The new book, Wartime Courage, confirms that the British PM's dogged desire to keep his old craft skills as a historian alive





This year, Gordon Brown has made something of a habit of surprise guest-star roles at literary events. He materialised for an interview with Sebastian Faulks at the London Book Fair, and with Ian Rankin at the Edinburgh book festival. At Earls Court in April, I heard him talk with unfeigned passion and fluency about the research into the contrasting faces of Second World War heroism that lies behind his book. It arrives less than 18 months after his "eight portraits" of courage in civil and political life, from Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi to Edith Cavell and Martin Luther King. Wartime Courage confirms that the PM's dogged desire to keep his old craft skills as a historian alive by investigating the conditions that make for bold, brave and decisive action is more than just a politician's whim. Every saver or borrower with a British bank should, perhaps, be grateful for the focus of his hobby.

Courage: Eight Portraits suffered from too many stiff platitudes, but warmed up when Brown engaged with his less widely sanctified subjects. Compared to its predecessor, this book unfolds in an even more reverent mood: a hushed awe that begins when Brown recalls the Remembrance Days of his Kirkcaldy youth, "the solemnity... still tinged with bereavement". You do not apply to this address for debunking – but we already knew that. The book's proceeds will go to the Royal British Legion poppy appeal, and the author's own, more personal, project, the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory.

Wartime Courage collects 11 compact essays which record the deeds of men and women whose bravery made a difference to the British and Allied war effort from 1939 to 1945. Their stories, carefully chronicled and swiftly told, range from the front-line derring-do of the Teesside warrior Stanley Hollis on D-Day to the clandestine exploits of the SOE agent Violette Szabo in France; from the stalwart kindness and altruism of Scots missionary Eric Liddell in a Japanese prison camp in China to the Royal Artillery sergeant-major Charles Coward who, as a POW in a nearby Stalag, managed to fix the paperwork that spirited more than 400 Jews out of the Auschwitz complex....



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