I was just a couple of years into my media career in London when Robert Maxwell died. Naturally, I knew who he was – not many people didn’t; he was larger than life, a businessman, a media mogul and he and Rupert Murdoch regularly made the news in every respect.
But when this biography came out last year, I had to admit that I was curious about his background. His death dominated the headlines at the time and very quickly a story emerged of emptied pension funds and a life lived on a scale most of us can only imagine.
So it was with great curiosity that I began reading this book and I was soon drawn in much as I would be by a good novel. What’s interesting is that Preston (obviously) sticks to the fact of Maxwell’s life but regularly presents several, often conflicting, sides to everything, whether that is anecdotal by interviewing the people who lived and worked with Maxwell or from their written accounts.
There is a really good balance of family to business life, whether about Maxwell's origins in Czechoslovakia, which had a major impact on his entire life, his wife and children, and of course the empire he built through sheer determination.
It’s fair to say that this book reads like a novel or a plot for Dynasty but not because Preston sensationalises; he doesn’t have to. The lives of the Maxwell’s have grabbed headlines for decades and Preston does a great job of laying it out in a readable, balanced way.
Maxwell was a flawed man in many ways and Preston doesn’t hide from those aspects of his character. It can make for uncomfortable reading, especially in his treatment of those closest to him, be that family or friends. But there are many things I had no idea about; in particular his dealings in international politics; remarkable for a man of such humble origins, whatever your opinion of him.
If you’re even remotely interested in the way the media operates and the behind the scenes business of the news then this is definitely the book for you.