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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbook
This must be the finest biography of the year. It is immensely thoroughly researched and very well-written.Very few people know the period half as well as Thorpe does. When writing his biographies of Selwyn Lloyd, Alec Douglas-Home and Anthony Eden he interviewed a great number of the people at the centre of events, including Macmillan himself, and those interviews are...
Published on 11 Oct 2010 by Abbotsford

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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed bio of a fascinating politician - with one oddity
Mr. Thorpe's biography of Anthony Eden is one of the best political biographies I've read, so I looked forward to reading this. Perhaps because I was born during his Premiership (!) I find Macmillan a fascinating figure, and I'm not generally a Conservative supporter. Eden is described by Thorpe in his biography as always a left-of-centre figure, and I think that is even...
Published 21 months ago by Davey


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbook, 11 Oct 2010
This must be the finest biography of the year. It is immensely thoroughly researched and very well-written.Very few people know the period half as well as Thorpe does. When writing his biographies of Selwyn Lloyd, Alec Douglas-Home and Anthony Eden he interviewed a great number of the people at the centre of events, including Macmillan himself, and those interviews are full of insights into the Supermac era. He has been indefatigable too in searching out every scrap of information to be found in archives and personal collections. But all this learning is worn lightly. The book is stuffed with anecdotes, for which the author has a great ear,and the book is written with ease and humour. It is that rare thing, a definitive work which is also a thoroughly good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A super biography of "Supermac"., 27 Jan 2011
This is an elegantly written ,well-researched biography of Harold Macmillan.I have always been interested in Harold Macmillan because , as a boy , he was the first PM that I can really remember.I have read D.R. Thorpes other biographies of Eden, Home and Selwyn Loyd.They were good but a little dry in parts.However, the writers technique has either improved or Macmillan is a much more interesting subject than the other three, because this book is not dry at all!Thorpe has had access to much more unpublishes material than than earlier biographies and a fully rounded portrait of Macmillan emerges.details of Macmillans wifes affair with Boothby were already known- but much new material is produced.We also find a rather nasty streak of anti-semitism ran through Macmillan as shown about is nasty comments in his diary about Gerald Kaufman( now a senior Labour MP) his labour opponent in his constituency in the 1955 election.There also emerges his snobby disdain for the petty-bourgeois Selwyn Lloyd.However Macmillan emerges as a well-read man-conscious of the sweep of history, who was the creator of prosperity for all.The "Envoi" section also points out that as Chancellor he introduced "Premium Bonds"- a lasting achievment.All-in-all Macmillan towers above present day political pygmies like Camaeron, Clegg and Milliband and this book does him justice.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good all rounders don't come as much today, 18 Sep 2010
Good all-rounders are getting rarer in our specialised world. To rise to the highest office in the land you have to tick more boxes than most. Harold Macmillan ticked boxes in the worlds of the university, commerce, the military and religion. His politics were liberal yet conservative, rebel yet loyalist. He was a crofter's great-grandson yet his father-in-law was a Duke. Possessing all these qualities guarantees personal complexity and an interesting biography.

Constitutional historian D.R.Thorpe's Supermac is close on the heels of Charles Williams' 2009 biography but it is a fuller and more revealing work. Thorpe has written previous biographies of Tory politicians and the authority he bears expresses itself in bibliography and notes that make up a third of his magnum opus.

Great men and women are usually people who have suffered. In this way their humanity appeals through the braving of fear. Macmillan's courage was forged in the trenches of the First World War and a near death experience in the Second World War. His family life was traumatic but he braved humiliation sticking it seems to Christian principle and refusing to contemplate divorce. The courage he possessed made him his own man. He stood alone in cabinet when he told the aged Churchill his days as Prime Minister needed to end. Macmillan even dared to suggest to Pope Pius XII he would serve Christian unity by recognising the orders of Anglican priests - to be received by silence!

His brilliant intellect made him too clever for some, including Churchill who saw him as an opinionated subordinate. Macmillan saw his undergraduate reading parties as the very anticipation of heaven. Throughout his life his work was energised by his reading times. His experience at the sharp end of things did something to redeem his cerebral tendency but a negative image persisted. His Labour political opponent Aneurin Bevan saw him as a poseur. Bevan concluded cruelly that having watched the man carefully for years `behind that Edwardian countenance there is nothing'. His fellow Tory rival Butler was kinder and saw two sides to him `the soft heart for and the strong determination to help the underdog, and the social habit to associate happily with the overdog'.

