(Profile Books, £20, ebook £9.49)

FORMED by brothers James and Cyrus in 1828 and managed since by seven generations of a strongly Quaker family, Clarks was booming on all cylinders as the 1960s dawned, with 11 factories throughout south-west England struggling to meet demand.

The famous Desert Boot, invented by Nathan Clark, was a best-seller in 100 countries and Clarks produced the boots which turned Honor Blackman into a global sex symbol in The Avengers.

Nemesis was swift and sudden, because so many things went wrong at the same time: demand for cheaper (usually imported) shoes grew and Clarks’ management botched overseas expansion when British industry floundered in the 1970s.

In 1993, Clarks was nearly sold to an obscure financial consortium. The rescue since then has relied on bringing in managers from outside the family; on switching production abroad, mainly to Vietnam and China; and on the creation of a largely retail operation with more than 1,100 shops.

Amazingly, Mark Palmer somehow finds the prose to tell the fascinating tale of real business and the minor mishaps in the stock-taking department... and, by the way, that British consumers have been a near-impossible bunch to satisfy for at least the last half century.

Jeremy Gates