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With unequaled authority and dramatic detail, the first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher reveals as never before the early life, rise to power, and first years as prime minister of the woman who transformed Britain and the world in the late twentieth century. Moore has had unique access to all of Thatcher’s private and governmental papers, and interviewed her and her family extensively for this book. Many of her former colleagues and intimates have also shared previously unseen ...
With unequaled authority and dramatic detail, the first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher reveals as never before the early life, rise to power, and first years as prime minister of the woman who transformed Britain and the world in the late twentieth century. Moore has had unique access to all of Thatcher’s private and governmental papers, and interviewed her and her family extensively for this book. Many of her former colleagues and intimates have also shared previously unseen papers, diaries, and letters, and spoken frankly to him, knowing that what they revealed would not be published until after her death. The book immediately supersedes all other biographies and sheds much new light on the whole spectrum of British political life from Thatcher’s entry into Parliament in 1959 to what was arguably the zenith of her power—victory in the Falklands in 1982.
Drawing on an extraordinary cache of letters to her sister Muriel, Moore illuminates Thatcher’s youth, her relationship with her parents, and her early romantic attachments, including her first encounters with Denis Thatcher and their courtship and marriage. Moore brilliantly depicts her determination and boldness from the very beginning of her political career and gives the fullest account of her wresting the Tory leadership from former prime minister Edward Heath at a moment when no senior figure in the party dared to challenge him. His account of Thatcher’s dramatic relationship with Ronald Reagan is riveting. This book also explores in compelling detail the obstacles and indignities that Thatcher encountered as a woman in what was still overwhelmingly a man’s world.
Moore’s admiration for Thatcher is evident, yet his portrait is convincingly clear-eyed, conveying both how remarkable she was and how infuriating she could be, her extraordinary grasp at mastering policy and what needed to be done, and her surprising vulnerabilities. At the moment when Margaret Thatcher becomes a part of history, Moore’s portrait enlivens her, compellingly re-creating the circumstances and experiences that shaped one of the most significant world leaders of the postwar era.
“It’s an incredible level of access….Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands is the first of two volumes, and it presents a remarkable and richly detailed portrait.” –Craig Fehrman, Boston Globe
“Thatcher was a remarkable politician and Moore does justice to her distinctive qualities.” –David Runciman, London Review of Books
“Moore presents us with enough new material to offer a fresh, even vulnerable person behind the mythology…Moore’s writing is often elegant and vivid, particularly when he escapes the burden of authorized biographer by turning to commentary on Thatcher’s behavior and decisions.” –Jane Merrick, The Independent
“Charles Moore gives a unique insight into his iconic subject…Startling.” –Richard Preston, The Telegraph
“A notable landmark…meticulously researched and gracefully expounded…It is not the only biography to appear so opportunely, but Moore writes with greater freedom, insight, and objectivity…Both ideologically and personally, we now have a better understanding of the remarkable figure who became Britain’s first woman prime minister.” –Peter Clark, Financial Times
“Highly readable.” –Joe Murphy, London Evening Standard
“[Moore] is not afraid to address the contradictions and tease out the inconsistencies of his subject. Nor to be critical, sometimes deeply so. The result is to paint a much more multidimensional portrait of Thatcher than the caricature heroine adored by the right or the devil incarnate loathed by the left…The prose is intricate, elegant and laced with dry humor…immensely adds to our knowledge and understanding of the longest-reigning prime minister of the democratic age.” –Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer
“Moore has produced a biography so masterly—so packed with fascinating detail, with such a strong narrative drive, propelled by a central character who is at the same time both very bizarre and very conventional—that it comes as close as biography can come to being a work of art…Friends and foes of Thatcher, and agnostics and sceptics too, will all find plenty on which to feast. On virtually every page there is a revelation that, had it been known at the time, would have blasted all the rest of the news off the front pages…This book is a triumph of diligence. Moore interviewed 315 people, and was clearly blessed with the knack of getting them to open up. Ribald insults, gossip, political secrets, private grievances and funny stories—many of them very, very funny—fly off every page. But it is also a triumph of narrative art and human understanding, at its centre a peculiar force of nature, never to be repeated…one of the greatest political biographies ever written.” –The Daily Mail
“[Moore] has discharged the first part of his commission superbly. He has marshalled a huge range of sources, many of them new, without letting himself be swamped… He has spoken to practically everyone who ever had anything to do with her, and interweaves their recollections skilfully to bring out wider themes… If the second volume, charting her mounting hubris and eventual nemesis, maintains this quality it will be a tremendous achievement.” –John Campbell, The Independent
“The authorized, remarkably evenhanded biography of the grimly divisive, late Iron Lady of Britain…Well balanced. We look forward to the planned sequel.”
