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Gladstone: A Biography Paperback – November 12, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0812966411 ISBN-10: 0812966414 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966411
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #926,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Subject matters that does not involved Gladstone, the author did not touch.
His policies over the years were generally good for the economy, and as Prime Minister for four separate tenures he enjoyed popularity among the laboring classes.
Thomas J. Burns
He very quickly developed the view that the strength of a polity depended on the strength and respect given to the Church.
Patrick McNamara

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By "doctor_smith" on December 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Given the somewhat mixed reviews on Amazon of Roy Jenkins's biography of William Gladstone, the towering giant of Victorian politics, I thought I would throw in my two cents on the matter. Jenkins is an interesting biographer, and even though he is not a professional, academic historian (so he does not always follow the standards of the historical craft), much of his work has received celebratory responses, including his earlier biography of Asquith and his more recent one of Churchill. As a long-serving Labour MP and a member of the House of Lords, Jenkins understand British politics from the inside out, and, as a result, he brings a unique perspective to his subjects. Jenkins also has a lovely, fluid writing style and a penchant for the telling quotation; his biographies read extremely well, and this biography of Gladstone is no exception. Jenkins also offers a point of view, although he does not do so explicitly. His interpretations of his historic subjects tend to be subtlely placed within the rolling prose of his books. But he does not interpret the way a typical historian would, and so his biographies have a different effect upon the reader.
William Gladstone certainly requires a lengthy biography, and Jenkins gives him one. Gladstone was one of the premier figures of nineteenth-century British politics, four times prime minister, leading light of the Liberal party, defender of Christianity, and champion of the Irish. He transformed Victorian politics by taking issues to the masses and by bending policy and his party to his will. No prime minister during his long lifetime cut quite a historic and controversial figure, not even those who, in some ways, were better politicians, including Peel, Palmerston, and, above all, Russell (who truly deserves a great biography).
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Cormac J. Flynn on April 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gladstone was a remarkable, complicated, even enigmatic man and Jenkins does not waste our time with the sort of pop-psychology projection and junk theories that ruin so much contemporary biography. Instead, Jenkins lets the facts speak for themselves, weighting them based on their demonstrable impact on Gladstone's own life and on British society viewed from the vantage point of 100 years or more of subsequent history. Gladstone emerges through records of his actions, the memoirs of his contemporaries, and his own diary. Jenkins resists the too-common modern conceit of pretending intimate knowledge of Gladstone as if through some astral mind-meld. Although he admits his own affection for the man, Jenkins lets readers decide for themselves what they think of this stubborn, courageous, long-winded, sanctimonious, and usually dead right -- even prophetic -- dynamo.
Along the way there are delightful, balanced, spot-on portraits of some of Gladstone's contemporaries. The often-deified Disraeli comes out as a man of great talent, imagination, and political genius who was a self-absorbed, underhanded lightweight. (A portrayal such as that some modern critics have applied to Bill Clinton.) The slow intellectual and emotional curdling of Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert is as eloquent a meditation on the corruptions of isolation and power as I've read in some time. Spencer, Parnell, Hartington, Rosebery, Balfour, Joseph Chamberlain, Manning, Wilberforce, Palmerston -- all are here drawn with flavor and economy and no trace of bitterness or partisanship.
One of the great strengths of this biography is that it never talks down to the reader.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By J. P Spencer on October 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
One of the reviewers below, Donald Press, has expressed my views in clear terms so it was with some disappointment that I note that three of the first four readers of that review found it unhelpful. The fact is that Jenkins, who has a lively erudite writing style and who is very knowledgible about his subject, gives us little understanding of what kind man Gladstone was and, if anything, even less understanding of how Gladstone fit into his times. If you didn't know why Gladstone was important when you started the book, you will be no closer to understanding why when you finish. You will, however, know where he slept almost every night of his life, how long most of his major speeches were, how many trees he chopped down, and how many times he used particular symbols in his diary.
I agree with the comment that this is good stuff for future researchers but for the general reader looking to understand Gladstone or to learn more about Victorian Great Britain, I found this book to be a disappointment.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By on May 6, 1998
Format: Hardcover
When my company was acquired by a British corporation in 1996, one of the new managers purchased the original edition in Britain and forwarded it to me. I had read a review in the Economist and was dying to read it, especially after reading a fine biography of Disraeli.
I will admit that it was not the easiest book I have ever read, however I think some of the other reviews quoted here are unjustifiably harsh.
Gladstone was a man of his time and reflected the values and concerns of the Victorian era. Probably, neither Gladstone nor Disraeli would be remotely electable today, and having read excellent biographies of Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson, I have begun to truely understand the adage, "the past is another planet."
I believe Roy Jenkins achieved the goal of capturing the essence of Gladstone as it related to the values of his time. Albeit, Jenkins has a very dry, British sense of humor, and that can throw off American readers and made certain passages harder to read for me.
(Incidently, the original British edition had a timeline at the top of the page to make the chronology easier to follow.)
In summary, I feel the this is an eloquent biography that, perhaps, is a little more difficult to read and fully understand. But I believe that is more do to the amazing complexity of the subject than Roy Jenkins' prose.
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