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Disraeli: Or, the Two Lives Hardcover – July 11, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (July 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297860976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297860976
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,388,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Twice a prime minister and a dazzling parliamentarian, Disraeli was actually motivated by fame and was barely a democrat, according to this fascinating character study. BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH superb and sometimes hilarious... It is a piece of calculated and deft iconoclasm, and so intoxicating that you will find yourself snorting it up in one go, as I did, with great pleasure... I ended the book reverencing Disraeli even more than when I began it -- Boris Johnson THE MAIL ON SUNDAY this gripping, succinct and lethal book... is simply and beautifully written and always entertaining -- Matthew Parris THE TIMES As Douglas Hurd and Edward Young point out in their splendidly written, finely judged and thoroughly persuasive book, a vast chasm yawned between the real Disraeli and his posthumous reinvention...There are plenty of books on Disraeli, and Hurd and Young are frank and generous in acknowledging their debts. What distinguishes their volume, however, is its accessibility and clear-sightedness. -- Dominic Sandbrook THE SUNDAY TIMES The book is more a study in character - of the swift reactions of a volatile, opportunistic and irresponsible egotist to changing circumstances - than a staid political narrative. As a result, Disraeli: Or the Two Lives is full of unexpected jolts and paradoxes. It proves an unflagging pleasure to read - unexpectedly so for those who dislike the politics of the authors or their subject... Hurd, as a long-serving ex-cabinet minister, and Young, the former Westminster backroom boy, have imbued their astute and sparky book with rich political craft -- Richard Davenport-Hines THE GUARDIAN Not only, they tell us in this vigorously debunking romp through [Disraeli's] political life, did he never use the phrases 'One Nation' or 'Tory Democracy', he was actively hostile to the concepts that they are now understood to represent...This is an invigorating account, bracingly cynical and told with commanding ease - at least one of these authors has been around the political block a bit - and a lovely dry turn of phrase -- Sam Leith THE SPECTATOR [Disraeli] remains the wonderfully entertaining political magician of legend, full of dazzling wit and tactical audacity, adored and distrusted in equal measure. Where Douglas Hurd and Edward Young succeed is in the beautiful style of writing, the pace of their narrative and their ability to condense complex political problems. Their enjoyment shines through, whether it be a lively analysis of Disraeli's early, rather flowery, novels or a gripping account of his achievement in pushing the 1867 Reform Bill through Parliament -- Leo McKinstry DAILY EXPRESS what Disraeli did accomplish was to make politics exciting. In an age when there were no film or TV celebrities to compete, he spoke out with a hugely impressive command of language. People liked that... What the Conservatives - or for that matter the other parties - need is a new Disraeli. Not for his ideas but for his charisma -- Peter Lewis DAILY MAIL a concise but balanced assessment, full of bracing comment on a man who "was always less interested in other people than he was in himself" -- Michael Prodger NEW STATESMAN splendidly readable -- Antonia Fraser FINANCIAL TIMES a delightful-albeit disillusioning-little biography...Messrs Hurd and Young have written a discerning character study of a proud, over-feted man. Readers are sure to come away disabused, if charmed by Disraeli's wit THE ECONOMIST Douglas Hurd and Edward Young have written a wonderful reassessment of the great politician and showman in which they explore the paradoxes at the centre of his character, and how his exotic personality and ability to dazzle his contemporaries overcame his lack of principles, indebtedness and disloyalty TOTAL POLITICS In this punchy and sparkling book, Douglas Hurd, one-time Conservative Foreign Secretary, and Edward Young skewer the myths that have grown up around Disraeli... Part biography, part polemic, this is an engaging, original and enjoyable book -- Jane Ridley THE TABLET in this highly absorbing biography...Hurd and Young ably chart Disraeli's two lives - the reality and the fantasy. They show how this supreme egoist regularly cast principle aside, only to achieve grand political reform; how, far from inventing the ideas of "one nation" and "Tory democracy", he in fact disdained them; and how his seducer's flattery, wit and personal myth-making led to a political cult which persists to this day. It