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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminent Victorians
The story of Gladstone and Disraeli is the story of British parliamentary politics for much of the nineteenth century. In The Lion and the Unicorn, Richard Aldous tells the tale with a masterly admixture of narrative panache, dramatic intelligence and sheer enjoyment that makes him the natural successor to Lytton Strachey and Simon Schama. Aldous is a historian who...
Published on 13 Oct 2006 by Richard Young

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit irritating
I'm sorry to disagree with a lot of other reviews but I found this book slightly grating. In an effort to try and make the story dramatic, the author over-simplifies and over-eggs the hatred between the two men (e.g. p.10 when he says that the "two men hated each other from the beginning" - this wasn't the case and it's a much more interesting question to ask why...
Published 10 months ago by Susan


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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminent Victorians, 13 Oct 2006
The story of Gladstone and Disraeli is the story of British parliamentary politics for much of the nineteenth century. In The Lion and the Unicorn, Richard Aldous tells the tale with a masterly admixture of narrative panache, dramatic intelligence and sheer enjoyment that makes him the natural successor to Lytton Strachey and Simon Schama. Aldous is a historian who combines incisive political commentary with the gusto and empathy of a great biographer. The result is a book that charts the growth to political maturity of two bitter rivals who between them dominated Westminster and party politics in Britain for decades.

In less able hands, The Lion and the Unicorn would falter under the pressure of disclosing so much material (and telling two life stories at once), but from the outset Aldous reassures the reader as to his strategic brilliance in handling so complex a narrative. The book begins with the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881. From that unexpected vantage point,Gladstone surveys the six decades of their relationship which, as Aldous remarks, would come to define Britain itself.

I recommend this book unreservedly for its sheer narrative power(especially with regard to Gladstone's anguished private life which is poignantly portrayed against the backdrop of high drama in the Commons) and for its pellucid discussion of Whig and Tory reform bills by which Britain somewhat indirectly attained the full practice of democracy. Above all, perhaps, The Lion and the Unicorn vividly reanimates the chronicle of British political life in the nineeteenth century at a time when our sense of Britain's imperial past has either faded or fallen into disrepute. This clever and gripping book should restore perspective to that past; it should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the formative impact of personality on British politics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The end of an era, 2 Mar 2008
By 
David R. Griffiths "drgrif" (Llanfyllin, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This book was hard reading. By that I mean that it took a lot of effort to reach the halfway mark. From that point on, the narrative sped up and I found it hard to put down. This book is a facinating insight into two wholly dissimilar men, each with their private devils, each with their unique view on the country and how it should be run. I thoroughly recommend anyone to read it, and see for themselves that "there is nothing new under the sun" - for despite their vision and achievements, they were men with great weaknesses, and to some extent, far more worthy of support than today's British politicians.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aldous's triumph., 2 Feb 2007
By 
Mr. J. D. Cotterell (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book, quite simply is excellent. It thoroughly researched, well written and an entertaining, nay, gripping read. Complex subject matter is dealt with masterfully, rendering it understandable and not diminishing its complexity. Gladstone and Disraeli are portrayed as human, not simply worshipped. Both a treated fairly and to book is very balanced. The primary source material is often familiar but is very well delivered nonetheless. The collection of images selected is arresting and enlightening, complimenting the wonderful imagery of the text.

An excellent book to grab the attention of a simply curious history-lover, or primer/introduction to give hope to the downhearted and bored A-level/degree student of British political history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the way history should be written, 28 Nov 2008
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This magnificent account of the rivalry between Gladstone and Disraeli is a revelation for anyone who, like me, thought history was a boring list of kings and queens. The book brings to life the role and functioning of the British parliament in the 19th century, which was, in general, dominated by the wealthy, and run in their interests.

And who 'won'? Well Gladstone outlived Disraeli, and became prime minister several times after Disraeli's death. Disraeli's legacy was the idea that the job of the opposition should be to oppose the government, and he laid down the foundations of the modern Conservative Party, and developed the 'One Nation' ideology that kept it as the natural party of government for near a hundred years.

