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Lord Acton Hardcover – May 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; y First edition edition (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300079567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300079562
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,535,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Lord Acton's statement that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" is probably better known than he is. In this well-researched and coherently written biography, Hill, a retired journalist who has long studied Acton's work, draws on known publications as well as Acton's private notes. A highly respected historian and teacher, Acton (1834-1902) studied and maintained friendships in Italy and Germany besides England. His "compulsive note-taking" was in three languages, and the notes were dispersed in libraries throughout Europe. They were very fragmented, and Acton's granddaughter helped with their contextual reconstruction. Acton wrote almost 20 monographs in English, Italian, and German and was criticized for not further sharing his breadth of learning through writing. A devout Catholic, he edited the Catholic journal Rambler, earning it a reputation for independent intellectual thought; Acton himself disagreed with some Catholic tenets, including papal infallibility. Hill's book should be added to academic collections, though public libraries may wish to defer to the local college collections.
-Robert C. Moore, Raytheon, Sudbury, MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Readers will be convinced of Acton's importance and fascination, if somewhat mystified why that should be so." -- Choice

"[A] splendid biography, the most complete yet made of this complex Victorian." -- John T. Noonan, New York Times Book Review

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Patrick McNamara on January 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For the great British historian, Lord Acton (1834-1902), study of the great books of the ages was essential in bringing a person to full intellectual and spiritual maturity. Such study was good for a man because it functioned..."to open windows in every direction, to raise him to the level of his age, so that he may know the twenty or thirty forces that have made our world what it is, and still reign over it; to guard him against surprises, and against the constant sources of error within; to supply him both with the strongest stimulants and the surest guides; to give force and fullness and clearness and sincerity and independence and elevation and generosity and serenity to his mind, that he may know the method and law of the process by which error is conquered and truth is won: discerning knowledge from probability and prejudice from belief; that he may learn to master what he rejects as fully as what he adopts; that he may understand the origin as well as the strength and vitality of systems and the better motives of men who are wrong; to steel him against the charm of literary ability and talent, so that each book, thoroughly taken in shall be the beginning of a new life and shall make a new man of him". Lord Acton; quoted in Hill, p 285-286.

This man, John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton -- Lord Acton of Aldenham - amassed a library at his Aldenham estate of well over 60,000 books and manuscripts! He also had many tens of thousands of other books at his other homes scattered across England and the continent. And he had read and studied many and perhaps most of them! This was a man who read, and read, as they say, voraciously! He was interested primarily in one big question: What was the relation of political order to religiousness and religion?
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on September 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is the first major biography of Lord Acton since mid-century. This remarkable historian, Catholic dissident, and philosopher of freedom was in many ways the very epitome of the erudite Victorian scholar. That is, he was _so_ learned, that the present-day reader should distrust any reviewer, including the present one, who presumes to encapsulate and classify him in a few easy paragraphs.
There's little danger of that from me. This book tells the story of Acton's life and career, and I must admit that, so far as judging the work of author and subject, my hat's simply off to them. It is interesting reading about things like Acton's near-excommunication from the Catholic Church, because of his opposition in 1870 to the new doctrine of papal infallibility, and then his continued devotion to the Church. His private correspondence with contemporaries, debating the great issues of the day, particulary freedom, make for bracing reading.
His ideas in private circulation, rather than his parliamentary career or written output, carry his fame today. His magnum opus, _History of Liberty_, was never written. The only bits of it that made it to completion were two lectures, "The History of Freedom in Antiquity", and "The History of Freedom in Christianity." Disappointingly, these and a couple of other short writings are only excerpted here--they are brief enough to have been put in an appendix of this big book. Fortunately, they can be read at the Acton Institute's website.
By the way, it was Acton who coined the phrase, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
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By Ed Fitzpatrick on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a very well written book, but I take issue with some of the comments. For example, Newman is described as a Tory, just like that. Newman was a Liberal in politics (he hated Disraeli Tory policies) but not, of course, in religion.

Although Roland Hill is obviously very sympathetic towards his subject, the book in the end did not quite endear me to Lord Acton: in private, he was harsh in his judgements of other people.

The Foreword states: "He [Roland Hill] is sympathetic to that liberal Catholicism towards which Acton, with whatever oddities or overstatements, pointed the way." The Acknowledgements by Roland Hill make his (Hill's) stance even clearer: "I admired [Mathew] ... for his liberal views on Catholic matters."

If you are a liberal Catholic you will probably like this book. If you are a true Catholic, you will not like aspects of it. Nevertheless, an interesting read if approached with caution.
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By Eric on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Most of us are somewhat familiar with Acton - by reputation if not through his writings. This biography, though a tad on the "academic" side, reveals many facets of the man. I was particularly engrossed by his involvement in the doctrinal politics of the Roman Catholic Church, in Victorian politics, and also by his associations within the European aristocracy. Acton was obviously not a man cut from the common cloth, either socially or intellectually. One thing this biography clearly demonstrates is that an important figure in 19th century liberalism (classical) was strongly religious, and not under the sway of the strict secularism of the old liberal school of the Enlightenment. Even though his loyalty to the Church was sometimes questioned, Acton followed where his conscience led and opposed unwarranted authority wherever he thought it existed. Roland Hill has given us an informative, if somewhat bloodless, picture of a figure who deserves to be better known today.
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