is a gripping read -- Jesse Norman PROSPECT less a biography than an unashamedly partisan, elegant and invigorating account of Disraeli the Tory. Hurd and Young navigate their way nimbly through the contours of Disraeli's life but are less concerned with exploring that story than with probing the contradictions in Disraeli's character, his role in the political landscape of the 19th century and his strange posthumous reshapings... They give a vivid sense of the drama and muddle of parliamentary business in the mid-19th century... Disraeli or, The Two Lives has romance and enthusiasm in spades and as a result succeeds triumphantly -- Daisy Hay LITERARY REVIEW There is something lubriciously intriguing about the biography of a Victorian statesman subtitled "The Two Lives"...Hurd and Young are masterful in delineating the limited scale of Disraeli's actual achievements - they do so with dry wit, an ear and eye for telling detail and an elegant, economical, prose style. Yet they are even better when it comes to explaining Disraeli's one great real - and lasting - triumph, the second life of the subtitle. Disraeli succeeded - and succeeds still - in his construction of a mythic life - for himself, his party and his nation...the memory of what Disraeli conjured up still captivates. He gave all who study and practise politics a vivid lesson in how to move men's and women's hearts, through dash, romance and - above all - courage...with men and women of all kinds and classes putting aside narrow calculations of advantage in the interests of committing themselves to a struggle that history will remember as a fight for grace, nobility and virtue. -- Michael Gove STANDPOINT Benjamin Disraeli remains the most colourful politician in English history... the book is well researched and written with the calm authority which was Hurd's hallmark when he was a minister -- Roy Hattersley THE OLDIE Former Cabinet Minister Douglas Hurd and Edward Young strip away many of the myths surrounding one of the greatest Conservative Prime Ministers in Disraeli, which also amounts to a critique of the superficiality and shallowness of today's politics. CHOICE In their brilliant new biography of the famous Conservative hero, Douglas Hurd and Edward Young - two fine Tories differing widely in age but writing in perfect unity - show that...far from championing "one nation", Disraeli explicitly repudiated it...Douglas Hurd and Edward Young trace the rise - from bankruptcy to relative affluence, from youthful folly to serenity, from sexual adventure to uxoriousness - in under 300 pages, without a dull sentence. Disraeli triumphed over all his misfortunes, they conclude, because he believed that "imagination and courage are the indispensable components of political greatness for an individual or a nation". That is the essential message of the life that the immortal Dizzy actually led described so memorably here -- Lord Lexden, Conservative Peer and the party's official historian THE HOUSE MAGAZINE notably well written, even thrilling at times -- Peter Clarke NEW STATESMAN extensively researched...the authors make good use of the ongoing edition of Disraeli's letters TLS A highly enjoyable and thought-provoking book that convincingly makes the case that the real Disraeli is more extraordinary than the myth -- Richard Aldous IRISH TIMES This is not the most comprehensive biography of Disraeli ever written, but it must be one of the most intelligent...As a colourful and convincing portrait of this notoriously slippery character it does the job brilliantly...Disraeli once derided the self-righteous Gladstone by claiming, "He does not possess a single redeeming defect." Nobody who reads this excellent book will ever lay the same charge at Dizzy's door -- Andrew Lynch SUNDAY BUSINESS POST Pacey, readable and short, this is a study of an all-purpose Tory that yet invites you to reconsider... we are asked to stand back, think again and think straight about a man who was undeniably a bounder, but (shocking thought) perhaps little more. Only from the authors' imaginative and sympathetic study of the young Benjamin's formative years are we left loving him better. This may be read as an exceptionally respectful stiletto between the shoulder blades: not just of Dizzy but of a Tory folklore starved of loftier heroes. Augurs well for Boris -- Matthew Parris THE SPECTATOR (Books of the Year) "One Nation" is a phrase that today's politicians like to conjure with but what would Disraeli, the original One Nation statesman, make of it? As Hurd and co make clear in this well-written history he never used the phrase. In fact, in this demolition of the Disraelian myth, we learn that this Victorian serial PM was a content-free zone, a flip-flopper, a shameless self-promoter, a jingoist, egomaniac. But still, what flair, charm and political savvy. -- Robbie Millen THE TIMES (Books of the Year: History) Elegantly written NURSING STANDARD This well-written and taut book by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young represents a digestible read PENNANT