Harold Macmillan's life spans the 20th century. His first memories from his Chelsea childhood were of the pervasive smell of horses and the sound of the blacksmith at work. D.R.Thorpe describes the strong influence of his American mother, Nellie and the muscular Christianity he imbibed that mellowed later in an Anglocatholicism born through the influence of his mentor Ronnie Knox. After the 1914-18 war he married Lady Dorothy Cavendish whose unfaithfulness to him with Bob Boothby has been well chronicled. Dorothy kept up appearances, a stolid politician's wife seeing Harold elected as MP in Stockton and then Bromley. She stood by him through a political ascent after war service in the Mediterranean to Minister of Housing, Minister of Defence, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister from 1957 to1963.

Two phrases applauding his stewardship as premier are, on the domestic front, `You've never had it so good' and on foreign affairs, `The winds of change', the heading for a speech encouraging Africa to shake off its colonial yoke. Two negatives cited are the 1945 repatriation of Cossacks to their execution in Russia and the 1956 Suez crisis. Like any successful politician Macmillan seized the `glittering prizes offered those who have stout hearts and sharp swords' (F.E.Smith).

His wit is captured well in this expansive book. Interrupted in a speech by Khruschev banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations he looks up and says quietly, `Well, I would like it translating if you would.' Unveiling a bronze of Mrs Thatcher at the Carlton Club he makes an audible stage whisper, `Now I must remember that I am unveiling a bust of Margaret Thatcher, not Margaret Thatcher's bust.' On a trip to Russia, told `dobry den' means `good day' he regales everyone with the words `double gin'!

My own interest in Macmillan is fuelled by having a similar shade of Christian conviction as well as by serving as priest in the parish of Horsted Keynes where he worshipped and is now buried. D.R.Thorpe provides several anecdotes of local interest, like his persuading one of my predecessors to change the lesson he read the Sunday Churchill died to `let us now praise famous men'. Thorpe indicates Macmillan possessed a clear sense of divine providence working through the historical events that propelled his career and the illness that saved his addressing the prime ministerial succession. To his Christian sensibilities we owe the appointment of two of the Church of England's most famous 20th century clerics, Michael Ramsey and Mervyn Stockwood.

D.R.Thorpe writes of Macmillan's observation on the self-preoccupation that has grown up in the wake of the decline in Christian allegiance. He ends the book quoting his call to `restore and strengthen the moral and spiritual as well as the material' rather countering the materialist `you've never had it so good' association of his subject.

Supermac is a good read in both senses, well written and in its length, though this and the detail are not overwhelming since the author's narrative keeps a human interest all through. It is very favourable to the subject but does not skirt round negative perceptions of the man.

