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The Great Man: Sir Robert Walpole: Scoundrel, Genius and Britain's First Prime Minister [Paperback]

Edward Pearce
1.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Mar 2008
The year 1721 has many splendours: great houses built by William Kent, fine pictures and the fruits of commerce. But there are also thirteen public hanging days a year, drunkenness is endemic, organised crime rampages through the streets. And politics are ferocious. Only a generation earlier, The Pretender failed to take the Crown; the new King is cursed as a damned foreigner; James's followers - the Jacobites - conspire and are persecuted; the South Sea Bubble collapses.Robert Walpole, once imprisoned for financial chicanery, assumes political control and becomes 'Prime Minister'. He personally detects a Jacobite plot, is dismissed in 1727 on the death of George I, recruits the new King's clever wife, Caroline, and bounces cheerfully back. Coarse, corrupt and cynical, Walpole dominates King, Parliament and Government until 1742. This is Mr Worldywiseman, keeping England out of war for twenty years and setting up a stable and growing economy. All politics of a kind we can recognise today begin with Robert Walpole. And here, in Edward Pearce's elegant book, he is brought vividly back to life.

Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; Reprint edition (6 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844134059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844134052
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 813,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Edward Pearce is a magnificent historian, and his biography of Sir Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister, is superb. (Iain Sprout Scotland on Sunday)

It is hard to imagine how anyone could rival this author's unparalleled expertise on prime ministers and politics, which makes him a lucid guide through the arcane maze of 18th-century government. (Frank McLynn Independent)

Richly detailed, stylistically ornate and littered with eccentric asides. (Sunday Telegraph)

Masterly. (Mail on Sunday)

This is serious history...consistently illuminated by Pearce's sharp prose. (Sunday Express)

Book Description

The most comprehensive biography of Britain's first - and longest-serving - Prime Minister.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great Man, Shame about the English 31 May 2007
Be warned! Reading this will not be a happy experience. Pearce's mangled English is truly appalling. I have to admit that I have so far only reached page 43, but I am going to struggle to get any further. Paragraphs such as this are unfortunately all too common:

"The English Succession had been resolved in 1700 after another death, that of Princess Anne's only surviving child, poor William of Gloucester, ailing all his short, calculated-over life. A decision about the succession after Anne's then remotely projected death had been postponed in the deliberations over the Bill of Rights because of his birth. William dead, and his mother, who even at thirty-five was far from healthy, it was made in the Act of Settlement. The inheritance of Sophia of Hanover and her heirs was proclaimed. Louis (XIV) might/might not think the claims to the crown of James's son worth sponsoring, but the gesture had drawn him in. Arguments from the pacific Tories about costly wars in far away countries on behalf of Johnny Foreigner were doomed by all the fears of suborning and invasion implicit in that chevalieresque gesture. The element of damned fool in Louis XIV should never be underestimated." Ugh!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars the great man missing 17 Feb 2007
I agree. the book was terribly written and inaccurate in some places. Walpole was not a "commoner" at Eton. He was a "colleger" or a scholar. This kind of slip just enhanced the impression that book was hastily cobbled together. Slightly disappointing. One got very little impression of the personality of the man or his interests.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gamma Minus 20 Nov 2007
I agree. This was a very poor book. It is not just that the author's prose style is weak and that he cannot handle a narrative. There is a more fundamental weakness. Sir Robert Walpole never appears. The author deals with every major event in Walpole's life point of some other protagonist. To give a few examples, the story of the Jacobite plot of 1722 is told entirely from the stand point of the principle conspirator Atterbury with only a few brief references to Walpole. The South Sea Bubble from the point of view of the directors of the failed company. Walpole's manoeuvrings against Carteret are told entirely from Carteret's point of view. We never hear anything about Walpole's relationship with the King or his colleagues. His motivations, his style, his speaking in the Commons are untouched. His personality, on any view a large one, never appears. He has a cameo role in his own biography. I finished this book but felt that I had been wronged.

