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The Harold Nicolson Diaries: 1907-1964: 1907-1963 [Paperback]

Nigel Nicolson MBE
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Oct 2005

Harold Nicolson was one of the three great political diarists of the 20th century (along with Chips Channon and Alan Clark). Nicolson was an MP (Conservative, 1935-45, who also flirted with Labour after WWII). He had previously been in the Foreign Office and attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and material from his period is included in this new edition for the first time.

Nicolson never achieved high office, but rarely a day went by when he didn't record what was going on at Westminster. He socialised widely, was married to the poet and author Vita Sackville-West, and together they created the famous garden at Sissinghurst. Both were bi-sexuals and had affairs outside their marriage. This new edition also draws on diary entries and letters previously considered too sensitive for inclusion.

The diversity of Harold Nicolson's interests and the irony in his writing make his diary a highly entertaining record of his life and times, as well as a document of great historical value.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (6 Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075381997X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753819975
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 141,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Nicolson's great gift as a diarist is that he does not simply recoprd events: he brings those events and the characters in them brilliantly to life. His diary entries are astonishingly rich min-portraits of people and places, with a telling eye for detail... Brilliant, riveting stuff. (TRIBUNE)

Book Description

One of the great 20th century political diaries back in print in a new edition with 20% new material

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The public Harold Nicolson 10 Nov 2004
By A Customer
No diary can ever reveal all about a person but this comes very close to allowing the reader to get to know Nicolson (and his family). Although he decries himself, now and then, as a failure it is not the truth. Nicolson was a respected author, succesful politician, respected broadcaster and diplomatist. His marriage to Vita Sackville-West could only be described as unique.
The diaries allow us insights behind closed doors in Cabinet in the 1940s and also witty, succinct portraits of personalities Nicolson knew. We also see the human side of Nicolson as he battles depression and self-perceived failure. A snob? Yes. An elitist? Perhaps, but human too. This edition, in one volume, supercedes the older 3 volume editions with extra material. My only criticism is that there could be more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harold Nicolson Diaries 8 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
With groaning shelves of political biography/diaries and my existing 3 paperback Nicolson volumes yellowing with age, this edition covers all three and provided a welcome chance to gain space and read something "new". These diaries begin in 1907 whereas my previous volume started in 1930. Naturally such compression into 1 book leads to omissions but doesn't detract from the reading enjoyment. Contemporary viewpoints and opinions are always interesting and well written by Nicolson. Having a particular interest in Stanley Baldwin, I enjoyed his observations of the dominating Tory politician of the inter- war period. Enjoy this and there's always more in Channon, Colville and Duff Cooper !
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Diaries of semi successful politician 12 Aug 2012
This is a one volume version of Nicolson's diaries which include for the first time some pre 1930 material but excludes some of the material in the Olsen condensation. This leaves one in a position where one needs the original three volumes, the Olsen condensation which includes new material and this volume which includes yet more new material to have all the published material. A definitive edition would be helpful but that raises the question whether the material justifies such treatment.

Harold Nicolson was born into a family of diplomats and worked in the Foreign Office particularly during the Paris Peace negotiations. He also wrote books and resigned the official life in 1930 to write more. He became an MP in 1935 and witnessed the historical events of the next ten years, after which he lost his seat which he never regained. Nor did he gain a seat in the House of Lords which he coveted.

The diaries are very well written and easy to read and give an insight into politics ,literary life and the establishment during the period. A way of life that is long gone. I am reminded of the old style BBC which Harry Enfield used to to send up so well.It is however quite good natured and humorous partly as Nicholson does not see his own absurdity or his snobbishness.

There is no great analysis here and sometimes there is nothing on what were momentous events. One only has to compare Nicolson on the Norwegian debate and its consequences with Channon or Cadogan to see the differences. Some parts, however, are essential reading such as his meeting with Proust in 1919, or lunching with De Gaulle. There are also pertinent comments on the political scene which helps our understanding.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great 1 Sep 2013
By mpm
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great diary, lively and painting a picture of a whole era and not just of an interesting person.I really loved it!
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Days 26 April 2008
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A very rewarding book containing some letters and many diary entries of a well-positioned and thoughtful English political and literary figure of the first half of the last century.

A good purchase for those desiring background information on an important stretch of years in England and Europe; it encompasses first hand takes on the likes of Winston Churchill and events such as the Paris Peace Conference. Those with a special interest in the poet and wife of Mr. Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West, will also enjoy reading this book.