The Revd Dr John Twisleton, Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes September 2010
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The last Patrician PM, 4 Oct 2010
By 
John Grimbaldeston (Preston, Lancashire) - See all my reviews
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It isn't so much D. R. Thorpe's full and readable tome that puts one off writing a review, it is the Rev Twistleton's brilliant review of the book which is a work of art in its own right and shouts "follow that" to any subsequent reviewer. Anyway, here goes ... Harold Macmillan was the first politician I remember as I was growing up, and he seemed to run the country with a headmasterly air of natural authority that to have his late-premiership difficulties explained so clearly here serves to tarnish, if not quite shatter, an illusion, as do the details of his difficult private life with Lady Dorothy. It is interesting to read how the two world wars shaped him: one proving his bravery, the other his administrative skills: the suggestion of a scandal behind the repatriation of the Cossacks is investigated thoroughly and Macmillan is largely exonerated, so he seems to have had two "good wars" a firm foundation for a political career. His political astuteness is also shown as he emerged from Suez with reputation untarnished, even enhanced, and his early years in the premiership coincided with the end of austerity and the country's economic expansion until we had "never had it so good". The patrician manner suited the deferential fifties, but seemed less at home in the more bumptious sixties, and that too comes across in the book: problems of sex, within ones own marriage or outside of marriage as with the Profumo affair, were best left unconfronted, and there comes a point in any government when it no longer mirrors the spirit of the time and government and governed cease to understand each other, as happened in the latter years. D. R. Thorpe's biography confirms the accepted view of Macmillan without unearthing any radical new interpretations, and as such is a full and in many ways comfortable read. His style is appropriately erudite: he loves the Latin or French phrases, italicised but untranslated, which his subject would have understood but his reader, well, this reader, didn't always; and he is thankfully clear when explaining potentially difficult areas, as with the aforementioned repatriation of Cossacks and White Russians.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERMAC, 10 Jan 2012
I have read everything there is about Harold Macmillan,and thoroughly enjoyed all of his books, as always, it is a really good read about a man I admire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Supermac, 14 July 2013
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A book full of intrigue and interesting facts about his career. A great politician and statsman who had to deal with numerous tricky situations during his time in office.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Biography of one of the big Political Figures of the mid-twentieth Century, 1 Nov 2012
Supermac by D.R. Thorpe is a very good book dealing with the life of one of the most interesting of the twentieth century's politicians. The work itself is informative, detailed and opinionated. It shows the complexity of a man full of ideas and vision, with highly attuned political skills and an abundance of ambition who struggled for a long time to even to obtain a minor position within his party and was plagued by a very difficult private life. All in all an excellent book about arguably the last successful One-Nation Conservative Prime Minister.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography of Harold Macmillan, 5 Dec 2010
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
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D.R. Thorpe's massive biography of British PM Harold Macmillan is a marvelous study of the man and his times. Usually thought of in connection with the John Profumo scandal of 1963 which occurred shortly before the end of his term as PM, Thorpe writes that Macmillin really resigned his position due to health problems. Never the less, the names "Harold Macmillan" and "John Profumo" remain linked in the pages of history.

Harold Macmillan was born of an English father and an American mother. Winston Churchill also had an English father and American mother, but Churchill's family were aristocrats while Macmillan's were upper middle class - wealthy and influential from his father's founding and success at Macmillan Publishers. Harold, third son of three, was educated at Eton, for a short time before his mother pulled him out for reasons that remain unclear a century later, and then at Oxford's Bailliol College. He did well there, a very good student at a very good Oxford college and made many friends who would be helpful in later life. He served in British forces in WW1 and rose to the rank of captain.

After the war, he joined his father's publishing company and began to explore politics. A Tory - or Conservative - he rose slowly up the ranks of the party in the 1920' and 1930's. He also married Lady Dorothy Devonshire, a marriage which produced one son and three daughters. Dorothy was famously unfaithful to Harold for many years with Macmillan's political ally, Bob Boothby. Macmillan turned a blind eye to the affair, carried out in public and fully known to Macmillan's friends and political associates. Why did Harold Macmillan stand for such public cuckcolding? He wanted to rise further in politics and a divorce would have ended his participation in public life. So he endured the many year affair with a certain degree of grace and he remained married. Their marriage - happy in certain ways and a great political coupling - ended only in 1966 with Dorothy Macmillan's death.

Thorpe doesn't neglect Macmillan's public life while writing about his private one. Macmillan seemed to be in on most of the major WW2 and post-war governmental decisions in Britain, and finally succeeded Anthony Eden as head of the Conservative Party and as British PM in January, 1957. He served for about six years, overlapping the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. He died at 91, an honored and respected man, seen as someone who - generally - served his country well in a variety of different governmental positions.

Thorpe is a very smooth writer and he has written an excellent history. I bought the book on Kindle because it's not yet published here in the US. But I'm glad I read it on Kindle instead of ordering the British edition of the printed book or waited for its release in the US. Kindle is the best way to read a huuuugge book like Thorpe's.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Thoughtful Book, 5 Feb 2014
By 
G. S. Robinson "History Reader" (Pau France) - See all my reviews
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Having read few political biographies but with a fascination for the significant political changes that occurred when I was young and when life in Britain was overshadowed by two world wars, this book provided much needed detail for me. Wonderfully researched and well written; you could not ask for a better definition of the thinking that lay behind the events in British political life between the end of the Second World War and the 1970s. The author captures the mindset of a nation and its leaders very clearly and gives us a clear insight into the idealism and hopes of one of Britain's better Prime Ministers of the 20th century. I have now started on the author's biography of Anthony Eden on the strength of this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic review of a life, 21 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan (Kindle Edition)
Well-researched and well-written, a detailed account that complements MacMillan's 6 volume autobiography with greater, if somewhat uncritical, insight to his personality.
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