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Margot Asquith's Great War Diary 1914-1916: The View from Downing Street
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 June 2014
Margot Asquith's diary of the opening years of World War I paints a vivid picture of life at the top of British politics from 1914 until her husband's fall from power in 1916.

Sometimes perceptive in her judgement of people and events, but often very wide of the mark, she was deeply (but not always helpfully) loyal to both Asquith and the Liberal cause, which she (and he) saw as being virtually identical and inseparable.

Mostly written alongside the events described, sometimes delayed when time pressed, her writing conveys great immediacy and personal belief to the reader. It is liberally supplied with fascinating, verbatim snippets of conversations with the elite, much as we learn her own conversation was sometimes indiscreet when talking with those who were social friends but political rivals.

We gain the most intimate possible view of the key moments in the final years of Asquith's premiership, from the outbreak of war to parliamentary triumphs such as the imposition of the naval blockade of Germany in response to the ruthless U-Boat policy against even neutral shipping. There is political and party political turmoil over the formation of the wartime Coalition and the introduction of conscription, with both of which Margot (as a staunch Liberal) strongly disagreed.

Within the national tragedy come the deaths of friends, cousins and Asquith's personal loss of his brilliant son Raymond, Margot's step-son, killed at the Somme, and the damage to Asquith's reputation as a war leader when a speech publically revealed his ignorance of the truth about munitions shortages affecting the British army in France. Asquith's eventual fall from office is shocking to both husband and wife as an event that neither of them could ever truly imagine. Lloyd George's increasing reliance on the Conservatives would finally expose the faultlines within the Liberal party, leading to its splitting and eventual near-extinction in Parliament.

The political and social world described in the diary is illuminated by the extensive footnotes by Eleanor Brock, and is presented here in a style which is clear and very readable. A superb 147 page Introduction by Michael Brock explains the Asquiths' personal and political journeys which took them to 10 Downing Street and formed their confident Liberal worldview, which in time may have lead to over-confidence, even complacency - and exit from power. The Diary is followed by a short Epilogue, family trees, a chronology, extensive biographical notes on many of the relatives, friends and political and military figures involved and a comprehensive bibliography and index.

This is really two excellent books in one, the Introduction and the Diary combining to give a rewarding insight into the Asquiths' world and his years in power, the last solely Liberal government and its great Prime Minister, the descent to War and two gifted people struggling to adapt to the loss of imperial certainty and a terrible new reality.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2014
For all its flaws and misunderstandings, Margot Asquith's diary remains an important primary source for the period 1914 - 1916, and its accessibility in this published edition is to be welcomed.

The real gem of this book, however, is Michael Brock's wise and erudite 127-page Introduction. This would stand future republication as a stand-alone monograph and would serve as a key text on Great Britain's entry into the Great War and its role therein until Asquith's political fall in 1916.

Taken together, the important primary source of Margot Asquith's diaries, and Brock's Introduction, make this book a must-have for those interested in Britain and the Great War.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Read these edited diaries if you enjoy gossip, occasional wit and the acid comments of a wife trying to defend her much loved husband, loved despite his many affairs (she had many before her marriage). But take most of her criticisms of generals annd politicians with a large pinch of salt for they are for the most part misplaced and horribly biased. This is a shame because for a time Margot was literally at the heart of government. She could have left an enormously important record of events.

To understand her bitterness and caustic wit it is necessary to recall the record of Herbert, her husband, while he was Prime Minister. Margot was Herbert's second wife. He was a staunch Liberal, a compassionate and warm human being. He did well in the domestic politics field but, unfortunately, he was not cut out to run a war, particularly one like that which erupted in 1914. He lacked the dynamism, drive and ruthlessness to wage a Great War, and the senior military plus his political opponents knew it; so did Margot but she would never admit it in public.

Herbert held dear the values of Victorian Liberalism. He hated war and, therefore, conscription which his wife described as' stupid unEnglish coercion'. As the casualty lists became longer and longer he became bitter and frustrated; his only son and many friends were killed, including the Grenfell brothers.

Herbert came under fire as the possibility of a quick victory receded. His detractors, who included the Times and The Daily Mail, attacked him over his running of the war, in particular the shell crisis and the badly planned and disastrous Gallipoli venture.

As the criticisms mounted, Margot hit back with withering comments in her diaries about stupid politicians and generals. In her diaries she attacked, for example, Sir John French, Lloyd George whom she despised, Churchill, and Kitchener, the S of S for war. She had a particular hatred of Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India. She called him, Churchill and many other establishment figures 'curs and swine'. She demonstrates in these diaries again and again an inabilty to make objective comments about anyone whom she disliked. These were anyone who criticised her husband. Laudable but horribly biased behaviour for a leading diarist.

Margot continued to use her diaries to record what her husband had to face. Eventually, he was forced to resign. He was replaced by the dynamic Lloyd George. The diaries record what she heard, read and saw while Herbert was in Number 10. They contain some hilairious comments, examples of her acid wit and pertinent questions she put to those who criticised her husband. She held very little back. However, what is seriously lacking is a cogent analysis of political events.

Entertaining but you will learn little of long-term value.

The diaries have been very well edited.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2015
This is an excellent book & the one I refer to for Margot Asquith. To be recommended.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2014
An excellent edition of the diaries of a woman who was eccentric and ultra-loyal to her husband
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2015
Found the book very boring
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2014
very good thank you
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2014
good
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2014
Just the arrogant ramblings of an over-indulged woman - most disappointing
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2014
Very muddling especially on a kindle with the notes at the end of each chapter. Not as interesting as I had expected and after a bit rather predictable.
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