Former UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s memoir This Boy is one of the best non-political books ever written by a politician. It’s a beautifully written, uncompromising, touching and also at times funny account of a childhood lived out in grinding poverty in post-war Britain. More than anything, the book is a heartfelt tribute to the amazing mother and older sister who gave Johnson the love and support he needed to survive when his father abandoned their family.
To give one choice sample of the sterling quality of Johnson’s writing, and his ability to bring people to life for the reader, here is his description of his English teacher:
His face, beneath a fringe of severely cut fair hair, bore a permanent expression of anxiety. Small and shaped like a bowling pin, he walked with tiny steps, as if his shoelaces were tied together. We were constantly expecting him to topple over any minute. A committed Christian, he also taught Religious Education, a role that did not always sit easily with the fierce temper he tried, but often failed, to suppress. He was once seen hitting a boy over the head with a rolled up newspaper yelling: ‘Christ is love, you little bastard!’