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Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader [Hardcover]

Philip Stephens
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Feb 2004
On March 27, 2003, President George W. Bush said, "America has learned a lot about Tony Blair over the last weeks . . . and we're proud to have him as a friend." Despite the President's assertion, the average American knows little about Tony Blair except that he remained one of America's strongest allies in the war on terror and, ultimately, in the war against Iraq. But why? What is Blair's agenda? Is he just trying to further England's cause or his own? And how has this man, the youngest British prime minister in centuries, kept strong ties with such fundamentally different presidents as Clinton and Bush?

Philip Stephens - editor of the UK edition of the Financial Times and a man who has known Blair since the beginning of his career - answers for the first time these questions for the American public. Stephens follows the emerging world leader from his boyhood to his leadership of the Labor party and, along the way, exposes his beliefs, his personality, his shortcomings and contradictions, and his role in shaping a new international order.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books; First Printing edition (Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033003
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 16.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,460,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book. 18 Mar 2004
Format:Hardcover
Its a great insight of the life of a man in charge of a great nation. Brilliantly written, I honestly recommend this book to anyone who likes reading biographies, or just wants to understand Blair. Great book.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intro to British politics for Americans 24 May 2004
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As author Philip Stephens notes, many Americans who saw British prime minister Tony Blair all buddy-buddy with his close friend and philosophical soulmate Bill Clinton were surprised to see Blair in apparently an equally close relationship with George W. Bush just a few months later. Other Americans may simply have wondered who this man was who became Bush's closest ally in the run-up to war in Iraq and his guest during an address to Congress.
Either way, this biography has many of the answers those Americans may be looking for. While it is not the definitive biography of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair -- and it's obviously too early to measure his impact on UK politics, since he's still in office -- this title is nevertheless a good introduction to this major player on the world stage.
Stephens, a writer for the Financial Times newspaper, has had a great deal of access to Blair over the years, including personal interviews specifically for this book. It's not entirely surprising, therefore, that Stephens takes a generally positive tone with his subject. While he does not downplay Blair's weaknesses, including a number of unattractive personality traits, neither is he heavily critical of the man. He also tends to be light in his coverage of others' criticisms of Blair, except insofar as they have shaped the man himself or had a lasting impact on his political outlook or success in office.
No question that this book is more about personality than politics ... but I hasten to add that I think Stephens has done a fine job in showing how Blair's political words and deeds proceed consistently and logically from his personality and his underlying beliefs. Unlike Clinton, Blair does seem to have a solid set of core principles that transcend mere political expedience. Stephens argues that this in part explains Blair's ability to get along with President Bush on matters of global policy. At the same time, Blair is also a consummate and accomplished politician, who recognizes (again, as Stephens argues) that the British prime minister ultimately has little alternative *except* to do all he can to keep the UK's relationship with the US on solid footing, regardless of who is in the White House.
In short, this title may seem a bit too glossy and superficial to Americans who already have some degree of familiarity with British politics and Tony Blair himself. However, for those who don't, or who seek a quick refresher course, Stephens' book has a lot to argue for it. I consider myself relatively conversant with the UK's politics and government, but still learned a lot from reading this. I think other readers may find themselves reaching the same conclusion.
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Biography - Answers Many Questions 16 July 2006
By J. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My first book about Blair was "Thirty Days" by Peter Stothard. That book was about a short time period before the Iraq invasion but it got me interested. Also I read Gerry Adam's book "A Farther Shore" and he describes his interaction with Blair. So I was ready to read a Blair biography. I would say this book is good and explains the basics of Blair's career and what makes him tick. So it was good to read but I would say it rates 4 stars. It is not a barn burner or an epic story, but it is a solid job. It is only 250 pages long and skips many things but it covers the basics.

The author Philip Stephens is well qualified to write this book having been a long time journalist and associate editor at the Financial Times. He has known Tony Blair since Blair was a junior Treasury spokesman for Labour Party in the early 1980's and the author has followed Blair's upward career for 20 years keeping in close contact.

One might assume as I did that this might be a flattering or even a fawning portrayal of Tony Blair. But I think it is fair to say that the book is neutral. It is clearly not nasty or overly negative and if the author had that attitude he would never have been able to interview Blair dozens of times as he claims to have done over a twenty-year period.

