Probably one of the best biographies I’ve read this year
This is a strange book in some ways, because of the way Humphrey Carpenter wrote it as a sort of diary. It was Runcie himself who commissioned the book, or at least gave free access to the archives in Canterbury to Carpenter. The biographer clearly found the situation of analysing a live person different from his other, celebrated studies of dead heroes. In the end he resorted to describing the way his impressions changed and developed. In this way, the experience of reading the book is much like any growth into a relationship.
The picture that develops is intimate. It also comes across as honest and reliable, insofar as the author himself admits to confusion in the complexity he finds in his subject.
Runcie himself comes across as a warm and intelligent man. He was brave enough to be vilified without wanting to run or return fire. He was also probably bored much of the time, as any sane, intelligent person would be at the head of such a vast and antiquated bureaucracy.
The book describes a lonely man with many regrets. He also comes across as a man of somewhat ambivalent spirituality. That spirituality was also stunted. He would have been much happier - and probably safer - had he been an RE teacher in a good school rather than a priest.
To those who lived through his tenure, it will come as no surprise that Runcie never really believed that he was archbishop, hence his inertia and occasional crass decisions. Had he had more self-awareness, he would have dealt with e.g. Margaret Thatcher, the media, and Bishop Graham Leonard with more vigour and wisdom.
Overall, a beautifully written book (albeit with a surprising number of typos) describing an important man.