The Holy Fox by Andrew Roberts is a very interesting take on the life of Lord Halifax. Lord Halifax is remembered to history as an arch-appeaser and this was all that I knew of him until I read this book. What I learnt was actually quite fascinating, for example, his role in India and his attempts to maintain order there. However, although Andrew Roberts tries hard to persuade that Halifax was not the arch-appeaser in 1938 or a total defeatist in 1940 his argument just doesn't seem to be strong enough in my opinion to show that history has dealt with Lord Halifax harshly. All in all it is a very good book, with a well-paced narrative as well as some interesting analysis, but at times it does seem to be trying too hard in its efforts to save Halifax from the judgement of history.
Halifax was a clever and wily politician who became one of the last Viceroys of India, and went on to be Chamberlain's Foreign Secretary during the Appeasement years. Shifting his beliefs he became a strong anti-appeaser, served as Churchill's first Foreign Secretary, and was then sent to Washington as our ambassador. He stayed there until the end of the war, and returned with Keynes to pursue a dollar loan.
A deeply unattractive person, he is brought vividly to life in this very understanding and even sympathetic biography. The well-known path from Munich until the start of the war is brought vividly to life - and still manages to sweep one along with excitement even though one knows how it all ended!
I found this a very interesting book even if i disagreed with many of the conclusions drawn by the author.Halifax still comes over as an arch appeaser and a rather unpleasant individual.His role inthe sacking of Hore Belisha is jsut one instance of his disgraceful attitudes.
However what i find rather odd is that the author devotes 20 pages to the time in India but doesnt mention the signing of the Soviet German pact on 31st August 1939 and breezes through the Munich Agreement in a couple of pages.
Quite frankly Halifax was a disaster as Foreign Secretary,and this is clearly highlighted by this book,whether or not the author is able to accept this conclusion.
Lord Halifax's life (mainly WW2 related but not exclusively) by one of the most sympathetic biographers. Fascinating to learn the inside story of May 1940 from someone other than Churchill, who actually comes out of it all well despite having dealt badly at times with Halifax.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - having reservations about the subject, and in truth, about the author. However, Roberts portrays the complexities and contexts which have gone into making Halifax such a controversial figure. I also have to confess, at the onset, that I have always bought the line that Halifax was not so much a traitor, as a man devoid of a moral center. However paradoxical this may seem for a man of faith, Halifax's ability of dealing in absolutes probably encouraged a rather brazen realist streak in him, that coupled with Chamberlain, set him so apparantly apart from Churchill's audacity and faith in what Britain should stand for. It is on the strength of Robert's work here, on the skill, humour and sensitivity in which he presents this gaunt, silent man, that my views have been much modified. What is especially outstanding here, is Robert's ability to portray Halifax and yet retain his praise of Churchill - overcoming the crude polarity of the good and the guilty, the black and the white, that has so often distorted the historical account. There were places here where I laughed out loud and also, I am unashamed to say still, where a lump rose in my throat for all those people, `appeasers' and none-appeasers alike, who has the singular misfortune to live in a time when each choice was fraught with danger. There is some beautiful writing here.
Halifax reputation suffered, and has continue to suffer, for his name being linked with that of Neville Chamberlain and Appeasement. In arguing that this judgment is incorrect, Andrew Roberts has given us an important, and detailed revision of the years leading up the Second World War. He shows that Halifax saw Hitler in his true colours at the time of the Bad Godesberg meetings, and before the Munich Agreement. From this time on he worked for a more realistic understanding of Hitler's real aims, and for rearmament and conscription. Halifax came within a whisker of becoming Prime Minister in May 1940; the job was his to refuse. The Tory Party, and the King both wanted him, and it was argued that his place in House Lords was a barrier that could be removed. Halifax must have realised himself that he was no war leader, and, inspite of massive doubts within the Tory Party, Halifax supported Churchill's claim. From then on the story which unfolds is much less well known, and invites a re-assessment of Churchill's reputation. Churchill - known to Halifax as The Rogue Elephant - needed Halifax to argue against his wilder schemes. The book is particularly important on relations with the Vichy regime, the problems associated with the French Navy, and the differences between Halifax and Churchill on how these should be handled. It is not now very easy to understand that Britain was alone at this juncture, and that American support was very uncertain. However, Halifax's attachment to Chamberlain's name made him important enemies, one of whom, Roberts reveals, was newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. When a new ambassador was needed in Washington, Halifax was not the first name mentioned. Beaverbrook saw to it that his name became prominent, and it is a blot on Churchill's reputation that he went along with this idea, almost certainly to rid him of the one minister in his cabinet who could stand up to him. It is not pleasant reading. A less time-specific reason for reading this book is that it portrays a now forgotten era when the aristocracy still dominated government in Britain. Halifax comes across as a figure who eschewed "short termism" - now the current plague of British politics.