Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars You will enjoy reading this book, 9 Dec 2013
This review is from: Disraeli: or, The Two Lives (Hardcover)
You'd think you can't go wrong writing a biography about the obscure Jewish second class novelist who managed to get to lead the Conservative Party (a party still run by landed aristocrats in the fifties for heaven's sake) in the heyday of the Victorian empire when the world map was pink. The subject has a rattlingly good life story, with its own in-built narrative from bankruptcy to a country pile, and an endless supply of bons mots and wit unparalleled in future politicians, almost endlessly available in his speeches, his copious letters and his many novels. This book indeed does not go wrong.
It is as much fun as any thriller and it can be easily read in a few days. As Boris Johnson (the only modern politician the authors feel compares with Dizzy) wrote, this book can be `snorted in one session'. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to almost anyone I know. In contrast books by Roy Jenkins, another late twentieth century Great Politician who also took to writing political biographies after he left the political scene, are also insightful and excellent reading, but some of his are very, very long and best for the truly committed.
The authors bravely criticise Disraeli's writing style - and they have every right to. They assume the reader is an ignorant genius. Hugely complex background events (such as, for example, government-busting grants to Irish Universities) are summed up in a crystal clear readable sentence or paragraph.
The authors have an over-arching theme - namely that Disraeli really was the unprincipled charlatan his critics saw him as, but he was also the ultimate practitioner of the art of politics in the mould of many contemporary politicians. The reason why his climbing of his greasy pole was so particularly slippery was because he got there with endless greasy political volte faces as he had no abiding principles or beliefs. Not only Gladstone and the Radical John Bright, but senior Tories who worked with him, found Disraeli devoid of belief and principle. Significantly, the authors argue, he was not the great `one nation' politician he is now seen as - he may have said there are `two nations', but he never called for `One Nation'. If he believed in anything at all (outside rights for Jewish people where Disraeli exceptionally backed this one unpopular and principled cause), they argue it was for some mythical waffly return to a pastoral England run by aristocrats.
Spewing from every double page, is the knowledge that Douglas Hurd is not only the doyen of foreign secretaries in a long political career that stretches from his `big jobs' under Heath continuing right through to Major in the nineties, but like Disraeli, Douglas Hurd also managed to knock out thrillers while a serving senior politician. As the ultimate elder statesman, Douglas Hurd can give us the big picture perspective. More than simply an overview of Disraeli's life, this book discusses his effect on the Conservative Party, the `Primrose League' and similar links to modern Tory mythology, and our contemporary politics where sound bites and `lines' from political machine spin doctors have replaced intelligent political debate.
This enjoyable read gives the reader anecdotes and insights about Disraeli, Toryism and modern politics. Other books (Sarah Bradford) are more forthcoming about the details of his intriguing love life (questions such as `Was he gay? If yes, did he do anything about it? How did it `work' having affairs in the late nineteenth century?' are dealt with unsalaciously in one brief chapter). As an A Level reader, Robert Blake's work half a century ago is difficult to beat as it many times the length (though perhaps Roy Jenkins's excellent Gladstone biography has justifiably replaced the classic Gladstone text books). Boris Johnson is praised in the book as the only modern day politician who is able to even give the impression of thinking for themselves rather than bleating the party line twaddle that so puts most people off contemporary politics. Johnson (embracing the idea of Boris as the modern Disraeli) feels the book is harsh on Disraeli who he feels had positive achievements over and above his ability with words and the craft of politics.
These are quibbles. The book is more than history. It uses Disraeli's life, and perceptions and mythologies of Disraeli, to give the reader interesting coherent ideas of our modern political 'game'. Similarly, readers of this book may also enjoy `Choose Your Weapons: The British Foreign Secretary - Two Centuries of Arguments, Success and Failure' (again by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young). Again, their overview is what makes it a great book. Finding the appropriate relationship with continental Europe is not a new British `problem' that erupted when Nigel Farage and UKIP soared out of the Atlantic like some volcano; it is a question that has dogged British foreign policy since Castlereagh and Canning fought a duel at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
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