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on 30 March 2017
This is an engrossing, revealing and even dazzling work. The character was asked to be Prime Minister when 3 months short of his 24th birthday (p116) and declined! In two years in the House of Commons he had shown everyone that he was the ablest man in the place from every point of view but he calculated that he could not guarantee support, especially from Lord North. When asked again a year later he accepted and remained in power for 17 years continuously, the longest ever apart from Walpole. He resigned mainly on Catholic Emancipation: admitting Catholics to Parliament as MPs because George III would not hear of it. After a year out, Addington, his successor and most MPs wanted him to return. Soon he did, but he died in office in 1806. An excellent classicist and mathematician, immensely gifted in managing the finance of the country, incorruptible, utterly devoted to politics and his country. His integrity was the flame that guided all he did. His success was due to his being brought up in a family with peers on both sides and MPs. His capacity for oratory was matchless, honed by practice and study. He was a workaholic and an alcoholic because he had been told that port was good for you. Gout was not understood. So many suffered from it. Overwork and stress was a major cause of his life being short.
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on 20 June 2017
Go's to show what a mess of things then and now of those in Westminster have made of running this country
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on 2 June 2017
Excellent and interesting biographical account. Worth reading for anyone interested in 18th century politics and life.I much enjoyed it
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on 13 May 2017
A hugely enjoyable and well written book
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VINE VOICEon 25 February 2005
From Which the World Should Note Something Particular. Shakespeare.
There was something astonishingly particular about Pitt the Younger. The second son of the Earl of Chatman (Pitt the Elder) was a child prodigy. He was admitted to Cambridge at age 14, elected to Parliament at age 21 and appointed Prime Minister at age 24. Twenty-two years later, of which twenty were spent as Prime Minister, Pitt died at age 46.
William Hague was something of a prodigy himself. He gave his first major political address at a Conservative Party Conference in 1977 at age 16. Hague was elected to Parliament at age 28 and became the Tory party leader at age 36, the youngest party leader in 200 years. Hague's rhetorical skills, like Pitt the Younger, are excellent. Some observers (not all of them Conservatives) believed that Hague regularly bested Labour P.M. Tony Blair in debates in the House of Commons. After losing the 2001 general election and the leadership of his party Hague was asked to write his Memoirs. He indicated that an autobiography was approximately 40 years premature and sat down to write the biography of his idol Pitt the Younger instead.
Hague has done an excellent job here. Although meticulously researched this is a readable, popular biography. Hague's prose style is precise and flows very smoothly.
Hague quickly takes us through Pitts early years and the events surrounding his first election to Parliament. His impact on Parliament was soon felt and within two years King George III twice asked Pitt to form a new government. It was only when Pitt was certain that he could maintain control of a new government that Pitt accepted the King's offer when it was made for the third time.
The first nine years of Pitt's leadership were turbulent but peaceful and it was as a peacetime leader that Pitt demonstrated enormous administrative skills. Pitt virtually created the mechanism by which any government oversees its finances. By the end of that nine-year period Britain's financial position was better than it had ever been before. It was this financial strength that facilitated Britain's survival during the three crises that marked the remaining years of Pitt's time in office: the madness of King George III, the foreign and domestic trials created by the French Revolution and the even greater trials created in the wake of the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Hague's narrative style is straight forward and informative as he discusses Pitt's response to these crises. The complexity of the parliamentary and political system of 18th century Britain was Byzantine to say the least. However, Hague, because of his experience in Parliament, was able to explain those complexities without detracting from his narrative. This is no small accomplishment.
One of the most important aspects of the book for me was the discussion of the relationship between Pitt and his major adversary during his entire premiership, Charles James Fox. Hague's discussion of that relationship made Fox quite appealing in many respects. As Pitt steered Britain from crisis to crisis he turned increasingly to repressive measures (squashing free speech, toughening sedition laws and limiting the right to free assembly) to ensure Britain's security from perceived external threats to its security. The largest threat of course was that of the anti-monarchical forces unleashed by the French Revolution. Throughout Fox's years as the leader of the opposition he fought Pitt's repressive legislation every step of the way. Fox stood squarely on the side of free speech and was opposed to attempts to sacrifice his fellow citizens' freedoms on the mere declamation of a threat to security. He kept losing those battles but he did fight the good fight.
The battle over the balance between freedom and security is one that confronts us today. Hague's concluding analysis discusses this issue at some length. He is of course favorable to Pitt and defends him admirably. It takes nothing away from the quality of Hague's writing to note that I fell more squarely into the Fox camp.
Hague pays a good deal of attention to Pitt's personal life, particularly his drinking. He was reported to have downed three bottles of Port a day. There is little doubt that this undoubted alcoholism played a role in Pitt's early death. Hague also spends time discussing the lack of women in Pitt's life. He does not shy away from the issue and analyzes in some detail the close relationship he had with his male colleagues. I felt Hague's conclusions, that Pitt was one of those rare totally chaste people whose entire life was focused on one thing and one thing only, to be well founded if a bit speculative.
Hague has indicated that he intended and expected this book to be a popular history that could be enjoyed by any reader. This book lived up to Hague's expectations and also to mine. I recommend this book to anyone with any interest in British history. It is enjoyable and well worth reading.
