Paul Johnson has a well-earned reputation as a formidable critic of contemporary culture and as a historian with an extraordinary breadth of vision. He has considered the Christians, the Jews, intellectuals, the English and the Americans in a series of bestselling chronicles – each of which bears the stamp of a particularly English common sense. This shrewdness, it becomes clear in his first foray into autobiography, was inherited from his mother.
‘You have a disconcerting habit of drawing attention to yourself,’ she told five-year-old Paul on hearing he had fallen from a station platform and landed underneath a train. Despite her lack of fuss, Little Paul (as his father called him) was clearly a beloved child. Equally clear is his recognition of this fact. Gratitude and respect for his parents sing out in every line, and the cumulative effect of these tributes is to create a touching and funny evocation of a warm and devoted family. His spirited and able sisters are particularly charming. His forthright and sensible mother is a paragon of bourgeois Christian values with a delightfully skittish sense of humour. His father, a studious and earnest artist, knows the importance of earning a respectable living and abandons dreams