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Diplomatic prelude, 1938-1939
Diplomatic prelude, 1938-1939
by L. B. (Lewis Bernstein) Namier
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars A Lost Classic., 4 Jan. 2015
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Sir Lewis Namier was a Fellow of Balliol College, Professor of History at the University of Manchester from 1931 to 1953 and probably the most influential historian of his generation. His ambition was to write a History of Parliament but his Jewish/Polish background led him to becoming a strong opponent of appeasement and as a result many of his publications were about Europe between the defeat of Napoleon and the outbreak of the Second World War.
This volume was published in 1948 and very much takes the line that the Second World War was "Hitler's War". Despite the efforts by revisionist historians such as Namier's former colleague, AJP Taylor, to spread the responsibility more widely, Namier's thesis does stand the test of time and further research. As DC Watt pointed out (in HOW WAR CAME) it finally came down to a conscious decision by Hitler to go ahead with the invasion of Poland knowing that an Anglo-French declaration of war was almost inevitable. In fact it is now known that Hitler was annoyed that Chamberlain had prevented war at the time of the Munich Conference in 1938.
In theory this should be rather a dry book of diplomatic history using substantial extracts from the German, Polish, British and French diplomatic documents that had appeared between 1940 and 1946 but this is very far from being the case. The book bounds along at a cracking pace like a real thriller even though we know how it will all end in tears. It is Namier's genius to so arrange the contemporary sources, which of course did not know how it would end, in such a way that you wonder if just possibly the irons of war might be pulled from the fire. Is it possible that Poland might not be invaded; that there would be no fourth partition of Poland; no ethnic cleansing; no holocaust?
Although English was not Namier's first language, he had a great command of it and this also helps to keep the reader involved eg his description of the British appeasers as "Liberals who had gone sour".
Both Namier and this book deserve to be rescued from the obscurity into which they have slipped.

Henry Brougham: His Public Career, 1778-1868
Henry Brougham: His Public Career, 1778-1868
by Robert Stewart
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Character, 20 Feb. 2014
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Having just read Lady Antonia Fraser's account of the 1832 Reform Act I realised I had never read a life of one of the main characters of the period - Henry Brougham. This book gives an excellent account of the man's public career from his education in Edinburgh till his death in Nice and it shows very clearly that, clever, able and industrious though he was, no one really trusted him and how easily he could become a slightly ridiculous figure.

On the other hand his career was long and varied and his contribution to modern education cannot be underestimated. I would have liked a little more information on his marriage and his time in the South of France which he helped to establish as a fashionable holiday resort.

Churchill and Chartwell: The Untold Story of Churchill's Houses and Gardens
Churchill and Chartwell: The Untold Story of Churchill's Houses and Gardens
by Stefan Buczacki
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Churchill's Many Houses, 20 Feb. 2014
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I chose this book because of my interest in Sir Winston Churchill and I already have a wide range of books covering many aspects of his life including the multi volume official life but nothing on Chartwell which was so much part of his life. The book lived up to more than my expectations covering not just Chartwell but also all the houses, and there were many, that he and his family lived in.
The account is detailed but not overly specialised and particularly interesting was the account of the farming at Chartwell which was always loss making and required the proceeds of Churchill's war memoirs and History of the English Speaking People to cover it.

Mr. Balfour's Poodle: Peers Versus People
Mr. Balfour's Poodle: Peers Versus People
by Roy Jenkins
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Balfour's Poodle, 10 May 2012
Roy Jenkins was an MP from 1948 to 1976 and then again from 1982 to 1987 when his defeat at Hillhead led to his translation to the House of Lords as Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, though not of the constituency which he represented. During his political career he served twice as Home Secretary and once as Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as being among the last Aviation Minister in Britain and the only Briton to serve as President of the European Commission.

Jenkins was also an author of considerable note and when he died in 2003 he had a substantial corpus of work to his credit including what is probably still the standard work on HH Asquith plus two highly esteemed lives of Gladstone and Churchill. He had also just about completed a rather briefer life of Franklin D Roosevelt and, with commendable optimism for someone with a serious heart condition, he was already planning his next book which was to be a life of John F. Kennedy.

"Mr Balfour's Poodle" was not Jenkins' first book but it was the first substantial foray in an area that he very much made his own-the political history of Britain from the Second Reform Act to the outbreak of the Second World War. The first point that has to be made is that Jenkins could write, and write well, which places him in a very small number indeed as borne out by the any volumes of turgid memoirs. The book marches along at a fair rate of knots, the issues are clearly and successfully identified-

The almost knee jerk reaction of the Lords to any non Conservative government in the Commons, no matter how large its majority
The use by interest groups such as the brewers to have the Lords wreck legislation coming up from the Commons
The motivation of the 1909 budget, revenue raising or provocation
Reform or curtailment of the veto
The role of the king
The eventual impact of the reform.

