on 27 April 2013
This is an abridged version of two books combined - 'The Downing Street Years' and 'The Path To Power'. - below is a quote that explains why it has been re-released in this way -
Martin Redfern, Editorial Director of HarperPress, said: "For the autobiography, we have condensed the memoirs down to some of the most fascinating times, and arranged it chronologically... It is a long time since they first appeared, and it was her wish that this book should come out following her death, that it would be a testament to her."
For me, this is a version of two books that has made the material far more appealing and accessible than it had been in its predeceasing volumes. I'm not a Thatcherite myself, nor am I anti-Thatcher, but having got involved in numerous discussions about her, since her death, so in the interests of gaining further insight, this somewhat more condensed version of events, found in this book, in her own words, has been great to read.
I can't draw a comparison between this and the original releases, as I don't know what has been omitted, however, at 700 pages, this was far less daunting a task than the 1,300+ paged alternatives would have been.
This is an important book for anybody willing to understand Margaret Thatcher and her achievements. I am quite glad that I bought and read it and I enjoyed it - with the exception of two chapters (see below) - even if some fragments needed some effort to get through. Also the size of this opus reminds of a diplodocus (sorry for that, I couldn't resist). I certainly learned a lot from it and when closing this book I was very impressed.
Before going further, for sake of full disclosure, yes, I am a right-winged conservative and therefore, even if I am not British (I am Polish) and never even lived in United Kingdom, I always greatly admired and respected Margaret Thatcher. Even more, I consider her, together with Ronald Reagan, as one of only two really admirable major political figures of western democracies in those last 50 years or so - in fact, the only really visionary, able and courageous statesmen ("hommes d'état") in the West since Churchill and Truman. I had to say it to make it clear that as far as I am concerned this book was preaching to the choir - and therefore I am not entirely objective in my review...
As I already mentioned, I greatly enjoyed reading most of this book. The style is of course that of a political autobiography written relatively soon after leaving the office, therefore Margaret Thatcher had to use some restraint, both in what she could reveal and in the language used. Some basic knowledge of British politics and international problems in the 80s will greatly help in understanding and enjoying this book. Some reading between lines is also necessary here and there, especially in the whole chapter about Northern Ireland and fight against IRA and INLA terror - here it is quite obvious for me that author had to leave A LOT of things unsaid...
The dry, low-key, first-person narrated and quite frequently sarcastic writing style takes a moment to get used to, but once we catch the rhythm, it actually has its charm. I think also that, British reserve notwithstanding, Margaret Thatcher bared a lot of her soul here - and this allows us to understand her better.
Particularly strong moments of the book concern the electoral campaigns in 1983 and 1987, great miners' strike, Falkland War and relations with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Being Polish I also liked a lot the four pages description of the official visit Margaret Thatcher made in Poland in 1988, when my country was still under the boot of a communist dictatorship. A particularly good and poignant moment was the description of the last - and ultimately lost - fight Margaret Thatcher had to wage against her own party.
The two chapters with which I had a problem, were "A little local difficulty" (about poll tax fight) and "Floaters and fixers" (about monetary policy). In the case of the former, I found the narration of this story very disappointing, as Margaret Thatcher clung stubbornly to her position - when even for her great admirer and rabid conservative (and proud of it) like me it was clear from the beginning, that this thing was unfair, morally wrong and politically suicidal. Margaret Thatcher was extremely stubborn in her fights and I believe she was right to be so in all of them - except that one... Well, "quem Deus veult perdere, dementat prius" and in this case, the great mind of this exceptional woman was, for once, evidently clouded by what one has to call a form of madness - and clearly this condition remained with her even long after the whole thing was over... Well, I guess after all she was a human being like the rest of us - all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding...
The reason why I didn't enjoy the chapter about monetary policy is more personal, very subjective and a little bit embarrassing for me... Maybe it is because I am the child of an economist and married to another one (the reason why my wife manages our finances), but, well, for me large parts of economical science always were and still are a completely hermetic mystery and therefore I couldn't understand one darn word from "Floaters and fixers" - so I ultimately gave up and skipped it. Shame on me...
Although a huge admirer of this exceptional woman, I found myself disagreeing a couple of times with Margaret Thatcher positions - especially about the vision of European construction. Of course, coming from Poland, a smaller and poorer country than United Kingdom, I am naturally more inclined to see the virtues of a stronger and more tightly linked European Union. However, already in the 80s it was clear that even mighty and wealthy Great Britain couldn't maintain its rank in a world in which existed such economic mega-powers like USA and Japan and in which future giants, like China, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria were already rising. Ultimately, a 63 million people country simply CANNOT compete with 150-200 million people nations - not even talking about behemoths like China or India... For me, even in the 80s it was already clear that if Europe wants to remain wealthy and mighty, it will achieve it only by uniting - not by scattering... Being myself something of a Polish nationalist I am not exactly in love with the idea of an European confederation (and even less a federation) - but reason tells me that sometimes "everything must be changed so everything remains the same"... It will always surprise me no end that with such a great mind Margaret Thatcher couldn't overpower with reason the veto of her heart...