“Moore’s pace, his fascination, and his command of detail never slacken. This is a masterly piece of work.” –Matthew Parris, The Times
“Charles Moore is the perfect biographer: thorough, empathetic, enquiring, and eloquent. This is the portrayal of a life well-lived, explored in a book well-written.” –Sunday Express
“A life’s work of research and interviewing.” –Independent on Sunday
“An immensely readable account of the greatest political life of the second half of the 20th century.” –Patrick O’Flynn, Daily Express
“It’s hard to imagine anyone, even the most anti-Thatcherite, finding this dull…it sparkles with insight, drama, and wit.” –Daily Mail
“There are, of course, plenty of good books about Mrs. Thatcher. But Moore’s is comfortably the best: indeed, with its elegant prose, dry wit, prodigious research and careful judgments, it is one of the best political biographies I have ever read.” –Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
“Now comes the first volume of an authorized biography that may well turn out to be one of the great lives of modern times…It is not often that you can say of a 900-page book that it leaves you wanting to read more. But in this case it is true.” –The Economist
“Good biographies, and this is an exceptionally good one, tell us things we did not know about the life of their subject.” –New Statesman
“This is not just a good book—it's a great one…What gives this work the edge is not just Moore's deep knowledge of and affection for his subject—it is the sheer amount of work he has done. The number of interviews he has conducted is simply staggering. Yet although huge, it quite dances along and because of his very pronounced sense of the absurd, often makes us laugh out loud.” –A.N. Wilson, London Evening Standard
Verdict This book is competing in Britain with Thatcher speechwriter and ghostwriter Robin Harris’s Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher. A one-volume tribute/biography by a sympathetic insider, it will have U.S. publication in September. Moore’s first volume, providing insight into a leader both admired and controversial whose policies shaped late 20th-century Great Britain and beyond, will appeal to serious students of the Thatcher era.—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
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There are two ways to take an English vacation. One is to book a flight and traipse around the Sceptered Isle, and the other is to sit back in your favorite chair with a copy of this extraordinary book, written by Charles Moore, currently a columnist and a former editor of several British newspapers (The Spectator, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Daily Telegraph, colloquially referred to by some as the Torygraph). While some reviewers have described it as an in- house Establishment toast, it is far more than that, although clearly it is no roast. In 900-plus pages (which include close to 200 pages of endnotes), Moore has written three books in one — and each is a worthwhile read.
One is a social history of a striving, middle-class small-town family on the eve of the Second World War — something that could be a BBC miniseries if only there were sufficient evidence of humor and love in the family. But young Margaret and her older sister, Muriel, live a pinched and drab existence in the household of a successful local grocer and alderman. We see Margaret study her way out of her barren life to achieve academic success, winning a scholarship to major in chemistry at Oxford. She pursues her interests with great passion: clothes (about which we learn much more than we might wish), conservative campus politics, and young men — but not chemistry, alas, at which she is at best a solid student. Once done with her Oxford degree (she manages to stay out of the war) she drifts in and out of several jobs, but her political talents, especially public speaking, are impressive. She reads law at the Inns of Court in London, begins her practice (American lawyers will be especially interested in how one started a legal career in the U.K. in those days), and runs several times as a Conservative candidate for the House of Commons, eventually carrying the day. She also marries Denis Thatcher, but not before arranging for another suitor to transfer his affections to her older sister — an early manifestation of the Cabinet- reshuffling talents required of British leaders.
The second book could be titled "Mrs. Thatcher Goes to Westminster," as the narrative shifts to a familiar type of British political biography. Thatcher moves up the greased pole, becoming a junior member of the Shadow Cabinet (in opposition to the Labour Government of Harold Wilson), then leader of the Conservative Party in the Commons, and finally prime minister. This story is all about relationships, alliances, and political marriages and divorces. Moore provides his American readership with a scorecard, so we have some idea of the players, and offers illuminating character sketches of the leading Tories (but does much less on the Labour side), so that the clash of personalities comes alive in these pages. He provides not only the immediate political context but also the larger battle of ideas within the Conservative ranks. Thatcher is distinguished early on by her clear exposition of principles: at one point early in her career in the Commons she remarks, "I loathe this modern tendency to try to find a form of words that takes the meaning out of anything that you might say." The persona she develops in these pages corresponds to the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the American GOP: she is a true believer, not only in free market economics and its superiority to governmental solutions but also (and perhaps more important) in the "British character" — and behind that, of course, in the English. Moore explains what the strength of these beliefs meant in the course of each policy issue that Thatcher faced, whether it involved decolonization in Rhodesia (she was skeptical), education reform (she was unconvinced that selective grammar schools should be replaced by non-selective "comprehensive" schools), and fiscal and monetary issues (she hewed closely to the maxims of Milton Friedman, among others). Moore is very clear that Thatcher was conservative, but in his telling she was a politician rather than an ideologue, adept at providing balance within her party both as leader of the opposition and prime minister. Only in the Cabinet's economic portfolios did she insist on true believers. Otherwise, for the junior ministerial positions, she was interested in talent more than ideology.
