9781903809426 / 1903809428

Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies Collected Journalism 1991-2001


Publisher:Atlantic / Guardian Books



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About the book:

It is, of course, the ultimate indignity for the radical author of Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, a lipsmacking selection of essays, diatribes and merciless satire, that the Conservative Party should have elected a leader who so resembles him. Francis Wheen has written two deservedly lauded political biographies--Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions and Karl Marx--and these collected ruminations, spanning 10 years writing for the Guardian, Observer, and, at times, anyone who'll publish him, display a wit and learning so lacking in the majority of his subjects. Dedicated to former Labour leader and notable scholar Michael Foot, an act which immediately establishes Wheen's integrity and utter unelectability, "Hoo-Hahs" tears into a menagerie of bÍtes noires, baiting bigots and bureaucrats, cowing charlatans, pricking the bombast of the self-serving, and defrocking the sanctimonious. Little fails to entertain, persuade or inform, though particularly outstanding passages include a comparison of Tony Blair's Third Way with a lemon-meringue pie, a defence of Blair's Gaveston, Peter Mandelson, in his hour of disgrace, a brilliant reappraisal of the 1970s which casts off platform shoes for a scathing memoir of the more sinister platforms for rightwing zeal, and a portrait of PG Wodehouse as a closet, or not so concealed, Marxist. Even the "Innovations" mail-order catalogue, in all its absurdity, doesn't escape reference to Marx.

In addition to possessing a scathing wit, Wheen prides himself on a long memory, describing amnesia as the "handmaiden of hypocrisy", which is why he is so damning of those who prove advantageously forgetful, whether it be Blair, Lord Archer, his twin towers of perpetual loathing, Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Maxwell, or the media mogul du jour, such as Richard Desmond. Widely read, from Machiavelli and St Augustine to pulp political biographies, and a scrupulous factchecker, the way in which he profitably frames contemporary issues within their historical context, reminds us that it was ever thus, and ever will be. As he comments of a perennial foe, Henry Kissinger, "You can put a great white shark in a goldfish pond, but it remains a shark for all that". Wheen remains the great white hope in the battle against the sharks and hyenas. Hurrah for "Hoo-Hahs".--David Vincent

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