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Climbing the Bookshelves: The Autobiography of Shirley Williams [Hardcover]

Shirley Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Sep 2009
'The role of women in our society has changed out of all recognition. But it has changed least in the House of Commons. I want to describe those changes and the resistances to them through the magnifying glass of my own life, a life that coincides with our turbulent post-war history.' Shirley Williams was born to politics. As well as being influenced by her mother, Vera Brittian, her father George Caitlin, a leading political scientist, encouraged his daughter to have high ambitions for herself - including daring to climb the bookshelves in his library. Elected as MP for Hitchin in 1964, she was a member of the Wilson and Callaghan governments and was also the Secretary of State for Education. As one of the 'Gang of Four' Shirley Williams famously broke away from the Labour Party to found the SDP in 1981 and later supported its merger with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats. CLIMBING THE BOOKSHELVES is the voice of strong and passionate woman of luminous intelligence.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Virago Press Ltd; 1st Edition edition (24 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844084760
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844084760
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 224,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Shirley Williams was born in 1930 to Vera Brittain, author of Testament of Youth and the political scientist George Catlin. She was a member of the Labour Party for 35 years before becoming one of the Gang of Four who founded the Social Democratic Party. Later she became leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. She continues to lecture and serves as an advisor on Nuclear Proliferation to Gordon Brown.


Product Description

Book Description

* The inspirational autobiography of Shirley Williams - a good and much-loved politician - out now in paperback --This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.

About the Author

Shirley Williams was born to Vera Brittain in 1930. She was a member of the Labour Party for 35 years before later becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats. She continues to lecture and serves as an advisor on Nuclear Proliferation to Gordon Brown.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I prioritised reading this book after being unable to hear a talk by her at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year. Being a cheapskate, I dallied until the paperback came out.

Politically, I am slightly to the left of the author, but have noted since the Coalition Government of 1 years standing, she has been one of the few to engage critically and in cases oppose the policies that were / are being enacted.

I remember first hearing of her around the formation of the SDP. I also remember hearing the term 'Gang of Four' and not realising until many years later, where it was borrowed from.

I was also aware of her being Vera Brittain's daughter, though not actually having read ' A Testament of Youth'. Perhaps worthy of reconsideration.

She considers herself to be on the moderate democratic left, a label also claimed by Blair, who, in my view, isn't. The book documents her struggles with the far left of the Labour party and how that led to the creation of the SDP. Now, in the Liberal Democrats, she is definitely on the left of that party and generally referred to as such in the political media and maybe even perceived by some in the ranks as one of the 'troublemakers'.

Certainly there is a huge amount of ground of cover. I personally did not mind that there was not so much personal information at the outset regarding her family. What was there, was included to give a sense of where she came from, and how the journey started for her politically. Did she see her politics as different from her mother? She never says and in line with another review, I think this is an unfortunate omission.

The sense of privilege came through - should she have been more humble about that?
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written thoughtful biography 26 Oct 2009
By Liz C
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Shirley Williams writes very well and ironically, I particularly enjoyed the part of her book dealing with her life before she went into politics. She is an honest chronicler but occasionally, particularly when dealing with painful personal episodes, one feels slightly frustrated by what is left out. Overall, however, this is an engaging and fascinating account from one of the most able women in politics.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Climbing the bookshelves 28 Oct 2009
Format:Hardcover
I am half way through this rather weighty book and loving every minute of it. Finding it difficult to put down. I suspect this may be because I am of a similar age to Shirley Williams (a little younger) and her writing brings back many memories, especially of her younger years. People she speaks about re-surface in my memory. Shirley Williams writes so well - her memory is amazing. She is a great favourite of mine anyway, so maybe I am a little biased!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating biography 20 May 2011
Format:Paperback
I think this is an excellent biography, written in a very readable style.
I am a great admirer of Vera Brittain so it was interesting to see her through her daughter's eyes.
I also found the account of Shirley's Labour years particularly absorbing.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A long life in politics 9 July 2010
By elkiedee VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
Now in her 80s, a British politician looks back over her long political career.

Shirley Williams is perhaps most famous for being one of the Gang of Four, a group of MPs who broke away from the Labour Party in 1981 to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). They were dismayed that what they saw as a hard left was wrecking the party. The SDP later merged with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democratic Party, so this provides some history of the junior partner in our new government coalition.

My own political sympathies are with that hard left, but I was drawn to reading this book for a number of reasons. Williams' mother was Vera Brittain, a writer and socialist and feminist political activist best known for her memoir of the First World War, Testament of Youth, and I was interested in reading more about the family. I heard some of this serialised on the radio when it first came out last year. I liked the title - Williams' father allowed her to climb up his shelves as a child - and I think she uses it to convey her enthusiasm and willingness to take on a challenge, rather than being a fanatical bookworm, but it's still a great title for a book.

Shirley Williams was brought up in a political atmosphere and was active from student days at Oxford onwards. She worked as a journalist for a while but entered Parliament quite early, when there were far fewer female MPs than now. There are lots of references to her conversations with other female MPs from all parties - one significant contemporary was Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Prime Minister from 1979 to 1991. There are some amusing anecdotes such about cross party collaboration to take action against sexual harassment.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A lengthy book full of name dropping! 20 Feb 2014
By Barbara
Format:Kindle Edition
I admire Shirley Williams and liked her style of writing. However it was a very long book and I felt it could have been divided into more than one volume. There were so many names mentioned that I began to think that she was afraid of offending someone by leaving them out and had therefore to include everybody she'd ever met!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and really enjoyable read 19 Nov 2013
By Elsbeth
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a wonderful woman! i had no idea what an interesting life Shirley Williams has led. i have always had a great respect for her but did not know how respected and valued she is worldwide. An insightful and fair comment on the political scene. i loved every minute.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is a beautifully written account of a fascinating and important life - covering British politics post-war to the present day.
Published 8 months ago by Bf Baughan
5.0 out of 5 stars Need more people like this
This is a fascinating tale of a life fully lead. What ever ones own political views her honesty, intelligence and depth of knowledge shines through as model for all politicians. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mr. D. A. Groom
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
This was interesting and enjoyable and easy to read. It was amazing to read all that this politician has done with her life.
Published 10 months ago by Mari Harrison
3.0 out of 5 stars What a life- fascinating!
This woman has lead a most interesting life., from childhood she mixed with a wide variety of famous and well educated people. who stimulated her lively enquiring mind.
Published 11 months ago by anne elizabeth hackett
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read by any standards
Reading this book makes me see two things very clearly: First, Shirley Williams could hardly fail to be a successful politician given her background and inclination: Second, had... Read more
Published 11 months ago by brian r
3.0 out of 5 stars A political biography
A lot of political insider information in this autobiography. Some more interesting than other to a non-political reader.
Have to admit to skipping some paragraphs!
Published 14 months ago by Gillian Warner
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I've always admired Dame Shirley and this book enlightened me as to where she has got her breadth of experience and good sense.
Published 16 months ago by Mrs Caroline White
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
Excellent read. Very entertaining and an endearing autobiography. The combination of her personal and political narration made it better than heavy handed biographies I have read. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Anju
4.0 out of 5 stars I should have been an MP
I find Shirley Williams most interesting. Some chapters are a little too detail and tend to be a little boring. But, on the whole, a pleasure to read.
Published 22 months ago by S. G. Jones
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