Top positive review
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Entertaining and informative history
on 13 December 2009
"Pistols at Dawn" is another excellent book from the great John Campbell, one of Britain's foremost political biographers. In a series of essays ranging from the 1780's to more or less the present day, Campbell provides fascinating and revealing insights into the competition between politicians to gain ascendancy over colleagues, party, Parliament or country. Anyone believing that competition in politics, backstairs intrigue, spin and acute personal rivalry are recent phenomena should read Campbell's book. Such features are as old as politics and in Britain particularly have been an intimate part of our parliamentary democracy for at least two hundred years.
These essays are thoroughly researched, sufficiently detailed to provide a good background to further reading, and often very funny. His judgements are reasonable, shrewd, generous and, so far as I am concerned, spot-on. While he clearly rates Lloyd George above Asquith - which will rile some readers - he is appropriately critical of the Welsh wizard. The chapter on the rivalry between Macmillan and Butler is exemplary: beautifully, indeed poignantly dramatised, informative and extraordinary - who'd have imagined that in the middle of the Twentieth century this country would have had the premiership given, finally, to a Fourteenth Earl who did not even have a seat in the House of Commons?
In his preface Campbell pays tribute to the work of fellow historians, including Richard Aldous - another great writer who is able to dramatise history without compromising accuracy and good judgement. "Pistols at Dawn" is a first-rate production which will make an ideal present for anyone interested in politics, history and people.