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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The old order changeth, 9 July 2013
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This review is from: Edwardian Requiem: A Life of Sir Edward Grey (Hardcover)
As Michael Waterhouse reveals, Edward Grey (1862 - 1933) British Foreign Secretary 1905 - 1916 was a complex character: 'a veray parfit gentil knight' who dearly loved his wife, nonetheless who cheated on her and (probably) fathered two illegitimate children, a traditionalist but also - at least by the standards of his day - a political radical, a country lover who cordially detested 'town' but who spent the better part of his life - and his best energies - at the heart of politics. It was Grey, almost single-handed, who shaped British foreign policy over the decade leading up to the Great War, striving always for peace but at the same time to ensure that if war there must be, Britain should stand at a moral and material advantage. As we now approach the centenary of the war which eventually Grey could no longer prevent, for all his efforts, the time has come to revisit its political antecedents; all too easily obscured by remembrance of mud, blood and suffering in the trenches. 'The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.' said Grey to a friend, looking out from his office window above Horseguards on the evening on 3rd August 1914. The lights of that old Europe have never been relit, nor ever will be.

Nonetheless this is an account of Grey's life in the round, not merely of his political life, although that is bound to loom large. It is to the author's particular credit that he weaves all the strands so compellingly together: the fisherman, the bird-watcher, the dutiful husband, the paramour, the friend, the magnificently effective Secretary of State, trusted world-wide. (Save only in Germany!) We have here the man entire. We have too a particularly clear-sighted, fair-minded view, countering not a few former misconceptions, also sundry self-serving libels perpetrated by David Lloyd George in his egregious 'Memoirs': surely far and away our most mendacious Prime Minister within the past century, our most corrupt too, despite recent stiff competition on both counts. Along the way, Waterhouse scotches succinctly, efficiently, once and for all, from impeccable sources, the view still widely-held, widely promoted indeed, that the Great War was simply a dreadful blunder, no-one was to blame, or everyone. The facts stand stark and will not be denied: it was Austro-Hungary's fault, and Germany's, theirs alone.

This is however necessarily a brisk book with so much ground to cover, summarising much which must repay deeper reading, at the same time saying enough to stimulate interest. The Select Bibliography is comprehensive, albeit the Index a trifle thin.

There is no perfect man, nor any perfect book. Alas Waterhouse perpetrates one truly horrible error, when he states that in November 1915 Sir John French was succeeded as C. in C. of the British Expeditionary Force by Sir William Robertson. French's successor was of course Sir Douglas Haig - as any fule kno. Even Homer nods occasionally, as we are told, but Biteback's editor should be shot at dawn! Hopefully this is not symptomatic of a more general carelessness, beyond detection by the non-specialist.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Aug 2013 08:31:05 BDT
GregB says:
A fine, informative review but E.J. Webb is also guilty of making one unfortunate error himself (I'm assuming male authorship given the use of initials.) Earl Grey's famous remark about the lamps going out all over Europe was surely made on August 3rd, 1914, the very eve of Britain's declaration of war, and not 1913 when the drummer was still keeping his distance from the idle hill of summer.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Aug 2013 11:04:07 BDT
E. J. Webb says:
Absolutely right Greg! Correction duly made.

Posted on 27 Aug 2013 10:18:34 BDT
A most articulate and informative review. Thank you.

Posted on 2 Jan 2014 20:18:05 GMT
David Yates says:
As a postgraduate student of history - 1906>1914 - thesis being on criotics of Grey, I may say that the book is well written but really does not reveal much, if anything that has not been previously written. It's more an interpretation of facts and other opinions. The book does however add to my existing collection of "Grey related books", albeit not adding to my knowledge. A sound all round book none the less. A general read as an introuction to Grey.
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