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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Although this is the "authorised" biography of Heath and although the author had worked for Heath as a young man, his first hand sources are from Heath's massive archive and collection of papers (he claimed never to have thrown anything away since he was 14), rather than from a series of interviews with the subject: the authorisation was from Heath's estate, rather than the former PM himself. Making use of the extensive source material, Ziegler has painstakingly constructed Heath's life and career as Heath himself saw it, whilst also providing his own commentary in order to inject balance into the narrative. It's a sensitively written book, with beautiful prose, and he creates (in the mind of this reviewer, at least) a portrayal of a dedicated and very focused politician who was convinced that he, and only he, was right on the big issues of the day, particularly Europe and the UK economy in the early 1970s, but who also famously was incapable of forming any kind of warm relationships with anybody. In some ways it's a sad portrayal, and in others one is left thinking that Heath really was his own worst enemy. Altogether, this is a fascinating biography which is well worth a read for anyone interested in modern Britain.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2010
Often political biographies which criticise their subject are curiously dull - Young's biography of Baldwin being the supreme example; this is the exception to the rule. If you thought Heath was an unfeeling and rather unpleasant man obsessed with himself to the exclusion of others, this books shows that you were far from right - he was much worse than that. Ziegler is one of our best biographers, but this is his best book. He never really understood the Labour Party, which vitiated his study of Wilson, but he does understand the Tories, and this makes the book a joy. Teddy Heath was a cold fish from the start and remained that until the end. He is good on exploding the mythology which Heath used to describe his own career, and his Oxford days are presented as the triumph of the will they undoubtedly were. Heath was Widmerpool, without the originality which turned him mad at the end. He was one of the worst prime ministers of our time, but he was also, to judge by this, quite as ghastly as his worst enemies thought. Intellectually incurious and morally obtuse, he saw no problem in defending the excesses of a Chinese regime which rewarded him well. His account of the 'long sulk' is a joy - only a deeply solipsistic man could have failed to see that the only person damaged by this was himself. Woe to the country whose leaders are like this. A brilliant and successful biography of a limited and unsuccessful man.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2010
I came to this book having a fairly preconceived bias against Heath : my dominant memories of him being the monumental sulk at his loss of the Tory leadership, and his seemingly deranged hatred of Thatcher ! I think this book paints a more sympathetic picture of the man - his humble background, Oxford and his competence and popularity as a war time army officer.His strong pro EEC beliefs stemmed from genuine horror of war, and his patchy record as Prime Minister has to be viewed against the backdrop of the quite exceptional trade union intransigence of the period.His signing of the Sunningdale agreement in Northern Ireland was over twenty years before its time, but think of the lives that would be saved if other heads as wise as his were to the fore at that time. I am just an ordinary reader, interested in history and politics, and found this biography to be an accessible and enjoyable experience.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2011
Edward Heath by Philip Ziegler is a good book about the man who was a pretty unsuccessful Prime Minister during a tumultuous period from 1970-74. It is well-written, interesting and detailed although it does suffer from a problem quite common to authorised biographies in that it is a little too sympathetic to the subject. However, the figure who emerges in the work is still a rather unlikeable figure who was rude and at times arrogant and held a grudge against the woman and the people who helped her to replace him. Nevertheless, this work also shows that Heath managed to use his inteligence and abilities to become PM and then achieve the seemingly impossible of getting Britain into Europe. All in all this is a good book if a little too sympathetic to an unlikeable figure whose premiership ended in disaster.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2011
This biography reads easily and is written in Zeiglers usual elegant stle - it comprehensively covers Heaths life from birth to death.However, what emerges from this book is that Zeigler actually dislikes Heath.Full credit is given to Heaths political successes- but as a person Heath emerges as an arrogant, self-opiniated "mummys boy"- who cared about nobody but himself. Even Mrs. Thatcher appears warm and human compared to the cold and disdainful Heath.Even the few personal friends that he did have seem to have been semi-estranged from him by the end of his life-largely due to the off-hand way they were treated.Only in the last few pages does the author evoke any sympathy for his subject- depicting a lonely old man sitting in pubs in Salisbury-with only his paid employees for company-of course , Heath ,himself was responsible for this situation.Mrs .Thatcher said on seeing a woman who had been in love with an unresponsive Heath in her youth-"Impossible -that cannot be true- nobody could love Ted Heath!".-Let that be Heaths epitaph.
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on 2 January 2014
Agree with the blurb on the back of the book - a well observed and, under the circumstances, fair and balanced biography.
It's easy to read but altogether it's a sad story of a brilliantly talented and handsome man, let down by his complex, insular and fatally flawed personality. Macmillan's observation that a politicians bête noir was 'events dear boy, events!' was largely Heath's fate, but his 'bad loser' streak did for him in the end. Tragic really.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2010
If, as prime ministers go, Tony Blair was the consummate fox, Ted Heath was the archetypal hedgehog. He knew one big, European thing and he was bristly to boot.

