"Fascinating and eclectic selection of biographical sketches" reads the first line of the back cover and my plagiarism is simply an honour to the fact that there is no other way of succinctly summarising this book.
Bill Deedes, now in his nineties sets outs beautifully succinct and enthralling biographical essays of 18 figures of the twentieth century each of which he has met or known during his career. Spanning generations from Ramsey McDonald to Diana, Princess of Wales and characters from Mary Whitehouse to Oswald Moseley, Deedes presents an array of characters from politics, journalism, the sports and the media in approximately 15 or so pages each. Deedes highlights not only their lives, careers and contributions to history but also sets them fairly in the light of twenty-twenty hindsight. A good example is the opening chapter on Baldwin and why he was unfairly represented as the prime minister who did not re-arm Britain in the early years of German aggression; or Ramsey MacDonald as the first Labour Prime Minister who sold himself out to a Conservative coalition.
By far for me the life that stands out is that of Ian Smith, former Prime Minister of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Deedes clearly sets out Smith's life in the context of political activism against colonial U.K. but also the internal uprisings of Mugabe and Joshua Nkmomo and external pressures from South Africa and reflects on that time to help explain the issues presented to modern day Zimbabwe.
Any one with an interest in twentieth century global politics and journalism will find this book a good read and perhaps an inspiration to order a more in depth biography of one or more of the characters Deedes highlights in the delightful compendium.