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on 13 March 2014
Hibbert has done it again, and written a portrait. Starting from youth, and going through to age, Hibbert presents a balanced, judicious account of Wellington's life, that shows us the whole man, and not just the famous bits. Welington becomes alive as a person and a character.
Those who want accounts of battle plans at Waterloo need to look elsewhere; those who want to see what Waterloo meand to him and did to him psychologically need look no further. I learned a great deal, and understood a lot more about this complex, flawed but honourable man.
My only quibble is that that same character traits get reported over and over. It isn't necessary to hear about his fore- planning of events, everytime there is an event, for example. For that reason only, it isn't 5 stars.
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on 7 September 2000
This book is quite magnificent. It traces the career of this extraordinary and emblematic figure from his schooldays right the way through to his death. Hibbert's research is most comprehensive and assist one greatly in understanding what drove Wellington in thought and action. The balance of the book is good. Due weight is given to the Peninsula Campaign, Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon, but great emphasis is placed on Wellington's domestic life, his unhappy marriage and to India where he made his name. An absorbing insight into the lives of one of the greatest Britons and throughly recommended.
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I have always thought of the Duke of Wellington as the Hero of Waterloo, but little else. In "Wellington, A Personal History" I learned that he was much more.
This book is, as the title indicates, a personal history of the man, rather than a history of his times. The reader learns little of the details of Waterloo, nor does he learn much about the impact of his career on the wider world.
Wellington's story is an interesting one. Born the younger son of lower nobility, his dukedom was earned, rather than inherited. His career was diverse. He fought for the Crown in India before his first encounter with Napoleon's armies in Portugal and Spain during the Peninsular War. The possibility of service in America during the American Revolution was mentioned, but did not occur. The glory which he won at Waterloo was merely a stepping stone to higher service.
After the banishment of Napoleon, Wellington entered the diplomatic service in France. This, coupled with his membership in the House of Lords, led to service as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, among many other appointments. In office, Wellington was, generally, a supporter of privilege and order. Despite his dominant conservatism, Wellington was flexible enough to adjust to prevailing necessities. Although initially opposed to Catholic Emancipation, he supported Emancipation after concluding that the defeat of Emancipation would have led to more social unrest than the issue was worth. He then not only had to persuade opinion among the Lords and Commons, but also had to overcome the strong opposition of the King in order to get Emancipation passed. This is of particular interest to me, as family legend has it that we are descendants of Daniel O'Connell, whose election to the House of Commons forced the issue. Jews, whose potential for disorder was presumably less than that of Irish Catholics, did not enjoy his support when Emancipation for them was suggested.
During his political career, Wellington endured wide swings in popularity. At times he faced the threats of the mob as a result of his policies. He was forced to turn his home into a fortress and to carry pistols while traveling about London. Even when his popularity was at its nadir, his prestige and personal presence were sufficient to insure his safety.
Wellington's relations with his monarchs make interesting reading. Although he held George IV and William IV in low esteem, his relationship with Victoria was warm and close. He became an intimate and trusted advisor on whom Victoria and other politicians relied as an intermediatory.
Wellington's marriage was unhappy and distant and he became a widower at a fairly young age. These facts caused him to seek and enjoy the companionship of many women through his lifetime. These relationships and their effects on Wellington account for a large portion of this book.
As is common among heroes, Wellington's popularity grew as his vigor and involvement in public affairs diminished. Living to an advanced age, Wellington was revered as Britain's greatest hero.
I often gauge a book by how it makes me think beyond the covers. I compared him to American political generals. His political career was more impressive than Grant's, and of longer duration than Eisenhower's. The closest comparison may be with Washington, both as his country's greatest hero and the man to whom his country repeatedly turned in crises.
My only disappointment in this book, as minor as it is, is that it is so personal that one gets a sense of his times only indirectly. Overall it is a good study of this major historical figure.
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on 9 August 2003
Any amateur history buff will find Wellington: A Personal History a wonderful read. The author has evidently taken the approach of providing an insight into the personal life & character of this great man - very arguably the greatest Briton of all time. And what a fascinating character the "Iron Duke" is. Starting with his tough upbringing in an impoverished minor noble family, this book gives the reader some real sense of the context in which the young Arthur Wellesley developed.
Commissioned into the army as mere "food for powder" (his Mother's own sentiments!), as a young handsome officer Arthur could have easily chosen the temptations of becoming just another "Jack a Dandy" Beau, but instead he grew increasingly aware of his own genius and military ability. Here was a young man who "knew what he was about" and clearly decided to dedicate his energy to the dutiful business of becoming a great military leader. We follow his life's adventures through his army career and then weary of war, his decision to become a great statesman, but essentially this book is about the man himself rather than his achievements; his personal traits & character, his conversation & opinions on all manner of subjects. It's fascinating stuff. If you're interested in Wellington the man, read this book and then visit Stratfield Saye (as I did) - it's the closest you can get to bringing history back to life.
There are some wonderful books on Wellington now available, and this is one of the very best of them.
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VINE VOICEon 1 December 2003
To be honest, I never had any admiration for military leaders and therefore was never really interested in reading about them. However, I always felt that should have read a book on the first Duke of Wellington as he had been such an important personality. Well, one day I gave myself a push and bought Hibbert' s "Wellington, a Personal History". Having always liked Hibbert' s style and the way he presents the personalities he writes about I hoped that - that reading about the Duke of Wellington would not prove not too hard a struggle. I was not disappointed. The book is - as usual with Hibbert - extremely well written and I discovered much more about the Duke than I imagined there would be. I finished it in no time, got never bored and could complete my picture of the time. So I was actually very pleased that I gave myself a "little push". Not only this but as well the other books Hibbert has written I can recommend. If you never feel very strongly about reading about a specific person and nevertheless have a feeling you actually should do than you will find this book and many of Hibbert' s books of great value and joy. Just to be on the safe side: I do not want to say that his works are "light weights" or too popular. Far from it, but Hibbert has one important gift: he can present difficult subjects in an interesting and very readable manner. So let me say it in the manner of the Eurovision song contest: Here are the votes of the Belgium jury: Hibbert 12 points (or in the amazon review system - 5 stars)
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on 26 November 2012
Its ironic that we now remember the Duke of Wellington best for Waterloo, a battle that he won only with the tardy arrival of the Prussians, and one which he described as 'close run thing'. Yet to pigeon hole him as a general at that battle would be to limit this remarkable man. General, diplomat, politician, beau, charmer, administrator, manager, hunter, sportsman, man about town, even musician are adjectives that could be used to describe him.