Philip Ziegler's " The Authorised Biography" is a thoroughly competent recounting of Heath's life and career. Serious biographies can be categorized either as the work of a professional who applies his or her craft to different subjects in turn, or as a lifetime's labour of love. This book is clearly one of the former. There is a sense of predestination throughout. In Ziegler's narrative, every event and decision in Heath's life is a step on the way to his ultimate prime ministership and Long Sulk.

Given that this is an authorized work, I learned little that is new compared to John Campbell's more textured work published in 1993. There is greater insight into Heath's finances - the gifts and subsidies that enabled his comfortable lifestyle would never pass scrutiny today, though there is no evidence of improper favours bestowed in return - and into the contretemps surrounding his purchase of Arundel, his Georgian home on Salisbury Close. Heath's confirmed bachelordom is once again proven to be just precisely that. Ziegler makes much of Heath's curmudgeonly personality but that was already well known. He suggests that he came to dislike his subject, but nevertheless a hint of admiration and affection creeps in. He portrays Heath as lonely, but perhaps he was simply self-sufficient.

Heath is worth reading about - and worth reading about again. He rose to lead the Tory party from humble origins, breaking untold barriers and paving the way for Thatcher and Major (though of course Cameron is a throwback). He reached the highest levels not only in politics but also in classical music and competitive sailing. He had a lasting impact on his country through his championship of Britain-in-Europe. He found the solution to Northern Ireland but failed to make it stick. Across the aisle from Harold Wilson, he formed half of one the great dueling prime minister acts of all time, second only to Gladstone and Disraeli. He was famous for his personality and character: courageous, determined, disciplined, gruff, ferociously honest and simply unable to indulge in two-faced flattery. These qualities helped explain his rise and they also contributed decisively to his fall.

