I would normally avoid political biographies like the plague. It's not through a phobia about politics, but usually because they can be as turgid and stodgy to read as a tax form! I'm glad to say this isn't the case at all with Brenda Maddox's fine portrait of Margaret Thatcher. She concentrates on Maggie the person, more than Maggie the politician, which is no small feat considering that, even after all these years, Lady Thatcher remains an enigma to most of us. You don't have to be pro-Thatcher to enjoy this book, (and she inspires hatred and adoration in abundance) as it's relevance is the fact that, whatever your feelings about her, Thatcher effectively revolutionised Britain in the past 25 years. The old place was never to be the same again.
Maddox gets to the heart of what defined Maggie all those years ago in her younger days, from her pathological hatred of socialism (in her mind she equated it solely with the Nazi's, and saw it simply as a kick in the teeth to individuality), to her almost inhuman ability to get by on 4 hours sleep every night (a habit that became ingrained in her as a young woman, when she worked long hours on the political campaign circuit). She also pinpoints when Maggie became the Iron Lady. What was startling for me about this book was that in her early years Maggie comes across as quite likeable, albeit a bit too bossy and desperately in need of a sense of humour! For example, Maddox presents a quite charming picture of pretty young Miss Roberts, the new chemistry teacher at a boys' school in the last few months of WW2. Her marriage to Dennis is also quite heartwarming, and Maggie looks quite startlingly beautiful in her wedding photo. As the young mother fighting 1950s Tory male prejudice to get a seat in parliament you admire her courage and tenacity, let alone her immense capacity for hard work.
I think where it all changes is during her time in Ted Heath's government, when she was exposed to her first taste of media backlash in the wake of the "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher" episode. Incredibly (when you think of the scorn heaped on politicians these days) it was her first taste of media criticism, and it hardened her. The Iron Lady was born. From then on it's quite hard to like Thatcher, her ambition and her dogmatism seem to replace whatever human characteristics she had. It's as if all the hard work and gritty determination she had had to pay out in her youth had robbed her of any balance. As Maddox points out, when describing Maggie's rather serious days as a student at Oxford, a bit of fun and frivolity in her youth would have helped her enormously later on in life!