A Life at the Center: Memoirs of a Radical Reformer

Overview

Roy Jenkins is one of the most important statesmen of our time. He has been a British cabinet minister and party leader as well as a former president of the European Commission. He is now the chancellor of Oxford University. As an ardent Atlanticist, Jenkins has maintained close contacts with the United States throughout his career, helping to forge the links that have characterized the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. A Life at the Center includes Jenkins's impressions of some of the...
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1993 Hard cover Us ed. New in New dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 585 p.

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Overview

Roy Jenkins is one of the most important statesmen of our time. He has been a British cabinet minister and party leader as well as a former president of the European Commission. He is now the chancellor of Oxford University. As an ardent Atlanticist, Jenkins has maintained close contacts with the United States throughout his career, helping to forge the links that have characterized the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain. A Life at the Center includes Jenkins's impressions of some of the celebrated people he has encountered - portraits that are often telling vignettes. He writes of the Kennedys, Truman, and Nixon, of LBJ and Margaret Thatcher, of Helmut Schmidt and J. Edgar Hoover, in a revealing and often hilarious way. In this acclaimed autobiography, the two strands of his life, writing and politics, are brought together triumphantly. Jenkins illuminates the people and politics of his times with grace, honesty, and humor. He writes candidly about his career, which was characterized in Britain by pioneering reform and struggles with the country's ailing economy. Jenkins might have been prime minister twice: in the seventies, when he seemed to be Harold Wilson's natural successor; and in the eighties, when the breakaway Social Democrats looked as though they might sweep straight into power. His presidency of the European Commission came at a crucial time, and he was instrumental in creating the European Monetary System, a cornerstone of European integration. He details these periods of strife and opportunity with his historian's insight, coupled with a quality of analysis rare in a work of this kind.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lord Jenkins is a British politician at home equally in the chambers of power and the world of letters. A leading Labour figure for 35 years, serving as Home Secretary twice and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and only narrowly missing the premiership, he always seemed to be slightly out of step with much of his party; he was both more pragmatic and less doctrinaire. Eventually Jenkins became leader of the nascent Social Democratic party, which during the early 1980s looked capable of forming a viable third-party government in combination with the Liberals. It was not to be, and Jenkins, politically active only as a peer, is now Chancellor of Oxford University. The author of a number of political biographies, Jenkins produces polished prose that throws much light on puzzling passages in postwar British history--the careers of George Brown, Harold Wilson and David Owen, for instance. Jenkins also recounts his frequent visits to the U.S. and vivid meetings with LBJ, JFK and an appallingly frank and alarming J. Edgar Hoover. The book provides a greater sense of the cut and thrust at the upper levels of power--and of the astonishing impact of the British press--than do most political memoirs, though the length and detail may daunt readers. Still, this is the best book of its kind since Denis Healey's 1991 memoir, The Time of My Life . Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
For Americans who follow British politics closely, Jenkins's autobiography is essential reading. His career took him through every major postwar event--from Bevanism and the Gaitskellite struggle to the European Community and the Social Democratic party (SDP) effort to ``break the mold''--and most senior offices. The feel he gives for the inside world of British and Labour politics has rarely been surpassed. Though he lacked, perhaps, the dash or charisma of some of his contemporaries, the story he tells is detailed, gracious in judgment, and marked by a generosity of spirit. Given the battles he fought and the people he dealt with, his gracious, temperate tone may come as a surprise. There are some disappointments: Jenkins offers too little on Europe and on the SDP-``Alliance'' period and has dropped ten percent of the British edition--probably rich gossipy detail. Still, this is a first-rate autobiography by one of America's best British friends. (Index not seen.)-- H. Steck, SUNY at Cortland
Gilbert Taylor
A socialist of the Fabian stripe, Jenkins got his start in British politics whooping it up for Clement Attlee's seminal postwar prime ministership, which erected an edifice of nationalized economy only partly dismantled by Thatcherism. Jenkins mildly regrets having been such a lockstep Labour loyalist, preferring the persuasion of logic over the joustings of power, yet in his youth he was a young man in a hurry. Ambition and the coruscating clarity of his syntax and diction--reflected in this fluid and fascinating memoir--carried him near the top of the greasy pole in the 1960s and early 1970s. Though never PM, he held cabinet posts (Home Office and Exchequer) and opens the windows of 10 Downing Street wide open to those wishing to hear the relations of the Labour ministers of those years. He dealt with them (and foreigners) on official matters such as the Concorde, currency crises, and IRA terrorism, but the trenchant vignettes of their personalities reacting to politics draws the reader through this memoir rapidly. (For Americans, Jenkins throws in stories of his liberal soulmates in the colonies--the Kennedys, Galbraiths, Muskies.) Covering a half-century of British politics on the Left, which when it went looney in the early 1980s inspired him to form a third party, Jenkins' recollections will impress politicos with their frankness and felicity of expression--a standard 9 of 10 memoirs fail to meet.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679413110
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/16/1993
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. ed
  • Pages: 585

Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
List of Illustrations
Pt. 1 1920-64
1 A Late and Only Child 3
2 Balliol on the Brink 26
3 Guns and Ciphers 44
4 A Politician Without a Profession 58
5 The Evolution of a Gaitskellite 80
6 A Semidetached MP 105
7 Almost Out of Politics 119
Pt. 2 1964-70
8 A Lucky Landing 149
9 A Young Home Secretary 168
10 The Liberal Hour 192
11 The Long Dark Treasury Winter Begins 203
12 A Budget Born in a Crisis 218
13 Rough Times with Sterling and with Wilson 234
14 Confusion in Bonn and Gloom in the Pennines 249
15 The Sun Climbs Slow, How Slowly 260
16 Defeat out of the Jaws of Victor 275
Pt. 3 1970-76
17 European Unit and Labour Party Schism 289
18 The Road to Resignation 307
19 A More Comfortable Life? 331
20 Unwillingly Back to Office 346
21 A Recidivist Home Secretary 354
22 The European Referendum 377
23 Good-bye to Whitehall 394
Pt. 4 1976-90
24 Cross-Channel Packet 411
25 Monetary Union Reproclaimed 423
26 The Creation of the EMS 438
27 Bloody British Question 452
28 The Twitch upon the Political Thread 468
29 The Annus Mirabilis of the SDP 489
30 The Path Grows Steeper: Hillhead to Ettrick Bridge 507
31 What Went Wrong? 528
32 Establishment Whig or Persistent Radical? 546
References 565
Index 569
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