Gladstone: A Biography

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Overview

From the New York Times bestselling author of Churchill, a towering historical biography, available for the first time in paperback.

William Gladstone was, with Tennyson, Newman, Dickens, Carlyle, and Darwin, one of the stars of nineteenth-century British life. He spent sixty-three of his eighty-nine years in the House of Commons and was prime minister four times, a unique accomplishment. From his critical role in the formation of the Liberal Party to his preoccupation with the ...

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Gladstone: A Biography

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Overview

From the New York Times bestselling author of Churchill, a towering historical biography, available for the first time in paperback.

William Gladstone was, with Tennyson, Newman, Dickens, Carlyle, and Darwin, one of the stars of nineteenth-century British life. He spent sixty-three of his eighty-nine years in the House of Commons and was prime minister four times, a unique accomplishment. From his critical role in the formation of the Liberal Party to his preoccupation with the cause of Irish Home Rule, he was a commanding politician and statesman nonpareil. But Gladstone the man was much more: a classical scholar, a wide-ranging author, a vociferous participant in all the great theological debates of the day, a voracious reader, and an avid walker who chopped down trees for recreation. He was also a man obsessed with the idea of his own sinfulness, prone to self-flagellation and persistent in the practice of accosting prostitutes on the street and attempting to persuade them of the errors of their ways. This full and deep portrait of a complicated man offers a sweeping picture of a tumultuous century in British history, and is also a brilliant example of the biographer’s art.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[An] enthralling biography...utterly absorbing.”
—The Atlantic Monthly

“Excellent...wry, urbane, and laced with a gentle, affectionate irony—exactly the right tone for a historical monument who really was monumental....Jenkins makes Gladstone’s life intelligible, affecting...entertaining.”
—The Boston Sunday Globe

“A question that Jenkins’s biography raises for the reader: why is it so much fun to read about Victorian politics?...An exhaustive, permanent biography, whose greatest virtue is its extraordinary worldliness. Jenkins has a bred-in-the-bone sense, almost unique among political biographers, of politics as improvisation, game, and even theatre.”
—The New Yorker

Publishers 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. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812966411
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/12/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 768
  • Sales rank: 463,802
  • Product dimensions: 6.15 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.55 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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