Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane by Jeremy Lewis - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Man On A Mission

Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane


Viking 484pp £25

Allen Lane, the man who founded Penguin Books and made of it a national institution, rarely talked about himself, but when he did it was to the point: ‘I have got a little barrier around myself that I find very difficult to let anyone inside.’ And all who knew him, including even his loving daughters, continue to confirm this unapproachability. He was friendly and even jovial (particularly when drinking, which he much enjoyed), but intimacy … Did it repel him? Or frighten him? No one knew. And a strength of Jeremy Lewis's marvellous book is that he doesn't insult his reserved subject by trying to guess.

Lane was one of those people whose energy is immediately accessible, so that between thinking and acting there is very little gap. These are the people who make things happen. It is their way of expressing themselves, almost as painting is an artist's way, and they are like many artists

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