Gladstone left a Liberal Party severely split over the issue of Irish Home Rule, and doomed within twenty years to be squeezed out between the confident Conservatives and the growing electoral power of the Labour party. On the other hand he did give his name to the gladstone bag!
Queen Victoria survived them both. She adored Disraeli and despised Gladstone. In fact her comment on the two of them makes a fitting epitaph: 'When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr Gladstone I thought he was the cleverest man in England, but after sitting next to Mr Disraeli I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.'

A really good read..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit irritating, 8 Nov 2013
I'm sorry to disagree with a lot of other reviews but I found this book slightly grating. In an effort to try and make the story dramatic, the author over-simplifies and over-eggs the hatred between the two men (e.g. p.10 when he says that the "two men hated each other from the beginning" - this wasn't the case and it's a much more interesting question to ask why Gladstone disliked Disraeli before Disraeli really turned against Gladstone). The author also resorts to cliches and cheap hits to try and make the book readable and I found this quite irritating - for instance the references to Gladstone's diarrhoea. I thought the analysis of Disraeli's time in government was really shallow and the worst thing was that book seems to fall off a cliff at the end. There's no proper conclusion at all and no real attempt to make sense of the hundreds of pages of rivalry which go before. The book is full of interesting quotes and stories and that to some extent makes it worthwhile. But as a piece of history I thought it wasn't very insightful and I thought the two characters were presented in a really oversimplified way.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 12 April 2007
This book gives a revealing insight into what must be the most fascinating relationship in British politics. It's like watching a fifteen round, no-holds-barred world heavyweight contest fought, literally, to the death. The mercurial Disraeli dodges his way around the rather more leaden Gladstone, jabbing him to a standstill, only to be caught off-guard with a body-sapping uppercut! Following the action as the pendulum of power and dominance swings from contender to champion and back again is rivetting, with each gaining stunning victories that crumble to dust almost as soon as they are achieved, in a sort of rumble in the political jungle. Disraeli even attempts the parliamentary equivalent of a rope-a-dope, biding his time while Gladstone punches himself to a standstill, before nudging him to the canvas with a well-timed jab to that glass chin! OK... maybe the analogy has gone a bit far, but you get the picture.

It is a compelling corrective to those who see the personalisation of politics, presidential-style campaigning and the devious art of spin as a recent phenomenon. As with modern sports, many of the rules of 21st century politics were laid down during the period of this titanic struggle. Disraeli certainly comes across as the more attractive character, but both men manage to drive their supporters to distraction as often as they command, sometimes grudging, respect.

It was also interesting to note that there was so little clamour for reform before Gladstone (who had voted against the 1832 act) brought it back into focus in 1866 - only to see Disraeli snatch the prize from his grasp with some fancy footwork (though this, in turn, proved a pyrrhic victory). I could have done with a little more background on the events that flit in and out of the scene as the protoganists occupy centre-stage, but this would undoubtedly have held up the momentum of the narrative, which is at full-throttle almost throughout. By the end you do feel that, in the words of Lewis Carroll: `each of them has been down about eighty-seven times.' There is a kind of relief in seeing the exhausting conflict reach its conclusion, but also a sadness that the remarkable energy of these two, very human, individuals has been extinguished.

Modern parallels, if a little glib, aren't hard to find: the political chancer who is quite happy to upset his backbenchers if it helps wrong-foot his opponents to gain a tactical advantage, and will willingly rattle a few sabres to divert attention from a lacklustre domestic performance - only to find that reverses abroad rebound to batter his reputation at home (though it is Gladstone who holds the unshakeable belief that he is following God's will).

