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Castlereagh Hardcover – 22 Sep 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 722 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus; 1st Edition edition (22 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857381865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857381866
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 5.8 x 23.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 292,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'John Bew has some heavy lifting to do in this consciously revisionist take. It is a great testament to his skills as a scholar and writer that he manages to do so with such aplomb ... stellar' Tristram Hunt, Daily Telegraph. (Daily Telegraph)

'More than simply a biography of Castlereagh, it is a fascinating review of the war against Napoleon and authoritative assessment of the personalities involved in the Congress of Vienna and the issues they wrestled with in remoulding the face of Europe ... This is a book that offers insights not only into its subject but the nature and practice of diplomacy, statecraft,nationalism and internationalism' Irish Independent. (Irish Independent)

'In this well-researched and judicious book, John Bew successfully readjusts the picture ... this excellent biography tells a cautionary tale' Literary Review. (Literary Review)

'[Portrays Castlereagh] convincingly and without any historical or bibliographical contortion' London Review of Books. (Review of Books)

'A compelling account' Times Literary Review. (Times Literary Review)

'The most brilliant and wise political biography I have read in a long while' Wall Street Journal. (Wall Street Journal)

'In a magisterial political portrait Bew brings Castlereagh and his world sharply back to life' Daily Telegraph. (Daily Telegraph)

'Vast, well-researched biography ... [a] solid, accomplished book' Sunday Times. (Sunday Times)

'Wonderful ... A Life so nearly complete that it need never be written again' Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement. (Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

John Bew is Reader in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King's College London and Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. In 2013 he became the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress. From 2007-10, Bew was Lecturer in Modern British History at Cambridge University, where he was also educated. He has published several books and papers, writes for the New Statesman, Irish Times, London Review of Books and Spectator, among others and appears regularly on television and radio including Newsnight, The Review Show, the Today Programme and Sky News. He is currently filming a documentary for the BBC on Lord Castlereagh. He lives in London, and lectures in political institutions around the world.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Clearly a book for the academic or serious historian which must represent the results of a prodigious amount of research. This is a compelling piece of work by John Bew and covers in great detail the entire span of the long and illustrious (some would say, controversial) career of Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh. The book is in three sections, the first of which covers Castlereagh's upbringing in Ireland, the nationalist movement in that country which lead to the anti-English rebellion of 1798 (in which Protestant and Catholic Irishmen were initially united) and Castlereagh's accession to the Irish Parliament and its closure after his successful bill on union with England in 1800. The second part deals with the roles that Castlereagh played as Minister of War and Foreign Minister, his support for the ill-fated Walcheren Campaign, his very personal support for Wellington in the Peninsula and the growth of the British Army. The third and final section tells of the fiendishly difficult task that Castlereagh faced in trying to maintain a balance of power in Europe following the defeat of Napoleon and, in particular, his attempts to prevent a permanent incursion of Russian forces into western Europe. Castlereagh's decline and eventual suicide are inevitably the subject of the closing chapters. The often unwarranted criticisms from the Radicals and Whigs and Castlereagh's difficulties with rival Tory George Canning are a recurring theme of the book.
In relating this immense span of history Bew has shown particular talent in drawing together original material to demonstrate the strategic thrust of Castlereagh's diplomacy and his guiding principles.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was genuinely shocked, near the end of this book, to read the details of the suicide of the subject of this biography. This is a mark of the subtlety with which John Brew has painted a character I had been brought up to despise, and subsequently learned the traditional reasons to hate. He paints a picture of a man who was almost relentlessly patient, polite, kind and agreeable to all he worked with, domestically, nationally and internationally. He explores the intellectual roots in the Presbyterian Scottish Enlightenment for his broadly conservative, but hardly reactionary, approaches to the challenges faced by Europe during and following the French Revolution. In many ways he was very progressive, but also very cautious. Witness Catholic Emancipation and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, to both of which causes he was unswervingly devoted. He is criticised for being too ready to compromise with opposing forces in both cases. I find it hard to criticise him in either case. I also find it hard to criticise Bew's picture of a man who worked steadily (at least in early years) for a Union of Ireland and Great Britain which would involve an end to religious and sectarian divisions and bring everyone the benefits of the world wide trade of the British Empire. At the end of his life he seemed curiously to think of himself as serving "England" and often spoke of himself as an Englishman. His contribution as War Secretary to expanding and equipping an Army big enough to be a formidable force on mainland Europe, together with enlarging an already powerful Royal Navy is hardly in doubt. He also fought for the appointment of the young Arthur Wellesley as Commander in the Peninsula, and defended him unceasingly.Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was led to this book by a most favourable review in the mainstream press. I also came to it with the aim of finding a current perspective on the politics of the period of the Great War against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and, more specifically, the first decade after the war. I was not disappointed. John Bew provides a sympathetic but not uncritical reappraisal of a controversial figure who continues to intrigue present day practitioners and theorists of diplomacy. His picture of a pragmatic public servant is convincing. As a current researcher in the period I found that the setting for the biographical narrative was compelling, and the coverage of my specialist area was entirely sound, bar a few minor solecisms that would have been picked up by tauter editing.

I read the book in Kindle format, and, as is often the case, found the maps impossible to access at a readable scale. However, search facilities and linkages between contents list, index and text were excellent.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I often think it a pity that film and TV writers don’t move away from dramatised accounts of their preferred staples drawn from classic novels, the Tudors and the ranks of troubled artists to tap into the genuinely dramatic lives of that species which writers love to malign, politicians. The life of Castlereagh, as told by John Bew, would make for a superb drama. It is after all the tale of one of the most prominent suicide cases in British history – a man who at the height of his powers and wealth cut his throat for reasons which to this day remain enough of a mystery for plenty of room for dramatic licence (I still think Giles Hunt’s syphilis theory is the best). Throw into the plot a wonderful selection of cliff-hangers and cameos – a prime minister assassinated in the House of Commons, a foiled plot to assassinate the entire cabinet and a duel between Castlereagh and the future prime minister George Canning - and all this set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and a dysfunctional royal family (a “mad” king and a prince regent trying to get Castlereagh to dig up incontrovertible proof that his wife the Queen had committed adultery). What more could a scriptwriter want?

I love reading political biographies and my favourites are those which, rather than being written like a text book, give you a feel for what the personalities of the day were like as human beings and how they led their day-to-day lives. Books which dwell on the irrelevant vignettes of history and not the plodding minutes of committee sessions. Bew’s “Castlereagh: Enlightenment, War and Tyranny “ does this amply.
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