Implicit in the publication of any book is a promise made to the reader by the author. Edward Pearce promised a biography but he failed to deliver.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable 21 Jun 2008
I have to agree with some of the previous comments: unreadable, and shame on you Edward Pearce. I was about 30 pages in when I found myself checking to see if the book had been published by a major publishing house and had had an editor, or if, as it seemed to me, it had been a piece of un-edited vanity publishing. I was quite shocked to see it was under the imprint of Jonanthan Cape - shame on them too!

Pearce says in his introduction that he really enjoyed writing this book, and I think this is probably the key to what is wrong with it. His approach seems to be to plough through sources and put down every tid bit he personally finds interesting, and not do the work thinking through how to present a coherent narrative. Rather than using detail to add colour to a scholarly perspective on a complex subject, he rattles off page after page of detail, principally the actions of lots of bit-players in the parliamentary politics of the time, and seems to think that scholarship consists of drawing clunking analogies to modern British politics or offering waspish judgements of the character flaws of these many bit-players.

The unreadability comes from a combination of countless new names appearing every page, devoid of narrative context, written in a style of knowing, meandering sentences where Pearce cannot resist any temptation to make an ex-cathedra judgement or a waspish aside.

And as has been commented already, Walpole himself is almost completely absent from the book. I gave up at page 150, but by then there was barely the slightest sense for the man Walpole, his character, his personal life, the nature of his friendships etc. Quite strange really, and I think testament to the lack of real work put in by Pearce. It is a very difficult task to bring a man and his time to life in a few hundred pages, and there is a real art to writing a good historical biography. To say this doesn't even begin to get close is an understatement.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst written biographies...EVER! 8 Dec 2007
This book is a total disgrace. Pearce has written interesting works in the past, but this so-called biography of Walpole is barely literate. The English is so poor that the reader will be struggling to get past the first couple of chapters.

What were the publishers thinking about when they allowed this rubbish to go to print in this state? Have they stopped employing editors and proof readers? Who knows?

Anyway, believe me, this book will not improve your knowledge of Sir Robert Walpole at all. Instead you will spend hours re-reading passages and trying to make sense of them. It is so very, very badly written. Frankly, if you want that sort of mental exercise you would find it cheaper to by a decent puzzle book.

I hope that the publishers do not re-print this work unrevised in paperback as that will only leave more readers feeling equally fleeced. Take my advise, save your money and frustration and leave this rubbish well alone. You may think that I am being harsh and unfair, but you wouldn't if you attempted to read this rambling nightmare of a book.

Shame on you Edward Pearce.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Complete Crap
This is written in such a way that no one but members of the Bullingdon Club could possibly understand the jargon, if even them. Read more
Published 28 days ago by eken47
3.0 out of 5 stars A Misplaced Criticism
Edward Pearce has merely done what J H Plumb could not do which is put a biography into a smaller text. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Scruff
3.0 out of 5 stars A Point of View, not a definitive Biography
I have read totally contrasting political biographies recently. One approach is annalistic, attempting to cover every detail of the life in exact order, and in danger of losing... Read more
Published on 26 Mar 2012 by TR
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid this sham!
There is probably not a great deal I can add that hasn't already been written to the comments of previous reviewers of this book. Read more
Published on 19 Aug 2011 by Johnny
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost Opportunity
There is certainly a need for a one volume biography of Sir Robert Walpole. Unfortunately this is unsatisfying. Read more
Published on 25 Feb 2008 by Junius
2.0 out of 5 stars The Great Man; Sir Roberts Walpole
The content of this book is comprehesive but I am afraid the writing,"?journalese", makes it very difficult to read: long and convoluted sentences. Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2007 by avidreader
4.0 out of 5 stars In Defence of Pearce (if not Walpole)
I'll try to balance out the very negative comments on this book with some praise.
First of all some of the criticisms are justified to an extent... Read more
Published on 28 Nov 2007 by A reader
1.0 out of 5 stars Help English required
I was so looking forward to reading it but Edward Pearce's appalling writing style means I gave up with 50 pages to go. Quite frankly a disgrace. Read more
Published on 22 Nov 2007 by Mr. Geoffrey Noble
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