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Posted August 16, 2004
Great Man, Difficult Book
I make it a policy not to read biographies by British authors - they tend to be dry, are overly and unnecessarily detailed, and utterly lack drama. I should have stayed with my policy. Jenkins book, while comprehensive, well-written and at times fascinating, utterly lacks context. Unless one is already intimately familiar with Gladstone and the vicissitudes of 19th century British politics (a passing familiarity will NOT suffice), the book will likely be, as the reviewer from Publishers Weekly says, impenetrable. Jenkins mentions event after event in the context of Parliamentary discussions thereon, but never mentions what happened in the event itself. He goes on and on about the peronalities of party figures but mentions not a word as to what the parties stood for. Jenkins wrote a good 20 page introduction for the American edition, but he should have written 20 pages of simple background and explanation into the text itself. With that, the book would have been phenomenally readable. Without it, it was a frustration.
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