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on 30 April 2013
It's probably helpful to say at the start that my political views are very different from those of Margaret Thatcher and, from what I know of his journalism, Charles Moore. However, I take my hat off to Mr. Moore for a first-class biography (well, Volume One, anyway) that is worthy of the importance of its subject.

I was hopeful of a good biography, but was conscious that Mr. Moore hadn't written a book before. It is to the credit of Margaret Thatcher and those around her that Charles Moore was chosen for this task and given such freedom (to a degree that is highly unusual in an authorised biography). Yes, he's clearly an admirer of Mrs. Thatcher. However, he brings his trademark independence of mind to the role. Once one accepts the glaring and inevitable Conservative political bias (with a big gulp, in my case), one finds his judgements invariably both thoughtful and thought-provoking. We get a wealth of detail that both humanises and deepens his subject, but he doesn't shy away from less positive aspects of Margaret Thatcher's character and actions. There is also an admirable humility in his tendency to leave the reader to make up their own mind about so much of what he reveals. This occasionally applies even when those revelations are jaw-dropping.

The diligence in research is impressive. There are some elements of luck, such as the treasure-trove of letters from Margaret Thatcher to her older sister. However, often one makes one's luck through persistence and hard work. The writing is rarely as good as Mr. Moore's journalism, but that's understandable given that he's writing in a (for him) new and more tightly-constrained format. The occasional infelicity, repetition and typo doesn't detract from a fluid and engaging narrative. I even enjoyed the occasional sly flashes of humour. I've read other biographies of Margaret Thatcher (along with many other political biographies and related accounts from this period) and yet here I learned much that was new and encountered fresh perspectives on key events. I came away feeling well rewarded for my time. Volume One is as good as I could have expected. I'm looking forward to Volume Two.
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on 1 June 2013
Whatever your views on Margaret Thatcher there are 5 reasons to buy this book:

1. It is extremely well written and never less than interesting.

2. It provides the context for the events in which decisions are made, but concisely.

3. It provides original material in the form of Mrs T's comments on various documents relating to important political decisions, which in themselves tell us a lot about her and her style of managing and controlling - indirectly and critically, mainly negative and often rude.

4. It includes comments from former ministers, political advisers and civil servant, some from written sources and some from interviews all pulled together in relation to events.

5. It is balanced. It gives credit to others for aspects of Thatcherite policy, in particular Geoffrey Howe. If you did not like Mrs T before - hectoring, arrogant, know-it-all - you will not change your views. If you liked her determination and stubbornness and grasp of the demotic, you will not change your view.

Personally, I did not like her hectoring and bullying style. But I found the way Moore wove together the material - her views, others views and facts - masterful.
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on 11 May 2013
Charles Moore has painstakingly researched every source and has had privileged access to his subject, her family, her colleagues and members of the Civil Service as well as international political figures and officials. The result is a meticulously researched thorough biography: It is certainly not a hagiographic account of her career up to 1982. There is respect and admiration but he cannot disguise his inability to like her.

Although no detail has been left out he has an excellent style that makes for easy reading

There are no other books that give so detailed account of how the UK reached its economic low point in 1979 and how Margaret Thatcher prepared to turn round the country's economic fortunes albeit without much strategy or coherent planning. She relied .more on conviction than intellectual analysis.
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on 25 April 2016
This is a fantastic bit of research into ‘Thatcheriana’ – sadly, it is not a great read.

If you want an informative read, then read her own autobiography. If you want to read a great book, Hugo Young’s contemporary biography is a classic in how to write a biography. If you want a quick read, there’s a host of journalistic books on her life. The most fun read is Carol Thatcher’s ‘Under the Parapet’ biography of her Dad.

Charles Moore is a very successful journalist, and as such, a good wordsmith. On top of that, he has done a phenomenal amount of research (80 interviews in the US alone for the two volumes were carried out by his US assistant, himself carrying out hundreds of interviews with new insights from all the key players you could wish for, and he has clearly worked through paperwork, in the style of the subject of the biography). Sadly, this is not a biography with a gripping narrative, though the research material is there.

