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The Prime Minister: The Office And Its Holders Since 1945: The Job and Its Holders Since 1945 [Paperback]

Peter Hennessy
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Sep 2001

In The Prime Minister: the Office and its Holders since 1945, Peter Hennessy explores the formal powers of the Prime Minister and how each incumbent has made the job his or her own.

Drawing on unparalleled access to many of the leading figures, as well as the key civil servants and journalists of each period, he has built up a picture of the hidden nexus of influence and patronage surrounding the office.

From recently declassified archival material he reconstructs, often for the first time, precise prime ministerial attitudes towards the key issues of peace and war. He concludes with a controversial assessment of the relative performance of each Prime Minister since 1945, from Clement Atlee and Winston Churchhill to Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and proposes a new specification for the premiership as it enters its fourth century.

'I really can't praise it too highly: a tremendous achievement ... an instant classic'
  Antony Jay, author of Yes, Prime Minister

'Supersedes everything else written on the subject. If I were Tony Blair, I'd keep a copy by my bedside'
  Adam Sisman, Observer

'A must ... far and away the best account of the office of the First Lord of the Treasury, its history, powers and practice, and an independent assessment of the occupants of Downing Street since the Second World War'
  Tony Benn, Spectator

'Important and extremely readable ... Hennessy's portrait of the Blair premiership is fascinating ... a major contribution to our understanding of how we are governed'
  Peter Oborne, Sunday Express

Peter Hennessy is Attlee Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. Among many other books, he is the author of The Secret State, Whitehall and Never Again: Britain 1945-1951, which in 1993 won the NCR Award for Non-Fiction and the Duff Cooper Prize.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (6 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140283935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140283938
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Peter Hennessy, former journalist turned scholar of contemporary political history, is an academic aeolus whose infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Whitehall and Westminster, blows the dust off documents and reinflates a mandarin's minute with a telling topicality. The holder of the Chair of Contemporary History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, he has natural gift (and inclination) for grafting germane gossip onto the gravity of his subject and thus enlivening his expert exhumation of archives with appropriate anecdote. His earlier work, Whitehall has become a classic, and in his latest study he turns his attention to the steady accretion of power by Prime Ministers since the last world war and makes an assessment of each occupant of 10 Downing Street. Hennessy delights in proceeding by exposure as well as explication, throwing up fascinating insights on Premiers as they arrive at crucial decisions. He is undoubtedly happiest when chronicling the manoeuvrings of the backroom boys in Whitehall rather than those in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, but then the shift of power away from the legislature to the executive is becoming all too apparent. In each of his studies, Hennessy shows how individual Prime Ministers struggled and shaped the governance of the nation to their different personalities, and then their day of hard graft and glory is gone. As Harold Macmillan, one of the more charismatic holders of the office, said after his resignation, "nothing rolls up more quickly than a red carpet" --Michael Hatfield --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Peter Hennessy is Attlee Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. Among many other books, he is the author of WHITEHALL ('Much the best book on the British civil service ever to appear', Anthony King, Economist) and NEVER AGAIN: BRITAIN 1945-1951, which in 1993 won the NCR Award for Non-Fiction and the Duff Cooper Prize

