My former colleague Philip Delves Broughton, last but one correspondent to occupy the grand Paris bureau of The Daily Telegraph (I was the last), has written a best seller about his time on an MBA course at Harvard.
The raison d'être of the course, I assume, is to show its participants - who pay an awful lot of money for the privilege - how to get rich.
Philip hit on the smart idea of putting into print some controversial thoughts about the process on which he embarked once he decided to leave daily journalism and explore how business could, one way or the other, pay him much more handsomely.
I have not seen the resulting book, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School. Suffice to say that he has described, in an article elsewhere, how a "swollen class of jargon-spewing, value-destroying financiers and consultants have done more than any other group of people to create the economic misery we find ourselves in".
In fact, I learnt of the book's existence only while trawling in search of references to Philip's first novel, Bel Ombra. This is a book he sent to me, presumably knowing that I care a lot more about the islands off the little stretch of Med coastline from Le Lavandou to Toulon than about high finance.
Since we were colleagues and, despite a few mischief-making attempts to make us enemies (when he beat me to the Paris job we were both in for at the time), always got on perfectly well, I worried that it might be tricky to write about the book if I didn't take to it.
This worry persisted each time I picked it up in the weeks after its arrival in the post. I couldn't get past the first page, felt that the book was altogether too long for light summer reading and took firmly against the arguably unwise opening sentence in which the hero is told he has led a dull life.
But I persevered. This required a charitable outlook on typos - stationery for stationary surely isn't right even in Philip's new land of residence - and more effort that I expect to devote to a novel by anyone.
It was worth it. Bel Ombra is a first-rate tale told, on the whole, exceptionally well, and I heartily commend it to Salut! readers who share my fascination with the immediate pre-war period of France, and the social repercussions of the nation's humiliating fall to the Nazis. It helps if you also find out-of-the-way corners of France as interesting as the swish arrondissements of Paris or the more obvious holiday playgrounds.
It is the story, very loosely and in part based on fact, of the largest of those islands facing Toulon, Porquerolles, its purchase by a super-rich goldmining tycoon who wished only to see it brought kicking and screaming into a modern age for the benefit of its residents, who would from time to time include him, and the Parisian banker rescued from his humdrum life with intsructions to make the dream come true.
The detail is deeply impressive; Philip seems to have gone to exceptional trouble to study and reproduce the most obscure facts about the island's flora and fauna, its history and geography, the processes of wine production and agriculture and much more beside. He paints compelling portraits of his characters and encourages the reader to care what becomes of them.
I often read books quite slowly, and novels do not always grip me so tightly that I cannot wait to read the next few pages, whether before going to sleep or to stop myself snoozing on the beach. This was different. I enjoyed Bel Ombra from not long after that dull beginning to the end.
Philip's handwritten note accompanying the book suggested that he had self-published for now (giving hope to many of us), but hoped for a proper publisher later. A proper publisher would, I hope, employ a decent editor to iron out those typos and grammatical lapses (having just spent a few minutes correcting errors in this posting, I know only too well about typos, especially when working without an editor). A publishing house might also insist on changing the beginning and - though I would not wish to give too much away - rethinking the ending.
But these are intended as minor criticisms of a fine book which would repay the effort it may take to acquire it with a solid, enjoyable read.