The story of a fascinating man who connected the great politicians, artists and thinkers at the height of British global power and influence. A famed aesthete and patron, Philip Sassoon's world was one of luxury and classic English elegance with oriental flair. He gathered a social set that would provide inspiration for Brideshead Revisited.
At his famous parties you might find Winston Churchill arguing over the tea cups with George Bernard Shaw, the Prince of Wales playing tennis with Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward mingling with flamingos and Lawrence of Arabia and Rex Whistler painting murals as the party carried on around him. But Philip Sassoon was not just a wealthy aesthete. He worked at the right hand of Douglas Haig during the First World War and then for Prime Minister Lloyd George for the settlement of the peace.
He was close to King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, and Minister for the Air Force in the 1930s. And neither was he wholly 'English'.
The heir of a family of wealthy Jewish traders from the souks of Baghdad, Philip craved acceptance from the English establishment, many of whom thought him both foreign and too exotic. He opened his house to his friends but rarely his heart, and as he was almost certainly homosexual.
In Charmed Life, Damian Collins explores an extraordinary product of an age; a man who, before dying prematurely aged only 50, in June 1939, Noël Coward called a 'phenomenon that would never recur'.
©2016 Damian Collins (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
"Today it all seems like a dream of another world - the white-coated footmen serving endless courses of rich but delicious food, the Duke of York coming in from golf.... Winston Churchill arguing over the teacups with George Bernard Shaw, Lord Balfour dozing in an armchair, Rex Whistler absorbed in his painting...while Philip himself flitted from group to group, an alert, watchful, influential but unobtrusive stage director." (Robert Boothby)
The book is a joy to listen to and clearly a labour of love. The way the many different eras are intertwined and the historical facts laid out is superb. It is most informative as well as entertaining. Congratulations Damian!
An interesting period, but not really a major player. Just a very rich and possibly not very bright man.
The reading is not heartfelt, the writing stylistically banal. Many, many names are mispronounced, and this is annoying, distracting and disappointing.
"Portrait of privilege"
Sassoon was one of the richest men of his time, a man who frequented the upper echelons of social and political power in the UK in the early 20th century. This book is fundamentally a portrait of privilege, the privilege of a man who had more money than he knew what to do with, was handsome, charming and sophisticated. Despite all this, he was not the most interesting subject for a biography. Sassoon was a very private man and seems to have had no very close relationships, so the inner Sassoon remains a mystery. On the other hand, there is a great deal of interesting political context, larded with reports of extravagant house parties and outrageous sums spent on his various homes. Sassoon was exceedingly, even excessively, generous with gifts to his wealthy friends (even royalty – as if they needed expensive gifts), but I waited in vain for some mention of philanthropy. For example, he wanted new public seating for Trafalgar Square, expenditure which would have been pocket change for Sassoon, but he arranged for the money to be raised via public subscription. Still, Damian Collins is an excellent writer and clearly admires his subject and he certainly brings the period to life. Narrator Thomas Judd has a very agreeable voice and does a fine job, including with the foreign words.
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