Book Recommendation: This Boy

Former UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s memoir is one of the best non-political books ever written by a politician

this-boy_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!’

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

2 thoughts on “Book Recommendation: This Boy”

  1. Pretty good prose, and a corrective influence to the simple idea that everything in England was jolly starting with Churchill’s waving on the balcony to the jubilant throngs on V-E day, followed by the immediate end of all wartime rationing and enough sweetmeats for everyone in the land.

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