In short, I was a bit surprised by the book. It is better than I had hoped; it is a solid and well-crafted biography of a complicated person. The author had access to Blair over decades, he has interviewed many of Blair's old friends and associates, and clearly this is an excellent and well researched book by an outstanding journalist. It explains his half Scottish and half Irish roots, his education, his days at Oxford, his first legal job where he met Cherie, his first contacts with Labour, his first seat as an MP, etc. The book manages to touch on all his main career segments and explain how he has progressed step by step, adapting, learning, grasping power, holding onto power, trying to transform his ideas into action, etc. I did find one interesting aspect and that was how he developed his philosophy on supporting Bush. I recently read Zbigniew Brzezinski's book "The Choice" and many of those ideas are similar to Blair. As a result of the war in Kosovo (and Sierra Leone) Blair concluded that other than France and Britain, the EU was essentially helpless in any military conflict and the relation with the US and later Russia was the key to achieving world peace. For that reason he strongly supported US involvement in Kosovo and later backed Bush in Iraq, and continues to support close US-EU ties, and then expanding those ties.

In any case, this is an interesting book and is highly recommend reading as are the other three books that I mentioned..
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Enough Biography 27 April 2004
By Tom Moran - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is, of course, far too soon to have any kind of a adequate appraisal of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but Philip Stephens does a decent enough job at a preliminary evaluation in his new biography. While this is a straightforward, sober narrative, with relatively few Bob Woodward-esque "you-are-in-the-room-as-history-is-being-made" moments, nonetheless it is a lucid, if not always graceful, account of an interesting and complicated politician.
Britain's Labour Party had been out of power for almost two decades when Tony Blair climbed what Benjamin Disraeli once called "the greasy pole" to power. Helped along the way by the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith (whose passing inspires a characteristically purple passage: "The shock of his death was palpable, rippling out from the hushed corridors of Westminster into the nation's living rooms"), Blair became the youngest Prime Minister the nation had seen in more than a century. Taking his cue from Bill Clinton, Blair tried to divest his party of its old leftist baggage (to give just one example, up until the early 90s, according to Hillary Clinton, Labour members addressed each other while speaking at Party Congresses as "Comrades") while keeping what he felt to be the most important of the reforms that Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had made in the 1980s. It was a delicate balancing act, made somewhat simpler by the morass the ruling Conservative Party fell into after they ganged up on and deposed Thatcher in 1990, and it ended with Blair winning a smashing victory in 1997, and, more importantly, a second victory in a general election in 2001, enabling him to remain in office longer than any Labour Prime Minister in British history.
It makes for an interesting story, and Stephens tells it well, if you don't mind some godawful prose ("By the time Tony Blair traveled to Camp David in early September the drumbeat of war had become a discordant din"), and the occasional factual inaccuracy (he refers to Alistair Campbell as "a reformed alcoholic" on page 70 and a "recovered alcoholic" on page 91 when he is neither, since there's no such thing as either a reformed or a recovered alcoholic - there are only recovering alcoholics and dry drunks, like George W. Bush).
The most glaring inaccuracy in the book, oddly enough, comes with his description of the events of September 11th. "The images of the first passenger jet ramming into the twin towers brought horror and puzzlement," Stephens writes. "When the second hit, everything stopped." This is, as anyone who remembers the events of that morning knows, nonsense. There were no images of the first plane ramming into the twin towers on television: not that day, anyway. Only a French documentary crew caught that ghastly image on camera, and it wasn't shown on television for months.
But that whopping mistake aside, his analysis of Blair seems right on the money, and he shows that Blair understands that, as the French give themselves the delusion of continuing to be a world power by opposing whatever the United States does, the British can only delude themselves that they are still players on the world scene by signing on to whatever the United States wants. This, among other reasons, helps to explain why a man who was so chummy with Bill Clinton could turn around and be equally as intimate with George W. Bush. About Bush, however, Blair has an insight that Americans would do well to take into consideration: "Don't listen to the words," Blair once said of the current occupant of the White House. "Watch what he does." That's sound advice, and I hope people listen to it.
So I can cautiously recommend this book. It's slim and awkwardly written, but for what it is, a very tentative account of a statesman whose story is far from over, it's worth a look. Better books about Blair will certainly be written in the future, but until then this one will have to do.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, largely uncritical, but useful in places 13 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you want to understand Tony Blair, this well-written book will leave you a bit wiser, but only a bit.