Those reserves notwithstanding I really loved this book and I found myself in agreement with Margaret Thatcher over most of things - and I am really darn glad that she won so many of her battles, that she transformed United Kingdom from the "sick man of Europe" into one of economic powerhouses of our continent and above anything else that for eleven years with her mighty voice she said loud and clear so many blunt, uncomfortable truths, which lesser men and women took great pains to hide, by sheer cowardice... She was a great lady, a great Prime Minister and her achievements were immense - and for all those reasons her memories are really, REALLY, worth reading. ENJOY!
I am by no means a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but as someone with a keen interest in politics, how could I ignore her? She was a political giant and a remarkable woman. 'The Path to Power' was published in 1995, after her first, and far superior volume of memoir: 'The Downing Street Years', which covered her time as the first female Prime Minister of no.10 Downing Street.
In 'The Path to Power', Thatcher reflects on the early years of her life, including her seemingly wonderful childhood in Grantham, the daughter of a grocer who was also a former mayor for the town, and how these days influenced her political career. She moves onto her years at college, education at Oxford university, her days as a chemist and then as a lawyer, and then later on, her role in politics right up to the events which lead to her history making election as Prime Minister. She also explains to a good degree, the formation of the principles that became Thatcherism, and this were interesting to read.
'The Path to Power' wasn't a bad read overall , but it is a long, heavy book (like it's best-selling predecessor 'The Downing Street Years', but nowhere near as interesting), and really only one of the devoted Thatcher fan most likely. I found it a struggle to get through. The book is illustrated with vintage black and white photographs, including a nice one of her and Denis on their wedding day.
on 6 May 2013
Having always been interested in Margaret Thatcher, and after her death I was curious if there was a biography. The news has always been full of the short comings of this woman, however, I wondered what it was like from her point of view. I was not around during her being in government, and there has always been two sorts of descriptions of her; those that loved her, and those that hated her. She appeared to be like Marmite!
The book is very comprehensive; this books starts from her earliest memory, through her progression through politics. I'm around 25% in at the moment, and I've only got to the mid-80s so far! Baroness Thatcher really was a very skilled writer, and very good at explaining her career. It almost feels like a privilege to be reading it.
I think if you're curious about the life and the politics of Baroness Thatcher, directly from her, then this will certainly fit the bill.
on 6 October 2013
This book is the abridged version of "The Path to Power" published in 1995 and "The Downing Street Years" published in 1993. It is nonetheless 738 pages of text in the paperback version with additionally a Chronlogical Index and a List of Abbreviations, both of which I found really useful.
By her own account Margaret Thatcher was a "Hands-on" Prime Minister, quite unlike say, François Mitterrand ! There was practically not a detail that escaped her personal attention from the Public Spending Borrowing Requirement to the need to ship out adequate spare parts for the Challenger Tank right away in 1990 for the 1st. Gulf War. (Apparently these tanks were known as much for their unreliability as for their maneovrability !) Indeed throughout the book which is effectively a blow by blow account of her life in parliament with relatively little addressed to her early childhood or time at Somerville College, Oxford, her competent grasp of detail in so many domaines of government is quite astonishing. However she is remembered most for her vision of Britain as a country where in a framework of law and order individual effort and enterprise should be rewarded and the socialist vision of a corporatist state should be gradually abandonned.
While - after Wilson and Callaghan - these views appealed to a broad electorate, the actual business of making progress towards realising these aims brought about bruising incidents where a clash of personalities occurred. Perhaps her first clash was with Edward Heath who sensibly would not serve under her in 1979, but subsequently many of her hand-picked cabinet ministers found life uncomfortable under her premiership : Peter Carrington, John Nott, Michael Heseltine, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe, David Young, and Chris Patten to name but the most prominent. Some did resign on principle rather than from pique but the constant reshuffling is testimony to Margaret's inability to flatter and enthuse her ministers so that they performed as she required without her constant interference.
Unfortunately, in addition to these personality clashes, over the eleven years she was in office she also managed to alienate her electorate at large. Her handling of the miners' strike, Scargill and the TUC was generally seen in a positive light, but her reversal of Labour's education policies did not please everyone (particularly in the Dept. of Education), and the tide turned against her with the introduction of the Poll Tax that had to be ultimately dismantled under Major.
I quote two passages, practically at random, which underscore the abrasive nature of Margaret's stance, and explain in part why she became a figure to be rejected and reviled.
Page 586. Socialism had failed. And it was the poorer, weaker members of society who had suffered worst as a result of that failure. More than that, socialism ....had literally demoralized communities and families, offering dependency in place of independence as well as subjecting traditional values to sustained derision.
Page 614. By contrast, Council housing is the worst source of immobility. Many large council estates bring together people who are out of work but enjoy security of tenure at subsidized rates. They not only have every incentive to stay where they are : they mutually reinforce each other's passivity and undermine each other's initiative. Thus a culture grows up in which the unemployed are content to remain living mainly on the state with little will to move and find work.
All this is a great pity because I happen to believe this parliamentary autobiographer had the right ideas, but that she was too contentious, too uncompromising in their application. In a way you might say her best qualities contibuted to her undoing. Be that as it may, her book makes for fascinating reading, with only a very few truly dull passages for the general reader.