Mark Glendenning, Australia
Sometimes I finish a book and wonder how the hell I am going to summon 1000 or so words to talk about it. Other times, I am so keyed up about what I have just read that I can barely wait to share it with whoever reads this column.
This is one of those 'can't wait to share it' moments.
The book in question is a biography, and it was so well done that it didn't even matter that I was not really a fan of the subject. It took me into a world and lifestyle that I knew nothing about, spat me out, exhausted, at the other end, and kept me completely entertained from the first page to the last. There was not a single thing about it that I would have changed. My only regret was that it was not another 200 pages longer.
If you are after a seriously great read something that will make you forget all about what happened at the US GP before you even get to the end of the first page then I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's called 'The Dirt', and it is a brilliant portrayal of the heights of 1980's glam-metal excess as it charts the drug and groupie-laden rise and fall of LA band Motley Crue. And a quick check of Amazon shows that you can get it cheaper than the book that I am meant to be talking about, which is a nice bonus because Alan Henry's new biography of Jenson Button would be of questionable value if it was priced at a fiver, never mind £12.
This new record of Jenson's career is drab and uninspired, and ignites about as much interest in the reader as Henry appears to have felt in putting it together. It chonologically ticks its way through Button's career, from karts through to a vague end three-quarters of the way through the 2004 season (an arbitrary finish, but one that was presumably necessary for the book to achieve its scheduled October 2004 publication date).
The early stuff might interest fans that were a little late in jumping on the J-Train, but the material covering the most recent couple of years is a waste of space. Carefully avoiding anything that might potentially be classed as 'interesting', the book instead regurgitates results and quotes from races. It is dull stuff, made all the less necessary by the fact that anybody who cares enough to shell out for a book about Jenson has very probably taken the time to watch most of his races over the past two or three years.
Another problem created by the book's publication deadline was that Henry catches the start of the great Williams versus BAR showdown for Button's services, but not the end. It was an unenviable piece of timing for Henry, who was left to close the book speculating about the situation that was about to come to a head in the courts (and which would be resolved in BAR's favour before the book ever saw the light of day).
Consequently, the author is unable to close off with any firm conclusions about Jenson's future beyond some crowd-pleasing mumblings about a World Champion in the making. There is not much in the way of interview material in the book, either original or otherwise. Being an 'unauthorised' biography, I am not sure whether Jenson would have agreed to be interviewed specifically for the book, even if it was Alan Henry who was asking him.
But one would think that someone who is as deeply immersed in the F1 world as Henry could manage to come up with something better than quotes from post-race press releases, which, despite being painfully boring at the best of times, rampage through the book like smallpox in medieval Europe. (And they are just about as appealing, too).
There a few inconsistencies and errors dotted through the text that could have been picked up with a little more care in the proofreading. The account of Button's Prost test would seem to suggest that Jenson impressed the pants off all and sundry by lapping Barcelona 10 seconds slower than Jean Alesi's benchmark time (if you take 10s off the time given for Alesi, the whole passage makes a lot more sense).
Less easy to understand are Gerhard Berger's comments following Button's first Williams test at Jerez, where he gushes about how impressed he was considering that it was Jenson's first time in a Formula One car. That's fine ... except that it wasn't. He had already driven a Prost. The fault there appears to lie with Berger, rather than Henry, but it does illustrate some of the dangers inherent in cutting and pasting quotes ad hoc.
This is not a bad book as such, but it is uninspired, and it shows. It certainly doesn't represent great value for its cover price, and when I find a spot in the bookshelf for it after finishing this review, I can't see myself ever getting it out again. Considering the pasting that I gave Button's undeniably bad autobiography a couple of years ago, I cannot believe what I am about to say. Here goes. If you love Jenson Button enough that you have to read something about him right now, you would be better served finding a copy of 'My Life On The Formula One Rollercoaster'. (That is, unless they have all been pulped).
Yes, it was crap, and yes, it is out of date now, but it does have a glimmer of a spark through it, and it certainly does more to show you something of Jenson's personality. This book has none of that.