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Customer Review

on 27 September 2004
The first volume of John Campbell's biography of Margaret Thatcher was entertaining because he succeeded in finding an original way of telling the Thatcher story. The book was based on the premise that she played up her past, so much so that in the 1980's Peter Hennessey was able to claim that it was almost as though her father was running the country from beyond the grave. In Campbell's telling of her life up until 1979, he exposed the extent to which she embellished certain truths to further her own position, and this made for a gripping and enjoyable read.
This second volume has proved trickier, if only because it is more difficult to create a chronological account of a Government in action. Campbell has wisely split the book up into thematic areas which broadly move forward chronologically as the book progresses - rather like Baroness Thatcher's memoirs. If this book has a theme it is her lack of man-management as PM, which eventually rebounded on her with the resignation of Geoffrey Howe. However, as the book moves through a number of areas this is a point which is sustained, but without any real sense of narrative.
This is not to say that this is a bad biography - rather it highlights precisely why the first volume was so entertaining. Instead, The Iron Lady comes across as informative first, entertaining second - and there is much to commend. He has created a very balanced and fair biography, acknowledging her strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. It is a book which has also been written a suitable period after events have been written - not only can we see the effect of her policies, but the personalities involved have also got their accounts out into the open.
Campbell's writing is superb - he has a fairly brisk writing style that enables him to argue a point well. There is some repetition of turns of phrase, but that is only to be expected in an 800 page volume. When he needs to do drama - especially in the penultimate two chapters - he does it exceptionally well. He is also adept at picking up humorous quotes and anecdotes which are illuminating at the same time.
There are a few other drawbacks for example there is little mention over her plans for Lord Young which to my mind is the most eccentric incident of her premiership which seems like an omission.
However, to list them all would be just nitpicking: The Iron Lady is an good solid biography. With a little more flair it would have been an excellent follow-up. Ultimately the difficult nature of the subject has left him with few strands to pull together through the whole book, though this does not prevent it from being a rewarding, informative and enjoyable read.
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