It is an excellent reference book, and my guess is for this reason it will stand the test of time. Advice to the reader – flick through the bits that bore you. He has left out the majority of his research, as a good journalist is trained to, but the book is still far too long (or too short if readers are looking for a full five volume account of her life).

Like any excited journalist with new material, the writer cannot resist using too much of it. In comparison to the vast wealth of publicly available printed material on Thatcher, the letters she wrote to her sister are a treasure trove of new material. We see too much of it. Similarly, his access to her Private Secretaries gives a very detailed Private Secretary view of a series of detailed meetings when the outcomes and what the agreed policies tell us about Mrs T are what we want to read in a biography.

As perhaps the most ‘marmite’ figure in post War UK, the writer’s Thatcher worship can be difficult for the somewhat less enthused reader. He may think she was beautiful, and obviously her pre-marriage boyfriends (here, new information is given just the right amount of detail in an interesting biographical way) would no doubt share his view, but this is certainly not a consensus view. Striking, yes. The only women, frequently interestingly attired, in a room full of grey suits, yes. The object of passion for many Tory back-benchers and the military (especially later on), yes. A female Cecil Parkinson? This surely a subjective view of an admiring biographer.

It is very difficult to write a biography of such a towering figure that appeals firstly to readers who ‘weren’t there’ wanting to find out about the history of the period, secondly to Thatcher lovers and also to the curious who simply lived through Thatcherism and want to know more. Perhaps the author did too much research and got simply exhausted when it came to the difficult bit of writing it all up.

I did not expect to begin reading ‘anti-Thatcher’ and end up ‘pro-’, but I did expect insight, and, more than that, I expected a new emotional relationship with the subject of this book which, after reading it I failed to get I am afraid.

(I feel terrible writing this, as you can feel the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into writing it, and his love for both the project and subject, as you read the extensive notes about writing it and the bibliography).
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on 13 September 2013
Like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher was the major political figure of late 20th century British politics. This biography is a highly readable account of her life and career to the Falklands conflict. Although an authorised biography, Charles Moore's account is far from an uncritical look at Mrs Thatcher both as a politician and a person. The book quotes in full a damning review of Thatcher by a senior civil servant and provides some interesting insights into her approach to those "left behind" as her life moved on. For example, her coolness in respect of her mother and, to a lesser extent, her father, once enmeshed in politics.

Moore's writing style is relaxed and yet comprehensive in its scholarship. The volume of background material referenced by footnotes is enormous. Scene setting required for an understanding of how the Thatcher approach developed and was implemented on the back of her opponents disorder in 1979 is deftly done. Moore does not shy away from the fact that Mrs Thatcher was extremely fortunate both to get away with errors of policy in 1980/81 and to have such weak opposition both within her own party and in the Labour opposition of the era.

Critical accolades for the book are well-deserved. Anyone with even a passing interest in Britain in the postwar era should read this book.
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on 24 April 2013
I won't pretend I have read it all yet. I only acquired my copy last night (at the launch party). But I have read enough to be confident that this is a masterpiece. I can't think of any biography published so soon after its subject's death which is anywhere near as thorough, objective and well written as this book is.

A lot of the credit has to be given to Lady Thatcher herself. No other modern politician would have done as she did. She asked Charles Moore to write her biography as long ago as 1997. She allowed him access to all her papers. She told all her friends (and her political enemies) that they could speak freely to him. She made only two conditions. First, the book could not be published until after her death. Second, she was not prepared to read any of it. So an authorized biography of a leading politician would be written by an author who knew he could say what he actually thought without having to worry about what his subject would make of it.

The result is astounding. Yes, of course, Moore is mostly sympathetic to Lady Thatcher. He is on her side. But he sees her faults, and doesn't shrink from writing about them. This is definitely not the work of a sycophant. It is a scholarly review of the life of a controversial stateswoman with, as one of her former colleagues put it to me last night, "warts and all".

