... slips down as richly, easily and pleasurably as a tablespoonful of Beluga caviar. If it is the best of the Maxwell biographies it is because Preston is the best of the writers to tackle the subject. He has a novelist’s eye for the grotesque, a journalist’s inside knowledge of newspapers, an effective deadpan style, and has done plenty of original research, interviewing scores of witnesses, including three of Maxwell’s children (Ian, Christine and Isabel) and Rupert Murdoch ... On and on it goes, until by the time one reaches the description of his second autopsy, the reader may well start to feel morally queasy, like a member of the audience crowding round to gawp at the Elephant Man ... The truth is that all the bankers and businessmen, politicians and journalists who queue up to denigrate and revile Maxwell were happy at the time to put up with his abuse and his grotesque personal habits as long as they were enjoying his hospitality and taking his money. They sucked up to him. They made him possible — so much so that I closed this engrossing, amusing, appalling book with an odd sneaking sympathy for the old brute — and a profound desire never to read about him again.
... very entertaining ... Preston comes to his subject with the advantage both of hindsight and his great skill at exposing hypocrisy and subterfuge ... Preston has an eye for the telling detail and an ear for the revealing quote.
The life of the disgraced media baron and pension thief Robert Maxwell was certainly not banal. It was epic on a scale no sane screenwriter would attempt to boil into a single script. Such is the sheer volume of events in Maxwell’s life that John Preston’s engaging account, Fall:, sometimes has only a few paragraphs to deal with episodes that would justify a book on their own ... If this lively and fascinating book has a flaw, it is the lack of pause for reflection on the bewildering pace and proportion of Maxwell’s life. But that may be entirely appropriate, because the life itself was lived as a relentless narrative of spectacle and self-invention, with scarcely time for self-examination, even if Maxwell himself had been so inclined.
Many books have been written about Maxwell, but this is as near as we may get to the definitive version ... The basic facts are, of course, well known, but the author has managed to get beneath his subject’s skin.
John Preston has made the most of it, providing not only a very readable and amusing book but also the fullest account yet of what actually happened. Some of his sourcing could be clearer—there are rather vague appendices and no footnotes—but he is sufficiently fair-minded to persuade us that his judgments amount to a genuine attempt to get to the truth on the basis of all the evidence he could lay his hands on ... And yet, Preston’s narrative builds up to the climax of Maxwell’s death by describing developments that make one wonder.
This is all very readable ... However, the narrative gathers irresistible page-turning pace when we reach 1990 ... What emerges from Fall is a vividly grotesque picture of the emperor showing off his nonexistent new clothes to an applauding crowd of courtiers — politicians, editors, bankers — who all too willingly suspended any disbelief they may have felt.
... compelling ... Preston explores with aplomb and with a nose for news ... Preston leaves no stone unturned ... Preston puts all the information down on paper and doesn’t flinch ... Preston doesn’t make Maxwell into a likeable person, but his biography shows how important the mass media—'the Fourth Estate'—was throughout the 20th century.
Preston’s biography is largely anecdotal, without too much concern for context. The stories are good and Preston tells them with his gift for the kind of wry comedy that suits English decline. The 'mystery' in his book’s subtitle surely refers to his behaviour in life rather than the manner of his death – of his family only Ghislaine believes he was murdered. The picture of Maxwell that emerges is vivid but familiar: bombastic, florid, devious, gluttonous, bullying, absurd. But why was he these things?
Preston tells the story well ... Cheerfully recounting previously reported anecdotes, its strength is in telling the grand sweep of an extraordinary life ... Sometimes Preston’s tale is too tidy. He puts too much weight on Maxwell’s rivalry with Murdoch as the motivation for the calamitous US takeovers, and is too neat about claiming a convergence of threats (such as disclosures of bank share sales) on the day Maxwell died in discussing whether these might have prompted suicide ... Despite the book’s subtitle, it also conveys little suspense. It barely discusses the fraud itself...That is the real, still compelling and still relevant mystery. Nor does it discuss the impact — that public outcry forced banks to return much of the missing pension wealth and protections for the assets in pension funds were then tightened.
Preston’s sourcing is uneven at times ... While the flow of Preston’s prose cannot be faulted, Fall’s portrayal of Maxwell will not be a surprise to anyone already familiar with his life, as the book paints a picture of a selfish, irascible and morally dubious man who swindled people, most notoriously through his plundering of hundreds of millions of pounds from the Mirror Group’s pension funds ... Despite his subject’s undeniable faults, Preston can go too far. Having repeatedly commented on Maxwell’s gluttony and obesity, he cannot resist a final quip about his weight ... Thanks to Preston’s fine writing, Fall fizzes along at pace and is engrossing as it charts Maxwell’s astonishing life – and how he came to be so widely reviled.
... tepid ... Uneven sourcing is a minus, and the quality of prose does nothing to enhance what amounts to the story of a rich bully that’s been told before. Readers hoping for a new take on Maxwell will be disappointed.