Moore explores every facet of Thatcher's thinking about merit: she was, for example, quite negative about pressures from Jews in her constituency (Finchley); yet many of her most respected advisers and colleagues were Jewish, and Thatcher's relationships with them, especially her very close work with Keith Joseph, are woven throughout the numerous policy studies that form the heart of the book. There is also — and this will interest students of comparative politics — a very detailed and incisive analysis of how the British government actually functions at the top, focusing on relations between Thatcher and the civil servants in Whitehall. Thatcher was not interested in processes or management; however, Moore observes, "She used every remark, every memo, every meeting as an opportunity to challenge existing habits, criticize every sign of ignorance, confusion or waste and preach incessantly the main aims of her administration" — and, in his account, she managed to move Whitehall quite a distance in her direction. She did have her blind spots: upon meeting Dr. John Ashworth, her chief scientist, she asked, "Do I want one of these?" And when he pressed on about climate change at their first meeting, she stared at him in disbelief, responding, "Are you standing there and seriously telling me that my government should worry about the weather?"
As Thatcher moves up in the world, so she moves out into the world. By the last third of the volume, she and we have moved away from insular town and university life, past the clubby atmosphere of Inns of Court and the House of Commons, and into the world of great powers and superpowers. The narration is now about transatlantic networking, trade policies involving the European Community, monetary coordination within the European Monetary System, U.K. elections for the European Assembly, and her agreement with President Reagan that the Soviets were "arrayed against every principle for which we stand." Moore concludes with one of the Thatcher's greatest successes: the British campaign to retake the Falkland Islands (a.k.a. Malvinas) following the 1982 invasion by Argentina. He stays away for the most part from the military campaign (though we are led to believe it was difficult because of the logistics and the initial enemy naval and air actions) and focuses instead on decision making within the "war cabinet" and transatlantic relations with the United States. It is as much a study of American decision making (Haig at State puts pressure on Thatcher, Kirkpatrick at the UN tilts toward Latin American authoritarian regimes, but Weinberger at Defense gives the U.K. crucial weaponry and intelligence), and the relationship between Thatcher and Reagan during these events is presented through a series of telephone conversations. This is a chapter that will interest anyone who closely follows Anglo- American alliance politics, though it is clearly a jingoistic version (Thatcher strong and resolute, Reagan weak and vacillating), that will warm the heart of everyone in the regiment.
Moore seems to have interviewed everyone, but often the actual value of the interview or the use of a written source lies in his own corrections: a quote attributed to Lincoln about not "strengthening the weak by weakening the strong" was actually penned by William Boetcker; "Hands are not actually kissed" when Mrs. Thatcher goes to Buckingham Palace and is received by the queen after her election victory; a quote from St. Francis of Assisi is "not, in fact by St. Francis, but by a nineteenth-century follower"; the night of the handover of power, the staff at 10 Downing and the new P.M. ate cottage pie in the State Dining Room, not the sandwiches or shepherd's pie that some remember. Yet for all the trivial corrections, Moore nevertheless always has an eye on the prize: the attempt by Mrs. Thatcher to redirect British culture away from what she saw as an excessive reliance on government, and to break the power of organized labor and rentiers over the moribund British economy. Moore is sympathetic to these (and other) goals pursued by Thatcher, but he is also a shrewd judge of character, willing to point out Thatcher's weakness as a parliamentary leader: at one point she received a memo from her advisers entitled "Your Political Survival," which went on for many pages, criticizing her style ("You lack management competence"; "You bully your weaker colleagues"; "The result is an unhappy ship"; and so on). Moore also makes clear that Thatcher's leadership in wartime (like Churchill's) did not extend to sensible ideas about strategy or tactics, but unlike her predecessor, Mrs. Thatcher usually understood the limits of her competence in military matters.
For the most part this is an admiring account of how Mrs. Thatcher became the Iron Lady through her successes when it counted. Ultimately, Thatcher's leadership boiled down to the fact that, as her chief of staff David Wolfson observed, "she was a woman of beliefs, and beliefs are better than ideas." Especially, as in Mrs. Thatcher's case, if one is imbued with the belief that one is better suited to lead than anyone else in the realm, and by dint of hard work and personality, one convinces colleagues to believe in that idea as well.
Richard Pious is Adolph and Effie Ochs Professor at Barnard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University. He is the author of The President, Congress and the Constitution (1984), The War on Terrorism and the Rule of Law (2006), and Why Presidents Fail (2008).
Reviewer: Richard Pious
Posted June 21, 2013
A book of great substance. We historians take great pleasure in a thickset of detail - especially when that detail is offered from within "the extraordinary cache of (Margaret's)letters to her sister Muriel . . ."
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