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on 28 June 2004
As a great-granddaughter of Mary Lever Tillotson, sister to William Hesketh Lever, aka "The King of Sunlight", I was delighted to be given this book as a "special birthday" present earlier this month. Before opening the cover, I had no idea how highly entertaining and fascinating it would be. Leaving aside the family connection, Adam Macqueen's descriptions of a clever, down-to-earth and visionary entrepreneur had me in fits of laughter, although in contrast, a chapter relating what is thought to have happened to William's younger brother, James, was sensitively handled and in many ways a contrast to much of the rest of the book. Some of William Lever's late 19th and early 20th Century ideas of the "duties" of an employer would be regarded as nothing less than expected in the 21st Century, and this book gives a witty and perceptive insight into his life and times. In my childhood, I felt that over the years, my family had been blessed with somewhat more than its fair share of what some might label "eccentrics". Thanks to Adam Macqueen's book, I feel others now have an insight into one of these, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys being entertained whilst reading a biography - and challenge anyone who thinks biographies are boring old tomes to say this of "The King of Sunlight" once they have read it. I found it a hard book to put down.
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VINE VOICEon 16 November 2008
The premise of this book is the story of a soap company that would eventually become Unilever and its founder and directing mind, William Lever. It doesn't sound promising, but, like many obscure corners of history that have been illuminated by fascinating, lucid and readable biographies and histories, this is the window to a wide and startling vista.

I came to read the book after hearing excerpts of it on BBC Radio 4's `A Good Read'. It sounded interesting in the round, but what really made me pay attention was the detail on Rivington. Rivington is a village in the moorland above Chorley and Bolton. It has medieval tithe barns, a quaint village centre, strange follies and the most amazing terraced gardens, ornamental lake and Roman ruins.

As a child I was taken there for Sunday walks, climbing the stone steps to a strange grotto that, in my mind, was permanently winter. The waterfall would be petrified, frozen solid in mid-tumble, and the landscape glistening as a pallid sunlight reflected from a thick and universal spread of frost.

In short it seemed a magical and strange place. So I was much obliged to the author of this book for providing some illumination as to how Japanese gardens and intricate terraces had been transplanted to this windswept and remote corner of Lancashire.

And once I had started reading the book it was clear that not only would my interest in a local beauty spot be satiatied, but that this was a wide-ranging and interesting book which, although having William Lever and his soap business as the central focus of attention, also covered the British Empire, the Liberal Party, old age pensions, garden cities and much more.

William Lever is presented sympathetically - it is obvious that Mr MacQueen is struck by the common affliction of biographers in his growing affection for his subject. But this is backed by the legacy of the man, which, whilst not completely apart from the times, was markedly different to the Victorian factory owners in this dark corner of Britain.

Mr MacQueen makes it clear that this book should not be read as a comprehensive biography of the man. William Lever's life is detailed, but is also used as a launch pad to some fascinating discourses on everything from the brutal history of Belgian Congo to the more obscure Parliamentary rules.

This book was a joy to read, and should whet the appetite to at least visit Port Sunlight, Rivington and the Isle of Harris and Lewis. So far I've got two out of the three, and the very brief but alluring introduction of the Western Isles has meant that I will try and head to the furthest reaches of Scotland sometime soon.
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on 11 March 2009
The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up the World

This is by no means an academic biography, and is an easy, somewhat lightweight read. Whether you enjoy it or not depends on what you want to get out of it.

The author is obviously fond of his subject, but was unable to make me feel strongly about him. It is a potentially interesting subject, but I was left with no strong desire to learn more about Port Sunlight or William Lever. I found this book a little too insubstantial and shallow for my liking, which was a bitter disappointment as I had really wanted to like it, having heard it recommended on Radio 4.

It reads more like a novel than a "serious biography". The writing style is very relaxed, and informal, more like a conversation than a work of non-fiction, but still does not really leave you very enlightened about the man behind Port Sunlight.

If you are just after something different to read about a different subject, then this is possibly the book for you. If you want something to get your teeth into that will leave you wanting to learn more about the history of Port Sunlight or the motivations of the man behind it, or even about the end of the Victorian era, then I suggest you carry on searching.
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on 30 December 2009
The book takes you through the life of William Lever starting from his middle class background in Bolton. He soons becomes a larger-than-life character, starting life as a salesman. He becomes sympathetic to the lot of the working class and, after developing Port Sunlight, he goes on to address socialist interests in Parliament and beyond. His international and Scottish influences are fascinating.

A good read for aspiring entrepreneurs!
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on 29 April 2013
Fully agree with Claire Topping's review. It's an easy, lightweight read and a good introduction to the man but a superficial biography. Too much scene setting narrative and not enough in the way of well researched, detailed facts about Lever himself.
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on 19 December 2005
Forgive me for raining on the parade of stars that have been showered on this particular book. It is undoubtedly slick, stylish and sometimes very amusing. However, it is also superficial in its approach. People should read instead Roger Hutchinson's 'The Soap Man'. While this work clearly concentrates on Leverhulme's investments in Lewis and Harris, it also gives a better sense of what the Soap King was like as a man.
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on 3 January 2014
the book is thoroughly well written as fiction, but i must say that, as my own ancestors, the thomas family, created sunlight soap in bristol and later sold to the levre bros, i am glad the book was not published as factual.
i have researched the soap industry in depth and very much enjoyed the read. indeed, i myself, mentioned the soap industry in the first volume of my own book, my mother warned me about me and describe the beginnings of the soap factory in bristol.
thank you for furthering my knowledge.
kind regards
P
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on 4 June 2013
I would recommend this as a great read to learn of the vision and determination of the founder of Lever Brothers which became Unilever, a multinational corporation with enormous global reach. All started by two men, sons of a man with a drapery shop. Amazing how William Lever lived, sleeping outdoors at all times, adventuring far into Africa to find original ingredients to make good soap, and how he shared the corporate wealth with the employees raising their standard of living. Winning tips for how to successfully lead a truly great business. Well written by Adam MacQueen.
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on 20 May 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It went into detail of his life and also vivid descriptions of the places where he lived. I am very familiar with the Rivington area and have vivid memories of the bungalow and also Rockhaven castle as we played there when we were children.
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This is a highly readable and quite funny biography of William Hesketh Lever, the immensely successful industrialist and purveyor of soap to the world. The author, Adam MacQueen, suggests that this is not a biography and indeed he is correct in the sense that it does not cover all the activities or achievements of Lever, but it is doubtless quite sufficient for those with a general interest in this amazing man or whose interest has been sparked by a visit to one of his most significant achievements, Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Gallery.
MacQueen has a somewhat irreverent style of writing and certainly does not balk at making sweeping statements about various governments, politicians or institutions such as The Daily Mail or The Guardian that crop up in this story. Despite his obvious mistrust of the rich and successful MacQueen seemingly cannot help but admire Lever even if his controlling habits became more pronounced as he became older.
The book takes us from the not quite humble beginnings in a Bolton shop, through Lever's expansion of this business, to his change to making and selling soap from a factory in Warrington, to the establishment of the mighty enterprise at Port Sunlight. The creation of overseas businesses in order to secure the raw materials for soap manufacture make a fascinating tale, especially Lever's work in the Congo. Added to this is the entertaining detail of the great man's eccentricities, his philanthropy, his driven approach to work, his enlightened social views and short but highly successful role in the first introduction of welfare legislation in the 1908 budget of the Liberal government of Herbert Asquith. A witty, funny and highly readable account of the life of this fascinating man.
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