One of the things which struck me most was how beautifully written the book is. It is not usual to describe a political biography as being a page-turner. But Moore's biography is just that. It is very difficult to put it down. The prose is incredibly easy to read, and one wants to go on reading it: to see what happens next.

The sad thing is that we will almost certainly have to wait too long for the second volume. Thatcher's later years as Prime Minister were, I reckon, even more interesting than the earlier ones. I long to know what Moore makes of those later years. But I must be patient.

In the meantime, I have no hesitation in commending this book to you. It is truly remarkably good.

Charles

P.S. I have now read a lot more (bought it for Kindle to help me). My opinion remains unchanged.
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on 4 June 2013
I'm only half way through this official biography but it is rivetting - meticulously researched and well written. Not at all dry and boring and it just shows in detail what and amazing character Mrs Thatcher was from a young age. She was extremely feminine, played the piano and loved dancing. What an extraordinary achievement it was for a woman, from any background, but especially a grammar school girl from the English provinces, to climb the greasy pole of politics right to the top, with a razor brain, sheer hard work and inspiration - and to be re-elected three times. She restored Britain's standing in the world, liberated the populous from the tyranny of the Trade Unions, encouraged all to aspire, took on the Argentinians and generally showed us all what courage is.
I'm already looking forward to Volume 2 although I really wish she had retired after 10 years, and wasn't dumped by her own party.
nevertheless she has shown that a woman can make it to the top and make a difference - but they have to be better than the men, and she was.
RIP.
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on 2 May 2013
Long awaited but coming up to expectations. Though packed full of detail as it necessarily had to be, it's still easy to turn the pages particularly the last 100 of them - an exciting account of her role in the Falklands War. As every great biography should be this is a sympathetic but not hagiographical treatment of the subject. A judicious balance is kept and the issues and the characters are never simplified to help the story but distort the History. So this will be a good treasure trove for historians while making engrossing reading for the general reader who will be impatient to devour Volume 2.
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on 13 May 2013
Everyone born since the Second World War has an opinion about Mrs Thatcher often coloured by the myths of the achievements or failures of this priestess of good and order "the Iron Lady" The Iron Lady [DVD], or again of this wicked imperialist witch of class war robber - "the Milk Snatcher", "Attila the Hen" screaming fire and brimstone in Spitting Images. Her two volume autobiography, according to Charles Moore, may have left more questions unanswered, because she seemed unwilling, unsure to open herself to the world, and her main assistant and his main biographical rival, Robin Harris Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher, was unable to direct her along different paths. First point to Moore. But Thatcher was a creature of an age when it was not the norm to parade ones dirty linen in public, and then plead understanding and respect. Point to Thatcher and Harris.

Charles Moore has produced a book which should appeal to a wide range of people - and may surprise Scots and Irish of her own background: she is believed to be descended from Col John O' Sullivan Quarter-Master General to the Young Pretender, "Bonnie Prince Charlie" Stuart.

Much of Margaret came from her family background in Grantham with father Alf, mother Beatrice, and sister Muriel, and will interest old and new Granthamians as the west side of the town where she lived over the shop in North Parade has been transformed since the late 1960s. However, she always was her own person, and Moore stresses throughout her life even wherever she held to strong beliefs and ideals, she still had room for exceptions.

Nobody can speak for everybody -at least not at the same time as Blair hoped, but when Thatcher spoke she sounded as the clear mouthpiece of different key elements of the British population. "Hilda" was never one of "us" in one camp; she was disliked as much in paternal aristocratic Tory families, but admired by affluent working class women who happily bought their council homes after 1979. I suspect Thatcher saw the differences in North Parade herself - not noticed by Moore, as families on her side of the street lived back-to-back, and those opposite owned villas with large front and back gardens, but as Rotarians, (Alf was also a member of the town bowling club) the Roberts had to get on with their neighbours as a community during times of hardship. People could identify with her and her arch rival, Ted Heath, both worthy products of honest lower middle homes, who worked hard at the local grammar school, and succeeded, giving all a feeling that there was a chance for all in life, especially because she had worked outside politics before entering Parliament unlike many current leading lights on both sides of the floor of the Commons.

