3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Pistols at Dawn,
This review is from: Pistols at Dawn: Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Pitt and Fox to Blair and Brown (Hardcover)The actual subtitle of the book is `Two hundred years of political rivalry from Pitt & Fox to Blair & Brown'. It might equally be `A Study in Petulance'. At its highest, politics is about great things: the government of nations and empires, the clash of ideologies, the winning of wars or the betterment of societies. It is also, however, an inescapably human activity and the story of politics is just as much about personal ambition, jealousies, factionalism and clashing personalities. Pistols at Dawn is the story of eight such clashes.
The case studies are well chosen and provide a good range of rivalries. They span the whole period of more than 200 years; they include cross-party and intra-party rivalries; some have one man with the upper hand throughout, some are much more equal; some were rivals almost throughout their careers while others developed much later on; one even involves a 'rival' (Butler) who barely sees himself as such. Invariably, the contests involved contrasting characters as well as simply two people struggling for office or ascendancy.
This range prevents what could be a problem were the same story to effectively be told eight times. In fact, Campbell writes each one with all the fluency and drama of a novel, bringing out the characters of the fifteen men and one woman involved and the twists and turns of each story. Reducing the events of decades down to fifty or sixty pages in each case does mean the chapters become 'highlights packages' and cut out some of the depth but also allows the reader to compare more readily the different rivalries.
If the book's at its strongest relaying the narrative drive and the character clashes of the rivalries, it's weaker in the detail: there are simply too many errors and this undermines the reader's trust. For example, he describes Portland as "aged" when he formed his first government, when in fact he was 44; he states that Alec Douglas-Home served as Heath's Foreign Secretary in the Lords whereas he remained in the Commons; perhaps worst of all, he states in the chapter on the Heath-Thatcher rivalry that "Heath's fate remains unique" in that he was "ousted against his will with no pretence of age or ill health" - forgetting that Thatcher herself was.
Still, if these mistakes are irritating, they're more than made up for in the book's readability. If it can't be a definitive telling of the individual stories, it's nonetheless an enjoyable and interesting look at them and at the unchanging nature of the types of political animal.
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