John Preston (2021)

As biographies of monsters go, this is one of the best. It sets out the whole sweep of Robert Maxwell’s complex and in the end perplexing personality: someone who courageously fought the Nazis, but committed (and admitted to) war crimes, who made and lost fortunes but never escaped the need to aggrandise. He transformed academic publishing – something I, as an academic, was unaware of – but engaged in outlandish stunts and competitions in tabloid journalism. His death was as dramatic and inexplicable as many of the events of his life.

It would be an easy story to sensationalise, and while there’s some of that in this book, overall it reads as a balances account by someone without too much of a stake in the outcome. It’s perhaps inevitable that the story has been overshadowed by the later tribulations of Ghislaine, Robert Maxwell’s daughter, but these events are in many ways foreshadowed by her earlier history. They’re certainly all of a piece with the story told here.

4/5. Finished Thursday 10 February, 2022.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)