Harry Selfridge was a truly remarkable man. Nicknamed "Mile-a-minute" Harry on account of his dynamism and ideas, he inspired and delighted most of those he met. His working life was devoted to retail and his creativity and energy transformed shopping, both in Chicago and more significantly in London's Oxford Street where he opened and developed his iconic department store. What also shined through in this book, in addition to his genius for retail, was his humanity and kindness. He was not some hard nosed entrepreneur, more of a compulsive showman who lived life to the the full. He was also a risk taker and, incredibly, most of his bravura ideas paid off too. His Achilles heel was his largesse and the mismanagement of his personal finances - so much so that the ending, when it comes, is both tragic and brutal. I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. That said, I also feel sure that Harry Selfridge wouldn't have had it any other way. An extraordinary life.
Although I am fascinated by the era he lived through, I was unsure whether a book about a man and his shop would hold much interest for me. I was pleasantly surprised - the book starts slowly however becomes more and more compelling - and, by the end, I'd concluded this is a really interesting, absorbing and enjoyable book. Lindy Woodhead's well researched book certainly does the man justice, and she contextualises his life well by detailing lots of interesting and relevant trends and social history happening throughout his era. Some of her digressions were less interesting, particularly in the early sections, before Selfridge's career really takes off. The best parts are those where Harry Selfridge is centre stage - even, when just reading about him, I found it hard not to fall under his spell.