Russian security anxieties. Far more isolating for Russia, however, was Putin’s inability to see the connection between his blunt domestic policies and their perception abroad – the barbaric second Chechen war and Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia being two cases in point.

With endemic corruption, a fragile economy, widespread human rights abuses, a curbed press and Putin’s steady “smothering” of democracy, Roxburgh laments the rolling back of glasnost-era freedoms by Putin’s paranoid centralisation of power.

Review by James Urquhart

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