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Disraeli: or, The Two Lives Hardcover – 11 Jul 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W&N (11 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297860976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297860976
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 204,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Were the hatchet a less brutal tool, this gripping, succinct and lethal book would deserve the name of hatchet job. The authors get right inside their subject and stay there; this is where their work is done; and, before the reader's eyes and wholly unassaulted, Benjamin Disraeli dies from the inside. Disraeli was not a "one-nation" politician. He neither used the phrase nor implied the idea. Hurd and Young bring to life his wishful dream of the order of things that he had himself mythologised, and wished to protect: nobility, breeding, monarchy, finery, feasting, good-looking young men and grand old ladies. (Matthew Parris THE TIMES)

Twice a prime minister and a dazzling parliamentarian, Disraeli was actually motivated by fame and was barely a democrat, according to this fascinating character study. (BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH)

The virtue of Douglas Hurd and Edward Young's sparkling new study lies in its succinctness and the analytical skills of its authors (FINANCIAL MAIL (South Africa))

The great Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli has become a political football lately, with Ed Miliband and David Cameron both staking claims to his 'One Nation' legacy. But as Douglas Hurd and Edward Young show, he never even used the phrase. Disraeli's faults and virtues are carefully examined in this hugely impressive biography. (IRISH MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Former British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and British Prime Minister David Cameron's former speech writer Edward Young vividly bring to life Disraeli's persona in their book Disraeli or Two Lives... The book has wonderful anecdotes especially to do with Disraeli's colourful private life... He made politics interesting, colourful and engaging and that is why Disraeli is one of those few British politicians whose life story has been chronicled by Hollywood (THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

What distinguishes this volume is its accessibility and clear-sightedness. (Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES)

An engaging reassessment of the paradoxes at the heart of Disraeli's "two lives": a dandy and a gambler on the one had, a devoted servant and favourite of Queen Victoria on the other. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Disraeli's faults and virtues are carefully examined in this hugely impressive biography (THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

superb and sometimes hilarious... It is a piece of calculated and deft iconoclasm, and so intoxicating that you will find yourself snorting it up in one go, as I did, with great pleasure... I ended the book reverencing Disraeli even more than when I began it (Boris Johnson THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

this gripping, succinct and lethal book... is simply and beautifully written and always entertaining (Matthew Parris THE TIMES)

As Douglas Hurd and Edward Young point out in their splendidly written, finely judged and thoroughly persuasive book, a vast chasm yawned between the real Disraeli and his posthumous reinvention...There are plenty of books on Disraeli, and Hurd and Young are frank and generous in acknowledging their debts. What distinguishes their volume, however, is its accessibility and clear-sightedness. (Dominic Sandbrook THE SUNDAY TIMES)

The book is more a study in character - of the swift reactions of a volatile, opportunistic and irresponsible egotist to changing circumstances - than a staid political narrative. As a result, Disraeli: Or the Two Lives is full of unexpected jolts and paradoxes. It proves an unflagging pleasure to read - unexpectedly so for those who dislike the politics of the authors or their subject... Hurd, as a long-serving ex-cabinet minister, and Young, the former Westminster backroom boy, have imbued their astute and sparky book with rich political craft (Richard Davenport-Hines THE GUARDIAN)

Not only, they tell us in this vigorously debunking romp through [Disraeli's] political life, did he never use the phrases 'One Nation' or 'Tory Democracy', he was actively hostile to the concepts that they are now understood to represent....This is an invigorating account, bracingly cynical and told with commanding ease - at least one of these authors has been around the political block a bit - and a lovely dry turn of phrase (Sam Leith THE SPECTATOR)

[Disraeli] remains the wonderfully entertaining political magician of legend, full of dazzling wit and tactical audacity, adored and distrusted in equal measure. Where Douglas Hurd and Edward Young succeed is in the beautiful style of writing, the pace of their narrative and their ability to condense complex political problems. Their enjoyment shines through, whether it be a lively analysis of Disraeli's early, rather flowery, novels or a gripping account of his achievement in pushing the 1867 Reform Bill through Parliament (Leo McKinstry DAILY EXPRESS)

what Disraeli did accomplish was to make politics exciting. In an age when there were no film or TV celebrities to compete, he spoke out with a hugely impressive command of language. People liked that... What the Conservatives - or for that matter the other parties - need is a new Disraeli. Not for his ideas but for his charisma (Peter Lewis DAILY MAIL)

a concise but balanced assessment, full of bracing comment on a man who "was always less interested in other people than he was in himself" (Michael Prodger NEW STATESMAN)

splendidly readable (Antonia Fraser FINANCIAL TIMES)

a delightful-albeit disillusioning-little biography...Messrs Hurd and Young have written a discerning character study of a proud, over-feted man. Readers are sure to come away disabused, if charmed by Disraeli's wit (THE ECONOMIST)

Douglas Hurd and Edward Young have written a wonderful reassessment of the great politician and showman in which they explore the paradoxes at the centre of his character, and how his exotic personality and ability to dazzle his contemporaries overcame his lack of principles, indebtedness and disloyalty (TOTAL POLITICS)

