Best books on political leaders: Author Patricia Nicol suggests novels

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Best books on political leaders: Author Patricia Nicol suggests novels

Boris Johnson’s election as leader of the Conservative Party represents a dubious first for me — in that I’ve now had a drunken dancefloor chat with a British Prime Minister in the wee hours of a weekend.

To be fair to Boris, he was attending said event — to celebrate someone else’s career milestone — in a private capacity. Also, he seemed genuinely keen to know where me and my journalist pals fitted in — interest which may have been spurred by fears of a diary story.

Politicians of all shades are generally depicted unflatteringly in fiction.

Holding out for a hero to reunite our country? Then maybe avoid your local library’s stacks.

Author Patricia Nicol suggested The Ghost by Robert Harris (left) and Animal Farm by George Orwell (right)

From scheming parish councillors to rackety, corrupt mayors and unpatriotic PMs, novelists have drawn on life to mostly conclude that politicians are vain, self- serving and ideologically unstable. 

Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels seem a noble exception. In the fifth of the six-book series, The Prime Minister, an Irish Liberal, is persuaded to helm a coalition government. New Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson should pack it for her hols.

George Orwell’s 1945 allegorical masterpiece Animal Farm feels as relevant to our age where globally populist politics and demagogue leaders seem resurgent, as his prescient surveillance society dystopia, 1984. 

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It was the brutal history of the Soviet Union that inspired Orwell but his bruiser pig Napoleon, still feels recognisable as a political operator.

Robert Harris’s 2007 roman-à-clef The Ghost was inspired by the premiership of Tony Blair. In it, a ghost writer is flown to Martha’s Vineyard to help controversial former PM Adam Laing conclude his memoirs. 

But the longer the unnamed writer spends in the company of Laing and his Lady Macbeth-like wife, the more he suspects their betrayals go deeper than youthful ideology.

On the subject of politician’s memoirs, ยาขับเด็ก David Cameron’s De Profundis, defensively titled For The Record, is out next month. What might he have to say about Boris?

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