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Roy Jenkins Hardcover – 27 Mar 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (27 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224087509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224087506
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 5.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Magnificent... A compelling account of a remarkable life" (Observer)

"Campbell is simply a master of the art... This book is effortlessly superior." (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

"Marvellous... The highest praise I can give to John Campbell's biography is that Roy Jenkins would have been proud to have been its author." (Alan Johnson Guardian)

"A riveting and vital contribution to an understanding of postwar British politics." (Matthew Engel Financial Times)

"A wonderful, readable book. Jenkins himself would have been proud to have produced a masterpiece of this calibre." (Leo McKinstry Daily Express)

Book Description

The authorised biography of the best Prime Minister Britain never had

Winner of the 2014 Political Book Awards Political Biography of the Year

Shortlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize

Shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Biography Award

Longlisted for the 2015 Orwell Prize

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Jun. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Roy Jenkins was one of the most influential British Labour politicians of the second half of the twentieth century. The son of a miner, he was however far from working-class. His father had risen to become a successful Member of Parliament and made sure his son was given an advantageous education culminating in an Oxford degree. His socialism therefore was always of an intellectual kind rather than being rooted in the unions as his father's had been. And like many socialists, especially of that era, he gradually moved from the left towards the centre. A prominent Cabinet minister in the '60s and '70s, Jenkins held at different times two of the great offices of state, as Home Secretary and Chancellor, and was accounted to be successful in both positions. In the first role he is credited with pushing through the socially liberal legislation that some later claimed led to the 'permissive society', while as Chancellor he was seen as having transformed the balance of trade and fiscal position of the UK, which were still suffering from the aftermath of WW2. Consistently pro-Europe, he was one of the strongest proponents for Britain's entry to the Common Market.

Had the tensions between left and right within the Labour Party not become so toxic during the 1970s, there is very little doubt that Jenkins would have become party leader and quite probably Prime Minister. Instead, he decided to leave parliament to take up the post of President of the European Commission. But on his return, when the Labour Party was showing every sign of lurching even further to the Left, Jenkins ended up leading the breakaway group that was briefly known as the Social Democratic Party, before merging with the Liberal Party to become the Lib-Dems we all know and love today.
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Format: Hardcover
A very good, excellently written book. The chapters on his youth and in the war at Bletchley were interesting. After that I thought the book really took off from about 1963 onwards, how Jenkins positioned himself vis a vis Wilson and how he rose from Aviation Minister in 1964 to probably the best Home Secretary and Chancellor of the 20th century for those of liberal persuasion. From then on the story of how he (or Labour) lost the way in the 1970s, the rise and fall of the SDP and the Blair relationship are gripping reading for voyeurs of politics. For me Campbell comprehensively debunks the myth that Jenkins was lazy. A bit like Healey he prioritised life differently, couldn't be bothered to put the time in in the Commons tea room, did not do red boxes till midnight and gave himself the space to talk,listen and think. Bravo. But there was a price to pay.

Campbell also does Jenkins's other lives well, especially the author role. His books on Asquith, Gladstone and Churchill are really classics of their kind and are given due attention. I was hoping for a list of words used by Jenkins not in the averagely well educated vocabulary but that never came.

I didn't really have a different view of Jenkins as a result of reading the book but what it did well was to identify some crucial moments in British politics when life might have gone differently and in several of which Jenkins was involved.How he would have hated the politics of the last decade.Look at the expression on Vince Cable's face and imagine the distaste of Jenkins for the way the system has gone.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Campbell is a good biographer of figures like John Major and Mrs Thatcher. Politically he is closer to Jenkins than either of them, but this is an asset - he remains objective throughout, whilst managing to capture the real sense of excitement about Jenkins' period as a reforming Home Secretary and the early days of the SDP, when they came incredibly close to breaking the old two party mould. It is fascinating reading it in 2014, after Liberal Democrats managed to become part of Government for the first time in almost 100 years and as a result may find themselves on the brink of destruction. An other interesting contemporary take is how Britain's membership of the EU, which Jenkins thought he put beyond doubt, is now widely questioned. The final contemporary take is how illiberal and inegalitarian the current political climate is, it is dificult to imagine someone on the right wing of the Labour Party today, as Jenkins was, being as committed and articulate an advocate of social liberalism and redistributive economic policy. This is an incredibly well researched and beautifully written book, which does full justice to one of the most important political figures of the last half of the Twentieth Century and vividly recreates the world in which he lived.
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Format: Hardcover
Well written and well constructed biography of a key political figure. This book should be read by anyone interested in Britain's post-war political history. While John Campbell is sympathetic to Jenkins, the biography is not uncritical. Campbell admires Roy Jenkins' tenure of the Home Office during the mid-1960's and acknowledges his successes as Chancellor and EU President, but he is pretty dismissive of Jenkins' brief period as SDP leader. In fact, Campbell's account of the rise and acrimonious demise of the SDP is outstanding.

In general, Campbell is excellent in putting Jenkins' career in a political and historical context. The main themes of Jenkins' political career: a commitment to Europe, progressive reform and a belief in a more tolerant, less prejudiced society are well described. He is also very good on Roy Jenkins' other distinguished career as a political biographer.
Highly commended.
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