on 2 April 2013
I really enjoyed this little book. It is arranged into hundreds of compact 'articles' of roughly 100 - 400 words, with each page containing two newspaper-style columns. It is relatively light-hearted, thus anyone looking for a more sober introduction to the history of the Prime Ministers should probably look elsewhere (I can personally recommend Robert J. Parker and Ellis & Treasure for those who are interested). This book, on the other hand, offers something slightly different. It is written in a friendly, informal style and includes all sorts of trivia that might easily be excluded from more scholarly works. It's basically a gossip mag for nerds.
The book brings out all the classic tales. We hear about Heath's obsession with sailing, Peel's pivotal role in the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, Wellington's duel with Winchelsea and so on. There were, however, many things that were entirely new to me, and not all of them were trivial. Bastable claims, for example, that the sea of adoring fans that ushered Tony Blair into Downing Street was made up entirely of 'carefully selected Labour Party workers'. I have not yet been able to find any external source for this extraordinary claim, but it has certainly coloured my perception of the historic day.
Bastable spends a lot of time dealing with facts and figures. We learn that Gladstone is the only Prime Minister to have served four non-consecutive terms (Salisbury, Derby and Baldwin all served three), that only five Prime Ministers thus far have been offered state funerals (Disraeli turned down the offer - Gladstone, Wellington, Palmerston and Churchill all accepted) and that every Prime Minister who visits Chequers is expected to choose and plant a tree there (Thatcher is represented by a lime; Chamberlain by an elm).
I should probably note that the book is not really organised into any coherent framework. It simply takes a subject (Cameron's connection to the infamous Bullingdon Club, for example) and spends a few hundred words painting a general picture of its subject. I didn't find this at all tedious -on the contrary, I found that it endowed the book with a certain 'pace'- but others might be put off by such an approach.
All in all, I found this book to be a worthwhile read. For one thing, every Prime Minister, no matter how obscure, gets a mention. Bastable correcty observes that even those who consider themselves familiar with British history might struggle to identify Bonar Law or Henry Campbell-Bannerman. Asquith even quipped, at Law's funeral, that, 'we have buried the Unknown Prime Minister next to the Unknown Soldier'. Bastable not only reminds us of who Law was, but thanks to the section entitled Born to Rule, we find that he is the only Prime Minister to have been born outside the United Kingdom (Canada, in case you were wondering).
One final note. I don't normally comment on other reviews, but in this case I feel compelled to point out that, whilst I wasn't actively looking for them, I nevertheless was unable to identify a single spelling mistake or typo in the book. It seems fanciful, therefore, to suggest that the book is 'full' of them.
So, what was my favourite fact? It has to be the dozens of teenage boys in Kosovo bearing the name 'Tonibler' in honour of Blair's role in the the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. As one mother proudly stated when Blair visited Kosovo in 2010: 'I want Tonibler to grow up to be just like Tony Blair'. Hmm...
on 10 October 2013
I was amazed at how many typos I found in this book - words missed out being the most common one - I found at least three mistakes in the introduction alone. Such shoddy proof-reading doesn't give you as much much confidence in the content as if it had been perfectly written. The rating system of two stars means 'I don't like it', which isn't accurate as I did find it informative, so I've gone with three stars meaning 'It's OK.' Like another reviewer, I'd have quite liked the nuggets of information to be in chronological order, but the facts are mixed up, but I still found the information interesting.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2011
Full of typos and spelling mistakes. Some quite interesting insights, but not any sense of the impact of Prime Ministers or the complex development of the office. Would have been better chronologically or thematically, rather than randomly listed triviality.