Moore is not afraid to speak of criticism even unproven ones of her and her family in the suppressed vicious novel, Rotten Borough Rotten Borough, in 1937, re-published during her premiership, showing that though without doubt a (fond) admirer, he is and has not become a lap-dog, or a monkey of the organ grinder.

Students of political studies will be interested how Thatcher saw and was seen by civil servants, and will realize why she was a fan of Yes Minister & Prime minister - beginning with Dame Evelyn Sharp, the "Great Dame", the upright Principal, Sir Humphrey in skirts, made famous in Richard Crossman's Diary at the Ministry of Housing , Sir William Pile at Education, Sir Robert Armstrong as Cabinet Secretary, and how from the highest mandarin to the lowest typist a real loyalty flourished. Moore unfolds how she and not the more intelligent Sir Keith Joseph managed to unseat and defeat a three-times loser,"Sailor boy" Heath, in 1975, (there is more than one hint of his odd sexual inclination)Margaret Thatcher - The Long Walk to Finchley [DVD], and remained Leader despite being hugely despised by a large core of her party, with several pretenders, Whitelaw, Pym, as well as the "old sulk" Heath hoping to succeed; about her close monetarist collaborators, her consensual doubters, the "Wets", and the outsiders, including her enemies. Most of all, he illustrates how her ideas evolved or were transformed in the light of events, meaning contrary to the myth of immovable policies written in stone, in certain circumstances the lady was for turning.

Her first three years of the Premiership are split into themes: the economy, the US and detente, Ulster and the Falklands War. It is not unduly uncharitable to stress that Thatcher survived in all these matters both because her opponents were poor as in Argentina or divided, such as the Labour Party under Michael Foot, and because Thatcher had more luck than they. However, Thatcher did experience defeats on the home front: the economy remained very weak; the nationalized industries were in a disastrous precarious state; trade union legislation was slowed down by the Heathite Jim Prior; young blacks took to the streets of Brixton and Bristol with civil unrest in 1981; the government was defeated by the NUM in late 1980 -seen as the repeat of 1972, and the precursor to 1974, the three day week and the defeat of the Heath Government against the militants behind Scargill in 1984-85; and feeling became strained internationally over the ten dead hunger strikers in the Maze prison beginning with Bobby Sands. But, with or without the calming voice of Denis or the loyal Willie Whitelaw, she was unable to change her style in public. The problem is those who hated her would still hate her even if she toned anything down.

Unlike the immovable witch figure, Moore showed that Thatcher did show motherly compassion in private(not just for the loss of her son in the desert)for the the disciplined toughness and bravery of the Irish dissenters, though she still felt their cruel acts were wrong and in the end the had wasted their lives. Furthermore, he may also have unwittingly compared Thatcher to Blair and his decision to fight Saddam on the pretext of the presumed presence of weapons of mass destruction, by convincing herself she would never negotiate with terrorists when members of the security services were actually speaking to the IRA, including one commander who later was to become a top politician after the Downing Street Agreement in 1997.

But history now show that the strikers and the IRA did not come out of the debate as shiny clean angels. Sands had been a wife beater, who chose to leave him, so he went out and blew up a furniture showroom. Nothing idealistic for Irish liberation; after the murder of Earl Mountbatten it simply underlined that the IRA behaved as common criminals! The IRA had always stood out of British politics in Ulster, refusing to legitimise the "colony" and "foreign'" rule; they only changed their tune when the prisoners started to die off like flies. The decision was solely for political gain. What is more, they even caused further deaths by forbidding the families of the strikers from speaking or persuading them from ending their strikes.