Many people with an interest in Wellesley will have a military background, and I can appreciate that they might not enjoy this book for the fact that the individual battles, though well described are no recalled in the detail of the late Richard Holmes's book Wellington: The Iron Duke.

This book however looks at Wellesly the man, his times and his world. It starts off by describing his uncertain start and surprising progress of a man whose own mother considered as little better than 'gun fodder'. It charts how he developed using hard work, charm, and an eye for minor detail to become Wellington. In doing so, the reader gets a fantastic view of the man himself and his times. The description of his charming idiosyncrasies and usually humorous quips- particular in the footnotes of the pages are particularly good. Intelligent without being exhaustive. Comprehensive with out being in anyway boring. This book is to be strongly recommended and a truly inspirational book about a great man.
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on 4 November 2010
A wonderful read! Comprehensive and elaborated. Though I wish Hibbert would give more pages to the Peninsular campaignes. I do very much appreciate the considerable weight that is given to account his marriage and scandals that surrounds it i.e. his notorious private life, since it has been a rarely researched domain. One minor inconvenience is that the sense of time eloped between each period seems a little blur.

And the great man himself, what a fascinating character! Why, what would you say of a man whose being prime minister is just a tiny fraction of his life.
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on 17 February 2012
The beauty of this book is it concentrates on the character and events of the man behind the legend, without delving into speculative psycho-babble.

Wellington was arguably the best General we ever produced and yet in some ways he is a remote figure because his well-quoted aphorisms go a long way to shaping what we think of as the man. This book shows Wellington was a human being as well, not just a cut-out or stereotype.

There are better accounts of Wellington and his times, there are better accoutns of Wellington and Waterloo; but this is about the best single volume work of recent date to look at the man.
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on 13 September 2014
Biographies sometimes take a form that reflects the subject, and this work is a bit of a slow-burner, as was Wellington, from the undistinguished and unpromising school career, the long war of attrition in the Peninsula, playing to Wellington's strengths and Napoleon's weaknesses, to the long and less than sparkling political career after Waterloo, during which time he acquired the sobriquet the Iron Duke, not for the best of reasons. I read this book shortly after a visit to Stratfield Saye, and a previous visit to Apsley House, and the book helped me piece together in my mind the pictures I already had of Wellington. The book is a personal history, it's not a broad history, and certainly not a military history, yet it takes time to build up a picture and a feeling about the man and his world. It covers the formative experiences in India, the chess games of the Peninsular war and the grand moment of crisis at Waterloo with more speed than the longer years of the wheels within wheels inside the political establishment, yet it is during this last long phase that a portrait emerges of a man who was difficult to get to know, then as well as now, and who remained a surprisingly isolated figure, very much an individual, sui generis, with attendant vulnerabilities. The book is also a reminder of the British willingness to venerate and debase its heroes and saviours in equal measure.
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on 14 October 2000
When I begin to read a subject one of the first authors that I pick up is the Hibbert book if there is one. It is usually a good summary and a decent reference for other sources. This Wellington book is no different.
The work that Hibbert does is a service to readers , in my opinion, rather than a reflection of any new or deep scholarship on his subjects but it is laudable and useful.
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