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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Puzzling and Pointless, 1 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Edwardian Requiem: A Life of Sir Edward Grey (Hardcover)
In looking at the inside cover blurb as to who the author is, the first question that would arise, (at least to me) is - how could someone seemingly so busy and not a writer/researcher or historian by trade - find the time to write a "serious" biography of such a large personality as Grey, his life overall and the complicated events of his time?

Of course the obvious answer is - he hasn't. And, oh-dear-me, how he hasn't.

This is at best - at best - the sort of book you would give to a first year undergraduate as a "starter'" so they could get general overview familiarity with who and what. Then you would direct them on to the more competent, organised, serious, informed, informative reading and research.

The "Acknowledgements" is barely 2/3 of a page and refers to 9-10 of the author's friends who helped him out.

Footnotes - totally non-existent. Not a one.

The "Select Bibliography" consists of barely just a 2 page long list of 2nd and 3rd hand sources, perhaps almost half of which are of the "personal memoirs" type written in the 1920s and 1930s. Quite a few of those books cited are furthermore not even really germane to the topic, such as reference to some general book about British foreign policy or Balkan events. EVERY book source cited(or indeed any source) is in the English language. There are no journals, periodicals or newspapers listed.

There is no work in, or reference to, e.g. the Public Records Office in Kew; UK Government papers or files; any person's personal papers; Foreign Office Files; War Office files.

No reference to, or noted use, of (Parliamentary) Hansard; or of any research or library archive.

The book is peppered with "quotations": as X, Y, Z said/wrote/reported... not a single one of these is footnoted or referenced to its source (unless a newspaper, and then no date, page or edition is given or when it is prefaced in the text with "As X says in his autobiography, "......" and is again not accompanied by any specific sourcing or page reference).

Little to be gained by commenting on the worth of the content. Other than to state the obvious - it is of course solely and purely narrative (X did this, then Y did that) rather than analytical, integrated or throwing out new ideas, interpretations or new information. It is also certainly not a critical analysis. Information presented from these weak sources is very rarely challenged or contradicted.

That is inevitable because unless original and expansive and critical work is being done - which it is not here - then what ends up happening is that the author writes about things already written about. He writes about things where there is at hand easily available and digestible material. So, in effect what the bulk of the book is about is not Grey per se but Grey in the 10 years lead up to WW1 and the opening war years. "The origins of World War 1" - simply because this is where the mass of easy information lies.

However - all this has been done much better elsewhere and before and by professional historians. Even in very recent works (pushed out for the centenary) it is covered and done extensively and comprehensively via consultation of each respective national record. See e.g. McMeekin's " July 1914" or "The Russian Origins of the First World War" or Zuber's "The Real German War Plan, 1904-1914"

What then are we likely to see in this work? Solely in English, focussed on interpretations by Grey, and using 2nd and 3rd hand sources, getting on for perhaps half of which are almost contemporaneous tales and memoirs written in the 1920s and 1930s by people with faulty memories and axes to grind? This is silly. This is of no value.

The weakness of only being able to write about things where there is easy available information can similarly be seen in the last chapter which in only 28 pages covers the last years of Grey's multi-faceted life outside of Government, 1916-1933, as well as supplying a concluding overview. 17 years+review; 28 pages. The author cannot do or is not interested in doing any, serious let alone original, research. He cannot find in the easy accessible or known sources very much on Grey post 1917 - so he just lets that stand. A comparative void. No new digging.

It is also worth adding that, as is also becoming very common with these sorts of books, the line spacing is not single but almost double-spaced. So, the nominal 400 pages, in fact amounts to really little better than 200-220 of (dare I say it?) "proper pages". So, in total, not a lot of text there for what is supposed to be a major new biography of a major player in interesting times and a supposedly fascinating man with many interests and involvements.

It should have been suspect from the start when you can see in the promo review puff-pieces rounded up that: Country Life, History Today, The House Magazine and The Oldie get cited.

How has his got through a publishing committee? Who is the target market for this? What are the sales expectations? But sadly this seems to be what much of publishing is about these days.

Interested parties can find better material Googling the Internet.

For something headlined as "the first biography of Grey in 40 years" - I think we are reasonably entitled to expect something better than a superficial early undergraduate essay.

File it away under "A" for Amateur or possibly "H" for Hobbyist - unsupervised and let loose.
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Initial post: 5 Aug 2014 14:10:02 BDT
Patrick Tuft says:
I don't know about the biography of Edward Grey but I must say I did enjoy and relish this review. Thank you to the reviewer for being so thorough in such an informative way. I wish he/she woould review a lot more books!
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