There were some blue skies in foreign affairs: over Rhodesia it is now best forgotten as it opened the road in 1982 to Mugabe terror; but with the election of Ronald Reagan to the White House, as both Thatcher and Reagan saw themselves on parallel crusading economic and peaceful missions, it helped renew the Wartime Special relationship - another idealistic historical myth first planted by Churchill (and allowed to grow by Roosevelt), which goes to sleep when both countries choose to march along different paths. Thatcher disproved the fairy tale of a weaker sex for she was no poodle to Reagan; she had sharp teeth, charms, not just a loud bark. When Moore describes the US invasion of Grenada in volume 2 the differences, or the divisions within the relationship first noted briefly the Falklands will re-appear.

Thatcher's undoubted peak of her power, and which brought electoral success in 1983 - incorrectly compared to by the biographer with Churchill (who lost his electoral challenge in 1945), but to Lloyd George in 1918, was handed to her by Gualtieri and the Argentine military Junta with the invasion of South Georgia and the Falkland islands in April 1982. What is surprising is that commentators after her death never remembered to say that Thatcher helped bring democracy back to Argentina, or that even before the most recent outbursts by President Kirchner Argentina's leaders never changed their views over the Falklands. Postage stamps to commemorate their defeat with maps still depicting Las Malvinas and its people as sovereign of Argentina have repeatedly appeared. That is an offence both to the soldiers and sailors of both countries who fought and died for no reason; it is like saying that Thatcher had never existed, the war was never fought, and there was never an invasion. It means Argentina refuses to accept the reason why Thatcher stood firm and sent out a Task Force, and why the country followed.

The biographer reminds readers of those who helped - the US, Chile, the Commonwealth (NZ), even France, and the EEC nations who opposed - the Irish Republic under Charlie Haughey to get his own back over Northern Ireland, as well as Argentina's natural Latin founders - Spain and Italy, the last two the biographer chose to ignore.

Moore indicates the many seeds of Thatcher's decline and departure in 1990 had been sowed during these first three years - possibly the victory itself was the greatest fertile land. Just as Churchill in May 1940, she felt she was right and could always fight on alone, and win. The Wets will wish to underline a growing sense of isolation, followed by madness in her manner, and compare her to Hitler's refusal to withdraw, only to attack, attack at Stalingrad or in Normandy. Whether Charles Moore's information leads one to the first, the second, or to other conclusions, volume 2 will be a worthy,readable book to follow this most entertaining history. Demand will try to push the writing to be hurried. Since it will also feature her years out of power and the historic legacy of the Lady, the author should be given a minimum of five years before something significant can be expressed.

My one small quibble concerns not giving more importance to Enoch Powell, and the Ulster Unionists in the defeat of the Labour Government in 1979 Enoch at 100: A re-evaluation of the life, politics and philosophy of Enoch Powell New studies have shown the Unionists moving away from Labour and back to the Conservatives no longer under Heath with promises of change in relations after the return of a Thatcher government. I wonder if this was generally unknown or overlooked with the death of Airey Neave by the INLA, or if Thatcher herself or Moore himself did not wish her to be seen to be cooperating with a past popular "traitor". No doubt, Charles Moore will enlighten all next time.

Moore has been criticised for creating a complex person in a complex period. Wrong. He has succeeded in reconstructing a real person and making it come alive with loves, hates, needs, and behaving in a different manner for different occasions with different people responding differently. She was not a one dimensional robot, a Labov dog behaving to simplified preordained myths, much less a Spitting Image puppet. That was a very simplified, partial version of journalists, and TV presenters. Thatcher was successful because she was an iron lady who believed in causes, and but occasionally was forced to turn. Though not liking her, as a woman in a crowd of spoilt misognyst buffoons I have to admit she had to be tough, and generally proved she was a tower of strength to others in a declining state.
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on 19 March 2016
I don't enjoy biographies and I'm not particularly interested in British politics but this book is both beautifully written and tells a fascinating story. Whilst one feels a great affinity between author and subject, no holds are barred and I cannot wait for volume two to appear in paperback.
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