It is, in that well-worn phrase, an unputdownable account and a must-read for anyone interested in politics - or drama!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars two heavyweights, 5 Sep 2007
I wish I had read this book when I was studying history fifty years ago. It brings the confrontation between Gladstone and Disraeli to life combining parliamentary proceedings with an analysis of the character of the two men. The contract between the outwardly respectable Gladstone and his frequent "rescue missions" to "fallen women" and the more raffish Dizzy with a happy marriage to a much older wife. It also brings out very clearly the interventionism of Queen Victoria generally in favour of Disraeli. A wonderful read.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful reminder of a pivotal relationship, 10 Nov 2007
By 
A. J. Power "John" (Bath, England) - See all my reviews
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There have been many biographies of Disraeli and Gladstone individually. Both sorts of biography necessarily contain considerable information about the other person, as it is impossible to understand one without some understanding of the other. But, with a few exceptions, such an exception being Lord Blake's biography of Disraeli, biographies tend to be written by partisans, people who particularly like the subject of their biography, or occasionally, people who particularly dislike the subject of their biography. So it is not easy to find a biography by an author who appreciates the perspective of both the subject and the principal antagonist of the subject. That leaves plenty of space for a book such as this one. In my view, this book has filled that space admirably.

It is a commonplace to observe that the relationship between Disraeli and Gladstone was pivotal to 19th century British politics. But that relationship is not an historical relic. One sees variations of it and the questions fundamental to it time and again, including the present time. Should Britain aspire to a leading role in the world or should it keep more to itself? To what extent should it be willing to use military force around the world? Exactly how should it interact with Europe? What are proper roles for the monarchy, for the Church of England, and for the House of Lords? What should be be the nature of the relationship between England and other parts of the United Kingdom? All of these issues were pivotal to Disraeli and Gladstone, both of them intelligent, skillful, thoughtful politicians who did not always agree with the views of their parties. This book brings the issues to life, trying to see why the two characters thought as they did.

Disraeli and Gladstone were also both remarkably colourful and interesting characters. Although both lived their political lives during the Victorian Era, the views of both were formed before that, with Disraeli in particular having much more in common with people like his hero Byron than with many of his contemporaries. And he was renowned for listening seriously to the views of women at a time when that was deeply unpopular. His views simply are not what one would normally imagine Victorian views to be, yet he lived his political life during the Victorian era, and Queen Victoria herself was particularly impressed by him. Gladstone was more a man of his time, but even so, his rabble-rousing electioneering is hardly what one usually associates with Victorian reserve. In my view, the book draws this all out in a fascinating and particularly enjoyable manner.

In short, I simply enjoyed the book immensely. Although I have read quite a few biographies of both Disraeli and Gladstone, the book had information that was new to me. I particularly appreciated the way in which it interleaved the stories, and I duly recommend the book whole-heartedly.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dandy and the demagogue, 10 Mar 2007
By 
Quark (South Croydon, UK) - See all my reviews
Great rivalries always fascinate. And great rivalries up and down the greasy pole of politics are always going to have verve and drama in the hands of a good narrative writer.

And Richard Aldous is certainly that. This sympathetic, wry account of how two absolute opposites - culturally and psychologically as well as politically - smashed into each other as the British Empire reached its apogee hurtles along at a fantastic pace. The drama's driven not only by the characters but by the pendulum of power constantly swinging between them so that when Disraeli's stock is high, Gladstone's is inevitably low; and vice versa. This is history which, in Alan Bennett's phrase, is very much `just one thing after another', and the pace never slacks. Disraeli and Gladstone loathed each other in an age when that didn't necessarily follow, in politics; but it was also an age in which the idea of a `party machine' emerged, the Liberals coalesced into form and the Conservatives redefined themselves not once, but twice. The political landscape suffered tremors; Gladstone and Disraeli rode the unrest (and sometimes caused it), flinging rocks at each other whilst fighting to stay on their feet.

True, sometimes the reader might wish for a little more background colour - some more detail in the prose, or a greater sense of context. But this - and the anticipation that a smattering of typos will be corrected in the paperback - is small beer. In fact, `The Lion and the Unicorn' wouldn't be the book it is if it were slower - and as it is, it's unputdownable.

Firmly recommended. Great fun.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a great read!, 6 May 2008
By 
SJ SMART "Smartie" (London) - See all my reviews
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I teach history and have been teaching A level 19th century England, including Gladstone and Disraeli. This book naturally was recomended to me and what a good choice it was.

The Lion and the Unicorn is a well written, readable and fascinating account of the political duel between these two historical heavy weights as they battle it out in Westminster in the 19th century. It was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the 19th century.
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