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VINE VOICEon 4 January 2009
Mrs Thatcher once told a TV interviewer that one of her girlhood ambitions had been to become an actress. As Campbell shows, there's no evidence to support this claim, although, paradoxically, it may be the best clue we have to understanding the "real" Margaret Thatcher.

Grocer's daughter, schoolgirl, scientist, lawyer, Tory lady, politician, tigress, milk-snatcher, iron lady, housewife-superstar or, as, many Americans thought, "quite a dame". Will the real Margaret Thatcher, please stand up?

Like his subject, Campbell has done his homework and stuck closely to his brief. No stone is left unturned, no claim unquestioned and no fact unverified. The result is a detailed and well-balanced account of Margaret Roberts' journey from the now legendary corner shop in Grantham to steps of Number 10.

The focus is very much on Mrs Thatcher herself. Current events, politicians and family are only mentioned inasmuch as they affect her personal and political development. Whilst this gives the book a strong narrative feel, it assumes some background knowledge of post war Britain. Readers who weren't around at the time or are unfamiliar with that era's politics may find that some of the minor players merge into an amorphous mass of men in grey suits (although, come to think of it ...)

A good solid five-star read.
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This well-researched book covers the life of Margaret Thatcher from her birth and her childhood in Grantham to her election as Prime Minister in 1979. Her youth and education are dealt with in the chapters Dutiful Daughter, Serious Schoolgirl and Oxford Tory, whilst the chapter Young Conservative recounts the story of her first job, her marriage to Denis Thatcher and her first spirited election campaigns in safe Labour seats.
The birth of her children, her life as a mother and housewife and her legal studies are discussed in chapter six: Superwoman. This chapter concludes with her stunning victory in the Finchley constituency in the 1959 election. The next two chapters describe her life as a backbencher and a junior minister. Between 1964 and 1970 with the Conservatives in opposition, Thatcher held many different portfolios: junior spokeswoman on pensions, housing and economic policy and member of the shadow cabinet for power, transport and finally education.
After the Tory victory in 1970 she was education secretary for more than three years. The Conservatives were defeated in 1974 and the next year she was elected leader of the opposition, the role dealt with in the chapter of the same name. The exciting election campaign of 1979 is covered in the chapter Into Downing Street, which also deals with the beginning of her long and glorious reign as Prime Minister.
The text is filled with quotes from newspapers and people who played a role in her life. The author has gone to great lengths to be as thorough and meticulous as possible; the research cannot be faulted. Furthermore, Campbell manages to capture the mood of the times very well in his analysis of British history and politics and succeeds in making the detail interesting. For example, the election results for Margaret's Finchley constituency are provided throughout the book, for every election.
As a great admirer of Thatcher, I do not agree with his every conclusion or every single point of opinion, but his work is exhaustive and impressive. It is also quite readable although the avalanche of facts, figures and analysis do sometimes reach overload.
Of the book's 33 black and white photographs, my favourites include a picture of Margaret aged 4 with her sister, the proud mother with twins in 1953 and the future Prime Minister holding a calf in the 1979 election campaign. The book includes 41 pages of notes and references, a vast bibliography and an index.
Along with volume 2, this excellent book will surely stand the test of time as the most authoritative biography of this remarkable woman. I also recommend Thatcher's book Statecraft, a highly readable and insightful look at world politics at the beginning of the 21st century.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 May 2009
Like the subject herself, acclaimed writer John Campbell decided to write about the Margaret Thatcher's life and achievements in two volumes. The first one, 'The Grocer's Daughter' tells the Thatcher story from her childhood right up to winning the keys to number ten Downing Street at the 1979 general election.

I am not a supporter of Thatcher, and do not admire much of what she did whatsoever, but as someone with a keen interest in politics, it would be foolishly for me to attempt to ignore such a giant, important figure. I admire her strength of character, her determination and courage, at least when she said she was going to do something - she did it. She had this unshakeable believe that, if she felt passionately enough about something, what she was doing was right.

This well-written hardback about the first half on her life is a tad on dry side, but very easy to read. I found this biography to be less of a chore, and much less tiring and over wordy than the woman's own book, 'The Path to Power', In 'The Grocer's daughter' Campbell did excessive research into her childhood in Grantham, investigating how her beliefs were formed and shaped, and moves onto her university life at Oxford, her professions before politics came to the fore, and how she won the election, giving her the honour of being Britain's first woman prime minister. We also discover more about Margaret Thatcher over a personal life, her private life, the mother of two twins, and the darling of her devoted husband Dennis, whose support and encouragement was fundamental.