The style is much less ornate than in his later works with no use of words such as ratiocination or tergiversation, as far as I could see. Nor is there any evidence of the qualifying parenthesis so ably parodied, but not excessively so, by Craig Brown in Private Eye.

Secondly the book's essential thrust has stood the test of time. A recent Oxford University Symposium on the 1911 Parliament Act gave exactly the same financial background to the 1909 Budget as that outlined by Jenkins. He is also very good at conveying the breath taking arrogance of the Lords in their belief that no matter what the popular vote was they were totally entitled to ride roughshod over the Commons. Jenkins is able to clearly show the almost medieval attitudes of peers such as Lord Willoughby De Broke, leader of the Ditchers. On the other side Jenkins identifies the great strengths of Asquith and Lloyd George. By using apt and extensive quotations one can see clearly why Asquith was able to dominate the Commons for so long and why Lloyd George had the peers spluttering with rage at his comments and gibes.

Finally it has to be recognized that Jenkins had no access to the papers that are now available. When the book was written the fifty year rule applied so that the public records were only available up until 1902. There were no cabinet minutes to consult since they were not kept until 1917. Instead Jenkins had to rely on the Annual Register, and the published biographies of the participants such as Balfour's by his niece Blanche Dugdale which for all it's length can be quite uninformtive according to Jenkins. Asquith's biography was written by the Liberal journalist JA Spender while King George's official life was being published as Jenkins' book was being prepared. It is an indication of his great skill as a writer that Jenkins has been able to take such dense material and weave such a readable account of the crisis.

Also at the time of the book's publication at least some of the participants were still alive. The Prime Minister was Winston Churchill who had been Lloyd George's closest ally in the Liberal Cabinet. Lloyd George's son was Home Secretary in Churvchill's government and Asquith's daughter, Violet Bonham Carter, was still very much a leading Liberal and guardian of her father's reputation. Jenkins made no attempt to see Churchill but through his friendship with Mark Bonham Carter he would have had access to his mother, the redoubtable Lady Violet.

Although sixty years old this book is still a worthwhile read for all those interested in British political reform especially as the Commons is likely to wrestle once again with the issues of reforming the upper house.

by Alan Forrest
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Napoleon, 7 May 2012
This review is from: Napoleon (Hardcover)
According to David A Bell in his book, "THE FIRST TOTAL WAR" there were 220,000 books about Napoleon and the Empire so I would assume that by 2012 there must be perhaps something in the region of 250,000 or over quarter of a million pieces of literature. Do we, therefore, really need yet another volume on the man from Corsica? The answer is"yes", for this is no pedestrian, repetitive account of Napoleon's life. Alan Forrest has been studying the revolutionary and Napoleonic period of French history for over 40 years and he uses this life of Napoleon as a means of placing the Emperor's career in the wider context of the creation of the French Empire. It is a useful corrective to so much Anglocentric accounts of the period which allow Julian Fellowes to dismiss the Vrench Revolution as a tragedy in a throwaway line in his introduction to a new edition of "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER". The revolution was much more than that as Professor Forrest so ably demonstrates.

Key issues examined by Professor Forrest include-
Napoleon was as much a product as a creator of his times
Napoleon was a firm believer in the gains of the French Revolution and sought to spread these gains to the rest of Europe
These gains included, a career open to talent, good well organized government, justice, and a life not held back by privilege. French armies were not followed by einsatgruppen but the Code Napoleon and efficient bureaucracies.
The regimes which were overthrown by Napoleon were not Liberal democracies but obscurantist and reactionary bastions of privilege and prejudice.
Napoleon was a master of spin who realized the importance of the written word and who surrounded himself with writers and artists who would ensure that their products were always"on message". This spin was so successful that nineteen years after his death the French monarchy arranged for Napoleon's remains to be returned to Paris and placed under the dome of Les Invalides. This was a vain attempt by the Orleans monarchy to gain popular support by standing next to the Emperor. Just as the Conservative Party's attempt to curry favor in Scotland by arranging for the return of the Stone of destiny totaled failed in its aim so to did this earlier transfer. By 1848 another Napoleon was leading France.

This is a well balanced, readable analysis of Napoleon and his Empire with numerous gems of historical asides, reminiscent of the Professor's teaching style. In the interests of fairness I should declare an interest. Dr Forrest's teaching helped propel me into the honours history class at Stirling University in 1971, something I shall always be eternally grateful for.

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