In this punchy and sparkling book, Douglas Hurd, one-time Conservative Foreign Secretary, and Edward Young skewer the myths that have grown up around Disraeli... Part biography, part polemic, this is an engaging, original and enjoyable book (Jane Ridley THE TABLET)

in this highly absorbing biography...Hurd and Young ably chart Disraeli's two lives - the reality and the fantasy. They show how this supreme egoist regularly cast principle aside, only to achieve grand political reform; how, far from inventing the ideas of "one nation" and "Tory democracy", he in fact disdained them; and how his seducer's flattery, wit and personal myth-making led to a political cult which persists to this day. It is a gripping read (Jesse Norman PROSPECT)

less a biography than an unashamedly partisan, elegant and invigorating account of Disraeli the Tory. Hurd and Young navigate their way nimbly through the contours of Disraeli's life but are less concerned with exploring that story than with probing the contradictions in Disraeli's character, his role in the political landscape of the 19th century and his strange posthumous reshapings... They give a vivid sense of the drama and muddle of parliamentary business in the mid-19th century... Disraeli or, The Two Lives has romance and enthusiasm in spades and as a result succeeds triumphantly (Daisy Hay LITERARY REVIEW)

There is something lubriciously intriguing about the biography of a Victorian statesman subtitled "The Two Lives"...Hurd and Young are masterful in delineating the limited scale of Disraeli's actual achievements - they do so with dry wit, an ear and eye for telling detail and an elegant, economical, prose style. Yet they are even better when it comes to explaining Disraeli's one great real - and lasting - triumph, the second life of the subtitle. Disraeli succeeded - and succeeds still - in his construction of a mythic life - for himself, his party and his nation...the memory of what Disraeli conjured up still captivates. He gave all who study and practise politics a vivid lesson in how to move men's and women's hearts, through dash, romance and - above all - courage...with men and women of all kinds and classes putting aside narrow calculations of advantage in the interests of committing themselves to a struggle that history will remember as a fight for grace, nobility and virtue. (Michael Gove STANDPOINT)

Benjamin Disraeli remains the most colourful politician in English history... the book is well researched and written with the calm authority which was Hurd's hallmark when he was a minister (Roy Hattersley THE OLDIE)

Former Cabinet Minister Douglas Hurd and Edward Young strip away many of the myths surrounding one of the greatest Conservative Prime Ministers in Disraeli, which also amounts to a critique of the superficiality and shallowness of today's politics. (CHOICE)

In their brilliant new biography of the famous Conservative hero, Douglas Hurd and Edward Young - two fine Tories differing widely in age but writing in perfect unity - show that...far from championing "one nation", Disraeli explicitly repudiated it...Douglas Hurd and Edward Young trace the rise - from bankruptcy to relative affluence, from youthful folly to serenity, from sexual adventure to uxoriousness - in under 300 pages, without a dull sentence. Disraeli triumphed over all his misfortunes, they conclude, because he believed that "imagination and courage are the indispensable components of political greatness for an individual or a nation". That is the essential message of the life that the immortal Dizzy actually led described so memorably here (Lord Lexden, Conservative Peer and the party's official historian THE HOUSE MAGAZINE)

notably well written, even thrilling at times (Peter Clarke NEW STATESMAN)

extensively researched...the authors make good use of the ongoing edition of Disraeli's letters (TLS)

A highly enjoyable and thought-provoking book that convincingly makes the case that the real Disraeli is more extraordinary than the myth (Richard Aldous IRISH TIMES)

This is not the most comprehensive biography of Disraeli ever written, but it must be one of the most intelligent....As a colourful and convincing portrait of this notoriously slippery character it does the job brilliantly...Disraeli once derided the self-righteous Gladstone by claiming, "He does not possess a single redeeming defect." Nobody who reads this excellent book will ever lay the same charge at Dizzy's door (Andrew Lynch SUNDAY BUSINESS POST)

Pacey, readable and short, this is a study of an all-purpose Tory that yet invites you to reconsider... we are asked to stand back, think again and think straight about a man who was undeniably a bounder, but (shocking thought) perhaps little more. Only from the authors' imaginative and sympathetic study of the young Benjamin's formative years are we left loving him better. This may be read as an exceptionally respectful stiletto between the shoulder blades: not just of Dizzy but of a Tory folklore starved of loftier heroes. Augurs well for Boris (Matthew Parris THE SPECTATOR (Books of the Year))

"One Nation" is a phrase that today's politicians like to conjure with but what would Disraeli, the original One Nation statesman, make of it? As Hurd and co make clear in this well-written history he never used the phrase. In fact, in this demolition of the Disraelian myth, we learn that this Victorian serial PM was a content-free zone, a flip-flopper, a shameless self-promoter, a jingoist, egomaniac. But still, what flair, charm and political savvy. (Robbie Millen THE TIMES (Books of the Year: History))

Elegantly written (NURSING STANDARD)

This well-written and taut book by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young represents a digestible read (PENNANT)

Book Description

A reappraisal of the life of the most celebrated and colourful 19th-century politician.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
In 1966 Robert Blake wrote a very good biography of Disraeli in which he assessed the relation between Disraeli's politics and his literary writings, in particular his novel 'Sybil' published in 1845.
Other excellent accounts include books by T Jenkins and R Grinter.
This book by former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and Edward Young is a very useful companion to these books. It is, however, very different in that it is more of a psychological examination of Disraeli than a political biography. It can be described as the pathology of a myth.
There is very little that is new in the book. The authors have not revealed new documents or trawled through too many existing ones. Nevertheless, it is very well written, the prose is excellent, and the authors argue their case with anecdote, and judicious quotations. Only 320 pages, it can be read with ease in two sittings.

