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Harold Macmillan Hardcover – 4 Jun 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; 1 edition (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297851942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297851943
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.6 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 172,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Charles Williams's thoughtful and well-informed new life... comes as a welcome treat... he captures better than any other writer the tensions between the different facets of Macmillan's personality (SUNDAY TIMES)

Charles Williams' biography is an antidote to nostalgia... a lean compelling narrative with a more detached and critical point of view. (LITERARY REVIEW)

a bright, swift-moving biography, without party-political rancour (DAILY EXPRESS)

[Williams] has produced a biography that... is a model of its kind - diligently researched, gracefully written and never short of absorbing. (Anthony Howard DAILY TELEGRAPH)

a keen eye for personality and drama... this fluid and engaging new biography... give[s] readers a ringside view of the politican in the making. (Frank Trentmann SUNDAY EXPRESS)

a fine achievement, fair in tone and spare in style. This thoroughly absorbing book chronicles the tragic Odyssey of an almost great man. (Kenneth Morgan THE INDEPENDENT)

It is not only well researched and beautifully crafted but also enlivened by the insights of an experienced politician. (Lord Radice HOUSE MAGAZINE)

This new biography... brings the Macmillan era back to life in vivid style. It is a first-class biography... most fascinating of all is the way he describes in great detail, pathos and sympathy the extraordinary emotional tragedy that haunted much of Macmillan's political career (Geoffrey Goodman TRIBUNE)

It is the great contribution of this new biography by a Labour peer to show the role domestic tragedy played in Macmillan's political achievement. (CHURCH OF ENGLAND NEWSPAPER)

In this impressive new biography Charles Williams takes the lid off the figure of Macmillan... This illuminating biography answers many hitherto unanswered questions. (CATHOLIC HERALD)

Book Description

A masterly biography of a great Conservative Prime Minister (and publisher) - Harold Macmillan (1894-1986).

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Harold Macmillan by Charles Williams is a very good book dealing with a good but not great Prime Minister. It is well-written, interesting and opinionated but also tells the fascinating story of a very complicated character who: gave the appearance of unflapibility while being a nervous hypocondriac, who was regarded in the 1930s as a boring eccentric but became Prime Minister and won an election at least in part due to his public persona, who affected ancient mannerisms but was the first Prime Minister of the 1960s and who affected at times a pose of being unambitious but was instead extremely determined. All in all a very good book about a complicated character who rose to become a good and for a time potetially great Prime Minister and whose resignation in 1963 marked in many ways the end of an era.
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Format: Hardcover
In terms of readability this book is a true example of the style in which to write any good biography. It is easy to read, well presented but crucially still manages to get facts across in a usable way.

The content however is were I take issue. I feel he is too harsh with his criticisms of Macmillan particularly dealing with many of his personality 'defects'. The overall tone, particularly towards the end of the book, bordered on being unpleasant. For example, the overall feel I got when reading the (too) concise outline of Macmillan's time as Earl of Stockton was that he was an old man who's time had gone. To be frank, William's appears to, as is customary for post-1979 politicians to do, look down on what Macmillan stood for, one-nation Toryism and consensus politics. I sincerely disagree with many of the conclusions that Williams reaches and I don't feel that he is completely impartial when dealing with Macmillan.

This book is by no means not worth reading, there are anecdotes and insight that are missing from more comprehensive works (even from Alistair Horne's rather comprehensive authorised biography). I don't think Williams has done anywhere near as good a job as Horne did on getting to know the subject, then again, I don't think many people could.

To be honest I am very disappointed with this and am looking forward to D.R. Thorpe's biography. Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan
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Format: Hardcover
One of the best political biographies I have read.
Lucidly written with an abundance of shrewed,penetrating judgments on
people involved and occuring private and political situations.
Simply put,a treat to read, from cover to cover.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very poor book.
Long on Mac's early life and North Africa; short on his political life, with nothing to say on fast chunks of his premiership (eg immigration started big time when Mac was in the Cabinet and PM; surely it deserved a mention?).
Very little analysis of Mac's relationships with his contempories (eg why did he hate RAB so much?).
Also there are chunks that are badly written which I had to read 2 or 3 times to understand what he was saying.
But most of all, it became increasingly clear as I read the book that the author hated his subject. Not a good basis for a biography. Objective analysis is wanted, not unexplained hatred.
Such a shame as the author did such a good job with his biography of de Gaulle.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography has its strong points, but I'm not sure they make up for the weaknesses. It is good on Macmillan's family life and the key personal relationships, such as with successive US presidents and de Gaulle. And, best of all, you do really get a feeling that you understand the man.

On the other hand, the balance of the book is odd, for example with only about twice as many pages on the premiership as on his time during the war in North Africa. This means that the lesser areas, such as his early years, that wartime experience, and his years after leaving office, have the space devoted to them to make for an interesting read. The premiership, on the other hand, is handled weakly, with insufficient analysis and reads too much as a simple chronology or globetrotting, golfing holidays and Trollope. Compare this part of the book with, for example, Peter Hennessey's analysis of the distinct phases of the Macmillan premiership: Williams simply doesn't convey any of that depth or understanding. There are too many gaps; the passages on cabinet selection are interesting but there is literally no mention of how either Thorneycroft or Maudling were chosen as Chancellor, which is a pity given the importance of both relationships. The epilogue, which is welcomingly analytical, just can't be supported by the preceeding chapters (and the throw away line that Mrs Thatcher was a Whig is just bizarre).

Where the book really went curiously off the rails is on the chapter on Suez (so at least in good company there I suppose). There is an interesting suggestion that sterling was not in the dire peril that Macmillan at the time suggested, though it is not clear why if he did not want his fingerprints on the dagger he was so keen to have the view propogated that he did make these warnings.
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Format: Hardcover
The soldier who mounted guard outside the Palace came back years later to advise the Queen as Prime Minister. Harold Macmillan's story is hardly rags to riches but it is one of courage, adventure, discipline and service rooted in the Christian vision. Charles Williams' magnum opus charts a life that spans two world wars and the dissolution of the British Empire. It tells of how things got done in the high places of the nations - politics - and of the nature of one who played a key part in this, not least as British Prime Minister from 1957 to 1962.

In 1894 Maurice Harold Macmillan was born in London. He was taken to his grave at Horsted Keynes in 1986. Over his 92 years he came to a deep Anglo Catholic faith, maintained fidelity within a troublesome marriage, helped bring his country through the dissolution of its Empire and all the while remaining a man of culture and wit. As Williams points out private anguish and ambiguities were masked in a bullish public persona.

African nationalists visit his Sussex grave to this day. They recall his 1960 prophecy of `winds of change' blowing across that continent made in the face of Prime Minister Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd in the South African Parliament. Verwoerd indignantly replied that the white man had rights as well as the black man. Things moved on from there, but Macmillan's pragmatism played a signal role in opening up the post-colonial era.

Harold Macmillan is portrayed as one for centre ground where he could find it. His American ancestry motivated him to steer a pathway for British foreign policy honouring allegiance both to Europe and the United States. In economic policy he was for capitalism but also for intervention, propelling a Conservative Party campaign to build 300,000 houses a year in the 1951 election.
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