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Margaret Thatcher, Vol. 2 The Iron Lady Hardcover – 15 Oct 2003
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Praise for "Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter": "Even-handed and readable, even compelling. Campbell's research is huge and he lifts the lid on plenty of political skulduggery of the 1960s and 1970s: the book has real sweep in its record of a modern myth." -- "Financial Times" "If Ýthe second volume is as well and clearly written as this one, it is something to look forward to eagerly." -- "TLS" "A triumph." -- "Spectator" "Campbell is not only a meticulous scholar, he is an uncommonly vivid writer." -- "Sunday Times"
About the Author
John Campbell is the author of biographies of Lloyd George (1977), F.E. Smith (1983), Roy Jenkins (1983), Aneurin Bevan (1986) and Edward Heath (1994), for which he won the NCR Award.
Top customer reviews
Moreover the narrative grips you from the start and despite the length of the book - over 900 pages - it reads like a political thriller. Campbell is an extraordinarily good writer. Highly recommended, not least to those like me who are far from being fans of the Iron Lady.
This second volume has proved trickier, if only because it is more difficult to create a chronological account of a Government in action. Campbell has wisely split the book up into thematic areas which broadly move forward chronologically as the book progresses - rather like Baroness Thatcher's memoirs. If this book has a theme it is her lack of man-management as PM, which eventually rebounded on her with the resignation of Geoffrey Howe. However, as the book moves through a number of areas this is a point which is sustained, but without any real sense of narrative.
This is not to say that this is a bad biography - rather it highlights precisely why the first volume was so entertaining. Instead, The Iron Lady comes across as informative first, entertaining second - and there is much to commend. He has created a very balanced and fair biography, acknowledging her strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. It is a book which has also been written a suitable period after events have been written - not only can we see the effect of her policies, but the personalities involved have also got their accounts out into the open.
Campbell's writing is superb - he has a fairly brisk writing style that enables him to argue a point well. There is some repetition of turns of phrase, but that is only to be expected in an 800 page volume. When he needs to do drama - especially in the penultimate two chapters - he does it exceptionally well. He is also adept at picking up humorous quotes and anecdotes which are illuminating at the same time.
There are a few other drawbacks for example there is little mention over her plans for Lord Young which to my mind is the most eccentric incident of her premiership which seems like an omission.
However, to list them all would be just nitpicking: The Iron Lady is an good solid biography. With a little more flair it would have been an excellent follow-up. Ultimately the difficult nature of the subject has left him with few strands to pull together through the whole book, though this does not prevent it from being a rewarding, informative and enjoyable read.
Campbell writes from a centrist, Blairite, Europhile perspective. He broadly supports her neo-liberal policies and is perceptive of the clash between her economic liberalism and her nationalism, and he is also critical of her Euroscepticism. By reading what must amount to hundreds of thousands of words spoken or written by Thatcher, Campbell is able to make those generalisations of summarising what Thatcherism was all about, thereby enlightening the reader. He has accurately understood her personality and political philosophy. For the most part, this is a critical assessment of her, usually providing both sides of the argument. By utilising the memoirs of her colleagues (Howe, Lawson, Major, etc) Campbell avoids hagiography of the most divisive Prime Minister of modern times.
Having read some of Campbell's other biographies of British politicians, I would go so far to say that he is the best political biographer we have at the moment. As the book progresses, however, Campbell increasingly becomes critical of Thatcher, culminating in the last chapter which is almost entirely negative; she was neglectful of her family, prejudiced, a 'batty old eccentric' who by refusing to retire quietly was damaging the Conservative Party (the party was 'hag ridden' by her repeated forays into politics). However despite making some valid points, Campbell allows his animosity towards her views to cloud his judgment.
For example, he writes of her arguments put forward in her last book, Statecraft: her belief that most of the major problems of her lifetime had sprung from the Continent is 'blinkered nonsense' despite being true; her support for renegotiation of Britain's EU membership is denounced as 'fantasy' yet renegotiation is now mainstream policy; her support for withdrawal from the EU should renegotiation fail is 'impracticable' yet support for withdrawal has sizeable public support. Campbell is unable to understand the irony that the issue that brought about her downfall, Europe, Thatcher was proved right. Who now supports joining the euro or ever increasing union?
I have not read Charles Moore's authorised biography so I cannot compare the two. I would be surprised, however, if Moore's access to her private papers has substantially challenged the interpretations offered by Campbell. This is a superb biography.
The picture of Margaret Thatcher which emerges from this book is a person of fixed views who was determined to change Britain, but who - as the decade wore on - began to lose her previously very good political instincts and this ultimately, brought about her downfall.
All in all a very good book.
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