Heath is worth reading about again, especially today. The Coalition is about to experience trades union confrontation unlike anything since his day. Tony Blair has just published his memoir - a starker contrast could hardly be imagined than that between these two men.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2010
We all have our preconceptions of Sir Edward Heath as the previous reviews illustrate. He was of course a man of faults, the main one being his inability to get on with other people, whether friends or foes, with the consequence that he tended to have rather more of the latter than the former. However, Heath's interpersonal ineptness is mistakenly seen by some to mean that he was pompous, arrogant and unfeeling. This is far from accurate. He was a deeply compationate man, affected by his personal experiences as a soldier during the second world war. Indeed, his enthusiam for Europe stemmed partly from his deeply-held view that nothing as horrific as the two European wars of the Twentieth Century should ever happen again. Furthermore, he showed in his ecomomic policies that he saw full employment as the key economic aim of any government and he regarded mass employment as a great social evil. There is also a mistaken tendency among some to regard Heath as a minor figure who was largely unsuccessful. Let us not forget, however, that he made the most important decision of any post war Prime Minister - the decision to join what is now the European Union - a decision which secured the future prosperity and security of Britain and reversed decades of post war economic decline. The economic reforms of the 1980s, while themselves important in transforming the prospects of the UK, are of much lesser significance. The future course of Britain was set by Heath in the early 1970s and to that extent the British are today living in a post-Heath, rather than a post-Thatcher, society. Indeed, shortly after Heath's death, Thatcher herself felt obliged to acknowledge Heath as a 'political giant'.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2010
Still reading this, but it is well written and not "heavy" in the way some political biographies are. What it illustrates are that there are many similarities between EH's government aims and those of Cameron - winding back the heavy hand of the state, making cuts in spending etc. This was bound to be since both took over from a Labour (tax and spend) government. He also intended to introduce changes to union rules and the way they could operate and in this he was unsuccessful and led to his ultimate downfall - 3 day week etc. Anyone who has interest in the recent history of the UK or UK politics will enjoy this well written and comprehensive study of a unique politician.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2011
It is said that you should not meet your heroes, to avoid being let down. I may also be true that you shouldn't meet your villains. Edward Heath's plumy tones have been representative (to me) of all that's worst in the British Establishment for as long as I can remember. His was the voice that justified the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, and later records of the political/legal events which surrounded that event have only served to black further his reputation (in my mind). I was quite surprised to read in the book that his accent was viewed as very erratic by the British establishment, a sign of his lower middle class origins. Well well!
Ireland joined the EEC (in 1973) along with the UK and Denmark, so I never understood the magnitude of his `triumph' in bringing the UK into the Community, nor have I ever fully understood the British ambivalence to the EEC/EU. His subsequent `long sulk' during the Thatcher years rather proved my point. However the effect of Ziegler's very forgiving biography is to reveal his cloven hoof as feet of clay (perhaps).
There are some points about Heath which are remarkable - his determination, his ability in small groups, for instance he took up sailing at the age of 50 and became a world class yachtsman. Ziegler illustrates this as a determination to succeed, but also as Heath's answer to the public who might be concerned about his lack of a spouse, and of any interests outside politics. While not a connection with the real world, it did at least convey a `man-of-action' image, rather more than his musical interests. His determination to gain entry into the EEC, despite scepticism both in the Community and in Westminister show him at his political best - Ziegler states that this was a result of Heath's single-minded determination, and almost makes me believe that no one else was in favour of the policy. This is patently untrue, more I think a measure of the unpopularity of the EEC/EU in British public opinion subsequently. Ziegler approves of Heath's earlier abolition of the Retail Price Maintenance Act, in the face of fierce opposition from retailers. This paved the way for large scale supermarkets (able to exploit economies of scale ) in Britain, another rather dubious legacy.
Ziegler's view of Heath's personal life is again too forgiving to be credible, even with the most rose tinted view, a picture emerges of a mother-dominated, self-obsessed child who grows into a cold, successful, rude adult. His rudeness and isolation emerge slowly, but by the time he became prime minister were well established. Ziegler tries to pass delicately over Heath's lack of intimate relationship by guessing that perhaps some chaps are asexual. You can sense his desire to get as far away from this subject. In an era when revelation of homosexuality was a certain end to a political career, it is likely that someone as ambitious and self-centred as Heath would have repressed all personal desires which could have limited his political career.
The description of Northern Ireland was the area of the book which interested me most, and the area which changed my opinion (to a certain extent). Heath, it seems, was contemptuous of the Unionist leadership, and basically sought a political solution to the problem. It should be pointed out that he was the driving force behind what became known as the Sunningdale Agreement, which was the first power sharing authority within Northern Ireland and gave some recognition to the Republic's role. It was unsuccessful as it was brought down by rejectionist Unionists, and swept away the existing unionist establishment, but its blueprint was the essential element for the devolved administration in Northern Ireland. Even his defence of the actions of the British Army in relation to the Bloody Sunday massacre seem to have emanated from a desire not to be bested by Republican Violence, rather than a deep-seated urge to use violence. Nonetheless the choices he made during this time - blindly supporting the Army's version of events, corrupting the Judicial inquiry into the events so that it supported the Army's view - poisoned the nationalist community's attitude to Britain for many years thereafter. Heath was not alone in making this choice- it is the thinking behind Lord Deming's appalling vista. And it makes David Cameron's (very late) apology for Bloody Sunday all the more welcome, and courageous.

Heath's petulance after Margaret Thatcher came to power does him no credit, and Ziegler, obviously caught between two personalities he admires, does not conceal Heath's churlishness. What is surprising is how long it took Heath to realize that he was not going to be re-elected as Tory leader. He genuinely did not seem to grasp that his time in power was seen as a nadir, that his accommodations with unions and implementation of price (if not pay) restraint, three day weeks were seen as weakness almost immediately after his fall from power.
His dealings with the Church of England in securing his final accommodation show Heath at this worst (in my revised view) - he secured a long lease on a house in Church lands, and was able to exploit a loophole to gain ownership of the house. Something he was rather boastful about in later years. Heath died in 2005, fully thirty years since he lost the leadership of the Conservative party. His decline was long and slow and painful for all concerned.

Overall, I would have preferred a more straightforward, `biting' biography. However it did make me reassess my views of Heath, from demon to cad.
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