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on 27 October 2004
On purchasing this book, I must admit a feeling of uncertainty as to whether this would prove to be a valuable addition to my bookshelf as opposed to a disappointment. The idea of a politician writing a biography of a historical politician always runs the risk of the author imparting partiality with respect to the subject. Even though some critics have referred to this book merely as an endeavour by Mr. Hague to solidify his position within Conservative ideology (and by result the Conservative party), this book remains a very informative and enjoyable account of one of the more interesting political figures we have had in recordable history.
With historical backdrops such as the rise of Napoleon, the madness of George III, the inception of the abolition of the slave trade and the fact the subject was so unique among his predecessors and successors (due to his youth, oratory skills and the extremely long duration in office) makes a book about the life and career of William Pitt a very enjoyable read. Also, Mr Hague's treatment pulls no more punches than most "established literary historians" and tries to remain both informative and enjoyable throughout.
For those still not persuaded by an interest in political intrigue, if you want to know more about the wonderful characters and situations in "Blackadder the Third" (The mad King, the bumbling Prince Regent, the plight of the French Nobility and the formidable Duke of Wellington - even though historically, Wellington's popular career began as Pitt's ended) then this book will act as a good start for you.
A deserved five stars.
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William Hague points out in the afterword to this book that Margaret Thatcher likened him to Pitt the Younger when he famously took the stage at the Conservative Party Conference aged 16 many years ago. He certainly has a sympathy for his subject but not a slavish one ; he sees weaknesses as well as strengths. It needs to be said that this is a hard-worked book, and Hague's conscientious research is everywhere apparent. He usually avoids the danger of an invisible wood hidden by multitudes of trees - perhaps not quite, or not always - but there is still a lot of information in the book, and it's a long book. Hague also faces a difficulty in the nature of his subject. If you take the politician away from Pitt, there is not much left. Disraeli, Gladstone and Churchill, to name only three, were interesting characters in themselves, never mind their achievements ; Pitt was an unmarried, totally dedicated politician with an enigmatic nature, little in the way of hobbies and few friends. He drank very heavily and no doubt enjoyed the experience, but even that stemmed from medical advice and not what might be thought an interesting recklessness of character. However, the events through which he lived - the American War, attempts at parliamentary reform, the 'madness' of the King (actually probably acute intermittent porphyria), the anti-slavery movement with his friend Wilberforce, the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars - are all important and some are momentous. Hague tells the tale of all these things and his subject's involvement in them pretty well. He writes clearly and articulately and has quite a good sense of structure in his narrative - he is, for example, good at cliff-hangers at section and chapter endings. There are a few entertaining anecdotes (not many). What he fails to do for me is convey the astonishing power of Pitt as a parliamentary orator. Often he writes of a devastating speech, or one which thrilled the Commons with its clarity, logic and intellectual brilliance, but he doesn't really make that come to life in the quotations he chooses, which (admittedly out of context) seem to me wordy and even a little pompous sometimes. But fair's fair - I enjoyed the book, it is a good work of scholarship, it does cast a great deal of light on the subject and his time, and it is rather touching that it has been written by a modern politician who, whatever the similarities, has yet to come within shouting distance of Pitt's achievement in his time - as I am sure Hague would have the realism and humility to acknowledge.
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on 10 January 2012
Hague switches on the narrative when Pitt arrives on scene, and switches it off when he departs. It's like a camera with no narrator to explain how Britain got there, how society off-screen is developing, and what it all means. There's little historical context, no wider picture of British social structure, little discussion of the big questions of interpretation. Hague is not a historian, but even in a politician, the lack of wider interests seems shocking.

This is not the book for anyone with any interest in the wider issues...but if you've got an enormous interest in Pitt in the House of Commons, it perhaps makes sense, though I found it quite dull.
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I preferred Wilberforce both because of the character & because I thought it better written. I did meet Mr Hague when he came to Duns.
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on 25 January 2005
Following the death of Roy Jenkins, there is space for an accomplished political biographer to take his place, and William Hague certainly shows the potential in this engrossing book to do just that.
Pitt spent most of his life as Prime Minister, a remarkable feat even for the time. He initially presided over a peace dividend, but half way through his first term as Prime Minister entered war against France, leaving his financial legacy somewhat more ambiguous, though he certainly prevented the country from being invaded by the French.
Hague makes the political manoeuvrings interesting, and the section of his relationship with Addington when the latter was Prime Minister is particularly engrossing. The analysis he renders of Pitt's actions seems sounds, and Hague's telling is straightforward account - there are no massive revelations here, nor is it a revisionist history in any way.
He also makes the period seem suitably interesting when describing events and social conventions of the time. Obviously it was a completely different time, but it is easy to forget and a number of the points were jaw-dropping.
There are a number of flaws in this book. There is often little analysis of his motives, though decision he made during the war with French are better looked at that occurs in the first half of the book. Hague also fails to get to grip properly with Pitt as a person, though again he is better at some points, for example on his speculated homosexuality, than others. The writing is also slightly repetitive, though his editors can be considered equally at fault for these small points.
More worryingly, perhaps, is Hague's refusal to engage in his own past to offer insight. Jenkin's strength as a biographer was insights into politics resulting from his sheer volume of experience. Hague has always struck me as a shrewd operator, yet fails to add any personal colour into it the mix. If he is to grow in stature as a biographer, this is something he may want to tackle.
As a book Pitt is an enjoyable romp through the times with much fascinating detail added about the times in which he lived. As a writer, Hague just needs to add a little polish and he will be capable of becoming a respected biographer. However, as a first book this is a splendid achievement and well worth reading.
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