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 sourcerecently edited and publishedto 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.
- Random House Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.67(w) x 9.58(h) x 2.15(d)
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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.