Nicely edited by the diarist's son.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harold Nicolson diaries 14 May 2012
By F. Goodale - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 4 July 2014
By Ben Cunningham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating read
5.0 out of 5 stars Harold Nicolson Diaries 1 Mar 2014
By Carolyn Zalon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rich life experience. Harold Nicolson can best be appreciated by reading these diaries. A true classic of a Renaissance man.
12 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In Terms Of Reliability, Nicolson Lies Lower Than Frank Harris 15 Aug 2010
By Herbert H. Highstone - Published on Amazon.com
Yes, I know that this is saying a lot. Because Frank Harris was notorious for playing fast and loose with the truth. So how dare I, HOW DARE I make such assertions about Harold Nicolson, the "brilliant" diarist whose accounts are so famous and so beloved? I will admit that at first, I was myself taken in by his supple style and his self-deprecating sense of humor. And then of course there was his account of World War II. He hated Hitler, so he has to be wonderful, correct? But then we need to remember that Stalin also hated Hitler. So hating der Fuhrer is not a proof of anyone's personal worth.

But let's get down to the undisputed facts of this situation. If you want to know exactly how truthful Harold Nicolson was, you should read the authoritative two-volume biography by James Lee-Milne. On the very first page of this biography, Lee-Milne reveals that Nicolson couldn't even tell the truth about the events that accompanied his birth. In fact, he was a compulsive teller of made-up tales throughout his life. His friends thought that this was a very endearing trait. And no doubt it was when you're exchanging tall tales in the pubs. However, to pretend that the Nicolson diaries are a valuable source of historical anecdotes is totally preposterous, because you can't trust one single word that Harold says without independent verification.

Again according to Lee-Milne, Harold would often actually believe that his phony recollections were correct. He would recite incredibly detailed accounts of events that occurred when he was still a babe in arms (page 2, Lee-Milne). When he was a little older, he "recalled" seeing fountains and sewers in Tangier, a city which had neither amenity when he visited it. On and on it goes, the endless parade of exaggerations and baloney. And always in the background we can feel the toxic snobbery, not to mention the overt racism with casual use of the N word (quoted by Lee-Milne, but of course censored from the diaries).

The editing of these diaries was totally dishonest from the beginning. They had to be edited line by line, and often word by word, to filter out the nasty bitchiness that Harold seemed to emit toward the entire world. And the worst of this silly old poofter's nasty attitude was directed toward the United States, which he hated even worse than Hitler. According to Harold, everything about the USA and its people was bad. For example, his account of a visit with Charles Lindberg is really poisonous and quite evil in its contempt for a man who was at that time coping with the kidnap and murder of his son, and who in spite of this stress invited Harold to stay in his own home.

Sometimes his outrageous snobbery sneaks past the censor because the "brilliant" phrases are irresistible, especially to an English editor. I can recall one nasty outburst as he records his experiences as a tour guide to a group of American servicemen, who were after all giving their lives at that time to save England. But that made no difference to "little Harold" (which is what his friends often called him). "In they slouched," he says of the American men at arms, "fully conscious of their inferiority in culture, breeding, and intellect." Fully conscious of their inferiority? Is that so, little Harold? Is that really so?

At times his hatred of America and the Americans reaches the point of literal insanity, and as further uncensored excerpts from his famous diary continue to trickle out his attitude is becoming unbearable, at least to people on the Western side of the Atlantic.

Harold was always second-rate, and he knew it, and his astoundingly snobbish wife Vita knew it too. Her nickname for him was "Hadji Baba," which is of course the kind of foreign name that the SUBJECT RACES of the British Empire used. In other words, he was her little N-word! This is the same kind of contempt that made Vita name her dog RAJAH. That's a respected title of nobility in India, but it's just one more casual name for your dirty dog in dear old England where the N-words from the colonies are especially despised.

But Harold was perfectly capable of hiding behind his mask in public. His two-faced hypocrisy was blatant and total. For example, he would say incredibly nasty things about Sinclair Lewis, the famous American author, and then pal around with Lewis for weeks afterward just to shine in his reflected glow (Lee-Milne, page 332). Here's one more example. Harold wrote a biography, as a commission job for money, describing the life of an American diplomat. This man was was a highly cultured person with a pioneering appreciation for the paintings of Frida Kahlo, surely not a philistine of any sort. And yet Harold felt and expressed nothing but contempt for this American, merely because he was an American.

After knowing all this, how can anyone swallow the juicy insider anecdotes that Harold peddles about World War II? No doubt he could be a delighful companion to his fellow Brits, especially when he was retailing his bitchy witticisms about people who weren't in the room. But is little Harold a historian? Someone whose word is to be taken seriously? Someone who can supply valuable and authoritative footnotes to the secret history of the 20th century? Not a chance, folks! Not a chance!
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