Gladstone: A Biography

Gladstone: A Biography

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by Roy H. Jenkins, Lord Jenkins

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Lord Jenkins (Asquith) has held cabinet office and is chancellor of Oxford. His Gladstone has already earned the Whitbread Award in England. Yet for American readers, his biography will often be impenetrable. W.E. Gladstone (1809-1898) was prime minister four times. The extravagances of his quintessentially Victorian genius, which included religiosity, morbidity, hypocrisy, earnestness, priggishness and oratorical excesses that make Fidel Castro seem a paragon of reticence, kept him in politics for 63 years. Jenkins's idiosyncratic account of his life lingers over parliamentary minutiae, hardly mentions the Crimean War and ignores the Indian Mutiny. Jenkins wanders off into flippancies and Anglicisms that will exasperate a transatlantic audience. We learn of "tramlines logic," of a government that was a "holed hull," of statesmen who "went of a fever." Given to pompous language when simple words would do, he refers to "eleemosynary" (charitable) motives and "fissiparous issues" (divisive would have done nicely) and compares an elongated Gladstone peroration to the close of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. Still, there are redeeming descriptive and narrative gems, as in Gladstone's famed speechifying (in which subordinate clauses "hung like candelabra"), and in the energy of the old man, who at 81, knocked down by a cab, "pursued the errant driver and held him until the police came." No prime minister was more sophistical or sanctimonious, and none dominated Parliament more ruthlessly. Jenkins's biography, while sweepingly admiring, deals with his hero blemishes and all. (Feb.)
Library Journal
William E. Gladstone lived to be 89, spanning the 19th century almost as much as his queen, Victoria. As prime minister of Britain four times, he was involved in all the major political travails of the time, including the Crimean War, Irish Home Rule, and the expansion of British imperialism. He was energetic, a prodigious reader, a classicist who also read popular Victorian fiction, and a devoutly religious man who tortured himself with guilt over his taste for pornography. This work was first published in 1995 in England, where it was a best seller and an award-winning biography. Lord Jenkins (Life at the Center, LJ 3/1/93), a leader in the House of Lords and chancellor of Oxford University, has done a fine job of compiling a one-volume biography of a man he obviously admires. For libraries without H.C.G. Matthews's two-volume Gladstone (Oxford Univ., 1995), Jenkins's work will make a nice substitute.-Katherine E. Gillen, Luke AFB Lib., Goodyear, Ariz.
Kirkus Reviews
A definitive, celebratory biography of the greatest 19th- century British political leader, by a distinguished 20th-century British politician.

Despite living in different centuries, Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins of Hillhead) and William Gladstone (180998) share many characteristics. Both men held powerful political positions. (Gladstone served four terms as prime minister of Britain.) Both men used their influence to split their own parties and drive them into the political wilderness. Both men published book after book while active in public life, a feat that appears to be beyond the ability of American politicians. (Imagine our surprise if, say, Bob Dole were to write a major biography of Teddy Roosevelt.) Like Gladstone, Jenkins (A Life at the Center, 1993, etc.) believes in the centrality of politics to the life of the nation. An excellent introduction to the political history of Britain, his biography also contains a judicious examination of Gladstone's deep religious commitments and his complex obsession with prostitutes, pornography, and moral reform. Gladstone recorded the details of his life in a massive diary, dividing every day into quarter-hour intervals, and Jenkins uses this magnificent source—recently edited and published—to delve into the secrets of Gladstone's enormous productivity. The key, it appears, was sheer energy. It drove him to put in 18-hour days and fueled his zealous pursuits. Although very good at political narrative, Jenkins rarely looks beneath the surface of politics to the people who sustained Gladstone's position. He mentions that Gladstone's inherited wealth was generated by the labor of generations of African slaves in the West Indies, but makes little of the fact. Politics appear to occur mainly in Parliament, and readers might miss the fact that Britain ruled over India.

Still, Jenkins, who loves politics and admires politicians, has produced an authoritative life of one of his heroes.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.67(w) x 9.58(h) x 2.15(d)

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Gladstone 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.