About the Author

Former diplomat and MP from 1974 to 1997, Douglas Hurd served Margaret Thatcher as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as Home Secretary and as Foreign Secretary. He is the author of a highly acclaimed biography of Robert Peel, as well as a number of thrillers and his autobiography. He lives in Oxfordshire and London. Edward Young gained a first-class degree in history from Clare College, Cambridge, and studied international relations with a Mellon Scholarship at Yale University. He has worked as a speechwriter for David Cameron and as Chief of Staff to the Conservative Party Chairman. He currently works at Brunswick Group LLP. Disraeli is Edward's third book in collaboration with Douglas Hurd. He lives in London.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Erez Davidi on October 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disraeli was a complex person full of contradictions. Perhaps that's why he makes such an excellent subject for a character study. Disraeli was a master of words and oratory. He has eighty-eight quotations attributed to him in the "Oxford Dictionary of Quotations." A number larger than any other prime minister. He also wrote countless novels, which weren't great literature, according to the authors, but achieved quite a commercial success.

In this biography, what the authors tried to achieve is two-fold: First, to answer how did "a bankrupt Jewish school dropout and trash novelist" come to have such influence and fame that lasts until this very day; the second, to explore and unmask all the myths surrounding Disraeli's life.

"Disraeli: or, The Two Lives" is well written and lucid. However, I would label it more as a character study than a biography. The authors skipped quite substantial parts of Disraeli's life and tended to treat its important events as a tool to analyze his character. Basic questions, such as to why Disraeli didn't have any children, were missing. Maybe this book can be more appreciated as a second read rather than a first.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on July 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Let me start the review by quoting a sentence which is to be found in the epilogue: " The purpose of this book has been to strip away the posthumous glamour and to bring alive the true genius of Disraeli".
Indeed, the purpose of both authors has been achieved and they have done a very good job. The introduction is followed by eleven chapters, each dealing with another aspect of Disraeli. The book is written in chronological order and is a pleasure to read, due to the fact that the language is very vivid and the authors not only inform but also entertain their readers.
Who was Disraeli? What is the reason that his personality is still fascinating others? In what way was he special? All these points are discussed in detail, although the volume is very short.
Disraeli was a very complicated man. He was full of paradoxes and his deeds and personality still evoke a lot of controversies, in spite of the fact that previous authors had already written and covered any possible angle of his long life.
Disraeli's main purpose in life was to become famous. Politics was the best and shortest way for him. But this was not enough. He was also seeking for constant excitement and, as the authors point out, this "could not be achieved in the solicitors' office where his father had secured him a place at the start of his career". Nor was it enough to enter the literary profession. Almost all his life in debt, Disraeli's name was soon known to everyone. He was a great womanizer who courted mainly married and older women, perhaps due to the fact that his mother mother did not bestow upon him sufficient love. He finally decided to marry a woman twelve years older than him. Her name was Mary Anne and Disraeli remarked that she was more like a mistress than a wife.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I wrote a review of this book when it came out but I cant see it on this page so - It is a good shorter alternative to the best work, which is Blakes book. My reservation is over the authors attempt to find a new angle on Disraeli and so create a better reason for writing it than essentially making a precis of Blakes work. Their attempt is to say that Disraeli was not a one nation conservative. It is true that he did not use the phrase but his liberal and progressive concern for the poor and disadvantaged as opposed to the privileged is clear from the novel Sybil and the authors have no basis for saying that the concern shown is merely a literary affectation. Read Blake if you have the time.
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