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book is a fascinating, well-written and immensely detailed insight into the office of prime minister in the U.K. The author paints superb behind the scenes pictures and focuses on major issues in recent history. It is well researched, with former senior politicians and Whitehall mandarins providing Mr Hennessy with the authentic details from source. I found this book both an eye opener and thought provoking, a must buy for anybody interested in heavy weight British Politics.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Hennessy provides a succint and enlightening history of British Prime Minister's since 1945. Beginning with Clem Attlee, through Churchill, Macmillan, Eden, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major and Blair, he covers each premiership with amazing depth, revealing the way in which they dealt with this high office.
A tremendous book - highly interesting and at times entertaining. Someone once described the political biographer Ben Pimlott as 'The X-Ray' - in Peter Hennessy he has a rival!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
In general, this is a well constructed, and arresting analysis of the office of the PM, and its holders. The reason why it "hits fifth gear" is based on the level of personal contact with the incumbents, and the depth of reasoning; this raises the book from genuinely interesting to absolutely compelling.
When read thoroughly, the central fact is absolutely shocking: Britain never really came to terms with its post-war status. Whilst measures where taken, the economy/city/markets repeatedly forced action on a reluctant government, which comprised a set of people living in a state of perpetual denial. Collectively, the judgement on the office holders is therefore harsh - they were led by events, they did not lead - this is the central fact, even it is not spelled out explicitly. There are a couple of great stories, of which I mention the funniest: "Mrs Thatcher was both self-aware and quite unrepentant about these traits. One one occassion she opened a ministerial meeting by banging the celebrated bag on the table declaring 'Well, I haven't much time today, only enough to explode and have my way'."
Buy it - you will not regret it!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Peter Hennessy is an expert on post-war political history and has written an excellent account of post-war Prime Ministers. The author attempts to introduce the varying challenges of the British premiership and the relative success and failures of Prime Ministers such as Attlee, Churchill, Wilson and Thatcher. This book looks in detail at the ranging personalities and abilities of the previous eleven Prime Ministers and accounts for extra-parliamentary matters such as diplomatic crises like the Suez affair, the Cold War and European integration. Throughout the book, the reader should be able to compare varying styles of the premiership and judge what constitutes an effective Prime Minister. Hennessy allows the reader to make such judgements as he regularly displays each PMs strengths and weaknesses. Also, many examples of quotations, interviews and information from the PRO ensures that the book includes credibility to Hennessy's arguments. Illustrations throughout the book enables the reader to understand each PM's character and situation in greater detail as they are placed particularly following each PM. Prior to introducing the various Prime Ministers, special attention is directed at the powers of patronage, the state of the premiership prior to 1945 and the ongoing conflict following WWII including the possibilities of WWIII with nuclear weapons which would inevitably involve the PM; this introduces the reader to the wide ranging capabilities of the Prime Minister, which is shared by every post-war PM. The main problem is that the book only contains the first government of Tony Blair so if you are searching for a more recent analysis of the premiership, it would be better that you look elsewhere. Nonetheless, I believe 'The Prime Minister' by Peter Hennessey is an intriguing and well written account, which must be read by anyone studying politics, history or is generally interested particularly in the Prime Minister
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! 20 May 2004
A simply excellent piece of writing. Hennessy rattles along at a fair pace in his analysis of the individual PM's, with amusing anecdotes and truly engaging and pithy analysis, which never fails to capture the reader. You can quite easily be drawn in, and feel totally compelled; it really is a 'just the next few pages' sort of book. Don't expect a full analysis of every policy from top to bottom under each PM; that is not the purpose of it all, but rather, to give readers a real 'feel' of the individuals involved - which Hennessy never fails to do.
The history of the office, and in particular Hennessy's prescriptions for the future are probably the most dry and inaccessible of the sections of the book; I found them a fairly hard slog, even being a self-confessed Politics geek who usually loves that sort of thing. Also, a (slightly obvious.) warning; a generally high level of familiarity with post-war British politics is expected throughout - in these two senses, the book is rather more academic than it is immediately accessible to the lay reader.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A invaluable resource 5 Nov 2002
This book is an amazing piece of work. My only regret is that it only covers prime ministers since the war as I would have preferred it to cover many prior to 1945.
The first part deals with the actual role of the prime minister and his/her powers rather than dwelling on any one holder of the office. I never appreciated exactly how many pies a prime minister has his/her fingers in until I had read the book.
The second part of the book deals with individual prime ministers since 1945 and varied in how ineteresting it was. This was down primarily to the individual prime minister and not the author's prose which is first class throughout.
Any student of politics should own a copy.
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