The Auctioneer: Adventures in the Art Trade

by Simon de Pury and William Stadiem

St Martin’s Press (e-book)

3/5 stars

You’d expect any conjunction of high finance, glamour and celebrity to come with considerable anecdotal baggage. So it proves in Simon de Pury’s assisted love letter to his heady times as an art auctioneer born to wield a gavel. The names drop thick and fast in this ego trip of a memoir – Koons, Lagerfeld, Starck and Schnabel are merely the vanguard – from perhaps the world’s best-known performing salesman. From hometown Basel – where else? – he became chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and was briefly head of Phillips de Pury, “the only rival to the Christie’s-Sotheby’s duopoly”, he states. Along the way he was curator of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (“only rivalled by that of the Queen of England”) and most pertinently discovered his flair for shifting multimillion-dollar artworks to the famous and rich. The churlish might dismiss de Pury as a conduit for a club of elite collectors – he writes unashamedly of “many greedy nights to remember in the world of top-dollar art” – but his breathless fervour for life is genuine. It’s difficult not to feel some admiration for a superstar in his field who’s also an art collector and dealer, reality TV drawcard, DJ and baron.

I Hate Mondays: the True Story of School Shooter Brenda Spencer

by Darla Pugh

CreateSpace Independent Publishing (e-book)

2/5 stars

School shootings are all too common today in Gunslingerland. But even in the US they had to start somewhere. That somewhere was San Diego’s Cleveland Elementary School and the shooter was Brenda Spencer, 16. Her notoriety was famously sealed by Bob Geldof in the Boomtown Rats song I Don’t Like Mondays – Spencer’s callous response when asked why she had killed two adults and wounded eight children and a police officer, all shot sniper style from her home opposite the school.

Described by author Darla Pugh as a “monster” from a family that “resembled something you would expect in a home of inbred hillbillies”, Spencer lived in poverty with her derelict father and quickly graduated to petty crime and a hatred of authority figures. Pugh’s brief breeze through the actions of a “pathetic, self-absorbed, bored and uncaring thrill seeker”, as the widow of the murdered school principal calls her, reads like a hastily assembled mosaic of news reports that might have appeared days after the 1979 shootings. That it should appear now testifies to the continuing appeal for some of such “entertainment”. As Spencer told a reporter: “I just did it for the fun of it.”

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

Brilliance Audio (audiobook)

4/5 stars

Gary A. Haugen would make a good world president. But he’ll never rejoice in that title because humankind is venal. Haugen, founder and president of global human rights agency the International Justice Mission, would be an exemplar of compassion in successful action if only the rest of the world cared as much as he does – about the sorry lot of the world’s poor, trapped in their perennial cycle of rape, torture, murder, extortion, slavery and more. Haugen asks why, when we’re eminently capable of protecting the violated, the first world does almost nothing – with an opening flashback to the Rwandan genocide of the mid-1990s to set the shameful scene. He also argues that any country wishing to graduate from the third world to the first requires a criminal justice system to protect its citizens against a plague of violence that has become the norm, with innumerable children and adults, male and female, humiliated (or worse) daily. His stirring work, written with US federal prosecutor and scourge of human traffickers Victor Boutros, is pitched passionately yet not imploringly by narrator Arthur Morey. But in an era of instant personal gratification and greed, who, really, is listening?