Disraeli was the son of a Jewish writer and scholar whose family had come to England from Venice in the middle of the 18th century. Disraeli did not go to university instead, after leaving school, he worked as a solicitor's clerk. He wrote many novels. At the fourth attempt he was elected as an MP for Maidstone (1837), having changed his allegiance from Whigs to the Tories. Peel refused him a place in his government because of Disreali's attack on him over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.
In 1852, 1858-9 and 1866-8 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative governments of those years. Apart from his role in the important 1867 Reform Act, he achieved very little of importance. In 1868 he became Prime Minister for the first time. As he put it he was able to 'climb to the top of the greasy pole'. He was after all the leader of a party dominated by very wealthy landowners.
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By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 22 Feb. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting and enjoyable political biography which, although wriiten by two senior Conservatives, does not seek to lionise Disraeli or to hide his often unattractive motivations and behaviours.

Self obessed, extremely ambitions,and often ammoral in his politics and personal life, Disraeli remains interesting for anyone with a sense of history or politics. The man who was delighted to have reached 'the top of the greasy pole' was as capable of great loyalty to those who served him well as he was of unprincipled actions desigined to further either his own or his country's prestige. He brilliantly managed Queen Victoria, turning her initial dislike and distrust of him into a close relationship in which she grew to consider him a friend - making the Queen Empress of India certainly helped but so do the flattery bestoed upon her by Disraeli which led the Queen to feel when in Disraeli's company that she was the cleverest woman in the world.

This is a well written and engaging book, which draws some intersting comparisons with modern politics and political figures, including Boris Johnson, and which penetrates some of the myths surrounding Disraeli's supposed beliefs in a one nation toryism.

Very enjoyable - and I learned a lot about Direaeli and his times
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Throughout the ages politicians have claimed posthumous support from long-dead statesmen. But there is one dead man whose support is most often claimed. For a hundred years or so British Conservative politicians (with a few notable exceptions) have assured us that, were he alive, Disraeli would agree with them. It's getting worse. Now, even Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, is telling us that Disraeli would be on his side. Most of these admirers of Disraeli, not surprisingly, have only the vaguest notion of what he stood for. But they all know that he was desperately in favour of something called "One Nation" and of "Tory Democracy".

And how wrong they are.

If Hurd and Young have done nothing else with this book they have, surely, laid to rest the preposterous theory that Disraeli was keen on democracy and wanted to create one nation. But they have, actually, achieved more. This is an immensely readable (and not very long) book. It makes no claim to have unearthed much in the way of new material. But it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do. It tells us of the two Disraelis: the real one and the myth.

Modern politicians don't just latch onto "One Nation" and "Tory Democracy" (expressions never used by him) when they talk of Disraeli. Many of them also claim that he was a tremendous example to our present rulers in his determination to get power at any cost, to sacrifice principle to the ballot box. Why they should have got hold of that idea is something of a mystery. As Hurd and Young point out, Disraeli's performance in elections (he only won one) was disastrous. He was leader of the opposition for longer, far longer, than any 20th century leader of a major party.
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Disraeli is a complicated figure fully brought to life in this excellent book. The inherent contradictions within his personality and his self-diagnosed hunger for the limelight make for a stimulating read which successfully lifts the curtain on the myth of Disraeli. Without a rose tinted view, it is an extremely effective portrayal of a man at the vanguard of political campaigning for his time and someone for whom politics was about who was up and who was down rather than ideology.

The book is full of fascinating titbits, such as the discovery of Gladstone's markings on a contemporary biography of Disraeli which enable the authors to very effectively sort fact from fiction and Disraeli from the mythical figure who hangs of British politics today. As an example there is an excellent account of his grasp, or lack thereof, of foreign policy. Also, time and again we are reminded that Disraeli's goal was never to unite the two halves of Britain to create the "one nation" of which he is so famous, indeed he never actually said the words, rather his project, or so it seems, was doing justice to his own intellect.

I've seen the book described as an evisceration, but if it is one it is gentle and not without a lot of affection for a man who made parliament popular and was a supreme orator. It also looks in fascinating detail at his successes with the Reform Act including the audacious expansion of the franchise at the last moment.

The book rattles along at a great clip and would be a great read for both a scholar of the period or someone more or less new to it. The last section draws some parallels with the Disraeli of the modern era, Boris Johnson, and effectively argues for the role of such figures in politics to encourage the public to take an interest. Highly recommended.
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