Illustrated with good black-and-white photograph inserts, and complete with a detailed appendix at the back, this is a model biography, and an essential for anyone with an interest in how the Iron Lady was moulded, and for political history buffs in general.
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on 6 February 2003
John Campbell has produced an extremely insightful biography, and although it is the first volume, contains some of the best analysis about Thatcher ever written.
Taking as its' basic premise the fact that she claimed to be so indebted to her father, he assiduously looks into her life and ideology prior to 1979 to see if this statement stands up to repeated scrutiny.
Although in this sense it is somewhat of a revisionist account, Campbell is scrupulously fair to Thatcher. He analyses her strengths fairly, and succeeds in producing what must be one of the last partisan biographies to have been written about her. Whilst her claimed links with the past are found wanting - the main thrust is that she manipulated her past to gain political advancement, he does succeed in explaining how she became to dominent political figure of the late 20th century. As a politics student who did not live through the time, it was interestign to see how the perceptions of her altered as time passed, and how she built up her image following her election as Leader of the Opposition in 1975.
One can only hope that Campbell's book on her period in Government is as balanced and as scrupulous as this volume.
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on 5 March 2012
Campbell's book is extraordinarily well researched and is an excellent corrective to the extensive hagiography that passes as biography and analysis.Thatcher emerges a woman situated very much in her class and times, negotiating her way through the Conservative party as a lower middle class woman in a male dominated world of privilege. And it makes apparent the intellectual limitations of Thatcher, and how these, unlike her class background and gender, proved no barrier to success within the Tory party. Other people will read the book differently, as its wealth of information supports a multiplicity of ways of trying to come to terms with Thatcher as a person and as a pseudo-mythic figure.

Campbell is perhaps a little to ready to accept uncritically some of the claims that are made about Thatcher and abut the state of Britain during her time in opposition and in power, but that kind of critical examination of the substance of Thatcher's achievement lies outside the scope of a biography, even when it's a political biography. I'd give it five stars were it not for the fact that Campbell is a little too inclined to accept the 'received' Thatcherite account, which we know to be seriously flawed.
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on 28 April 2003
This is a well-written and well-researched book that is both even-handed and insightful. What you should get from reading this is both a clear view of Lady Thatcher as a person and as a politician, and some interesting insights into how her life has influenced her political views.
The book also demolishes some of the mythology surrounding Lady Thatcher, and shows that she was more of a political opportunist than a great thinker. Equally it does highlight her determination and political skills.
I await the 2nd volume with interest!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 December 2008
Few prime ministers loom as large in the British historical imagination as does Margaret Thatcher. Idolized by her supporters and demonized by her detractors, her historical image is as much myth as it is reality, one created in part by Thatcher's own efforts to shape her public profile in politically appealing terms. One of the great achievements of John Campbell in his excellent first volume of his biography of Thatcher is his success in separating the myths from the story of her life and assessing their contribution to defining her image.

This Campbell does starting with the image from the subtitle, that of 'the grocer's daughter'. He skillfully deconstructs this legend, noting that Margaret Roberts's upbringing was neither as humble nor as idyllic as she made it seem and that her father, Alfred was not the hero she would later make him out to be. What emerges instead is a hard-working and determined young woman who pursued politics from a young age. Her career was facilitated greatly by her marriage to Denis Thatcher, who provided emotional and financial support that was indispensable to her rise in politics.

Thatcher's work ethic and drive soon won her office in Edward Heath's cabinet as Secretary of State for Education. Here she gained firsthand exposure to the Whitehall bureaucracy for the first time, an experience that left her less than impressed. Yet even after Heath's defeat in the two successive elections of 1974, his position appeared secure enough to make a challenge to his leadership of the Conservative Party seem foolhardy, and Thatcher's challenge came after more prominent Tory leaders passed on the opportunity. Yet her campaign tapped a deep vein of resentment, and she triumphed against all expectations.

Throughout this, Campbell notes the fortuitous confluence of events that aided her rise. This was best illustrated by her assumption of the Conservative Party leadership at the moment when an opening for her ideology emerged with the breakdown of the democratic socialist consensus. With unemployment swelling to levels not seen since the 1930s, Thatcher was able to exploit the inability of the Labour government to grapple with the problem. The book ends with the Conservative victory in the 1979 general election and Thatcher embarking on her transformative 11-year premiership, the subject of his next volume.

Impressively researched and absorbingly written, Campbell's book is a triumph of the biographical art. He succeeds in presenting a judicious portrait of Thatcher, one that approaches her with skepticism yet never fails to giver her her due. It is the indispensable starting point for understanding this complex and controversial figure, one that is unlikely to be bettered for its description of Thatcher's early years and their role in her political legend.
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on 26 July 2012
This is an outstanding first volume of a two part biography of Margaret Thtacher who must surely rank as the most important British politician of the twentieth century. The book contains two key insights: one her ideological consistency throughout her life and two her consonance of purpose in aiming for high office.It is in the balance of the two that the key to understanding Thatcher lies. I have been studying Thtacher for 30 years and have read many books about her and her ideology I can only say this is the best.(I am about to start volume two)
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on 30 June 2013
This book is now highly collectable, alongside the other books relating to Margaret Thatcher's life and achievements.
A good read, and by no means a small book, it illustrates with accuracy and clarity, those times of her life when as a younger woman, she set herself the targets and standards that would form the basis of her success later in her political career.
Informative, and never boring, the revelations contained in this work will provide a true insight into thuis remarkable woman.
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on 12 December 2007
I read this along with her autobiographies, and of course this is far less biased! It reveals fascinating background information about her postmaster father who was also a local councillor. Campbell suggests realistic reasons behind Thatcher's motives and drive, without delving into unecessary pychobabble.

Anyone with any interest in British politics or history will enjoy this book: it is written in an easy going style, but it is extrememly thorough and thoughtful.
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