As an American reader, I found the timely revelations about Dick Cheney to be the most interesting part of the book. His arrogance ("Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools") and his shocking efforts to "wage a guerilla war" against Bush administration policies he disagreed with -- such as the decision to seek a second resolution at the UN-- are detailed in interviews with largely unnamed British officials. The unanswered question: when a key sentence calling for a second resolution dropped off Bush's teleprompter during his UN speech, was that merely accident, or an example of Cheney's handiwork?
Unfortunately, notwithstanding some useful background on his childhood and early career, Blair still remains largely an enigma to me. Although I was content with the book's emphasis on foreign policy, I regretted that Stephens did not shed any light on Blair's perplexing ideological transformations. For example, why the unseemly close ties between right-wing Murdoch man Irwin Stelzer and Blair? Stephens does not even mention the charges by reputable journalists like Greg Palast that Stelzer has wielded extraordinary influence over Blair in ways that serve corporate, but not public, interests. How does Blair explain it? What do his colleagues in the Labour Party make of it? Stephens misses a chance here to shed some real light on Blair's economic and political views and modus operandi.
What's more, Stephens' insistence on playing up the influence of Christianity on Blair's foreign policy borders on the perverse given that he has next to nothing to say about the obvious role Blair's background as a lawyer could, or should, have had on his thinking.
I was shocked, for example, by Blair's discussion of interventionism in foreign policy, which made it sound as if neither the UN nor others on the left have a cogent policy on interventionism. Nothing could be further from the truth, as surely Blair himself knows.
The criteria for interventionism were ably articulated by his old friend Clinton in the Clinton Doctrine and were further refined in a commission study presented to Kofi Annan. But Iraq in March 2003 did not meet the criteria for intervention even on humanitarian grounds for five reasons:
1) it did not meet the just cause threshold of large scale loss of life (as it would have more than a decade before with respect to massacres of Shias and Kurds)
2) it did not meet the principle of last resort since diplomatic efforts had not been exhausted (and since the US was not making a legal case for humanitarian intervention at the time)
3) it did not correspond to the principle of proportional means (full scale US intervention resulted in the deaths of at least 8,000 Iraqis and the wounding of 20,000 others)
4) it did not satisfy the criteria of reasonable prospects (Iraq now faces the prospect of greater political instability and terrorism as well and the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam)
5) it flies in the face of the principle of right intention. Without a genuine multilateral coalition, the US intervention looked very much like a self-interested effort to secure both political points with voters and Iraqi oil. (The nature of the neocon agenda, White House oil interests, and the awarding of no bid contracts only reinforces this perception).
If Stephens had subjected Blair's remarks on interventionism to even minimal critical scrutiny, the results would surely have been illuminating. But Stephens' biography, if not exactly a hagiography, is anything but critical, and it is certainly not comprehensive. The decisive Blair biography has yet to be written.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice quick insight from the FT's Philip Stephens 18 Aug 2004
By Andy Orrock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I read Philip Stephens' column each time it appears in the Financial Times' editorial page. Readers of that space will have realized that Stephens' has good access to Tony Blair, his inner circle and the workings of British government. As such, this book - a quick, worthhwhile read - is a good primer for the U.S.-based reader in gaining insight as to how that system of government works.

In terms of painting the picture of how Blair and team (and mostly Blair, by the way) made its way towards partnership with the US in the actions in Iraq, there's a better source: Peter Stothard's "Thirty Days" is by far the better insider's view of that process. However, Stothard's book is emphatically not a biography. So, if you want insights on the roots and rise of Tony Blair - especially vis-a-vis his complex relationship with PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown - Stephens' book will suit you fine. [Although Stephens' himself goes on to suggest other sources that cover specific topics better than he, most notably James Naughtie's "The Rivals," which covers the Blair/Brown saga in splendorific detail.]

A couple of annoying editing mistakes are worth noting. Inner-circle confidant Alastair Campbell is repeatedly called 'Alistair.' I fault the editors here - this is a main character (he dominates "Thirty Days"). Sure, 'Alastair' is a non-conventional spelling, but the man deserves to have his name spelled correctly. Also, Spainard Javier Solana - head of NATO at the time of that organization's actions in Kosovo - becomes Xavier Solana. Charo was apparently unavailable for comment.
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