Amazon Guest Review of “Margaret Thatcher”
By Anne Applebaum
Anne Applebaum is the author of several books, including Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, a National Book Award finalist, and Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. She writes a column for The Washington Post and Slate, and is the Director of Political Studies at the Legatum Institute in London. She divides her time between Britain and Poland, where her husband, Radek Sikorski, serves as Foreign Minister.
From the beginning she sounded different. She looked different too, particularly back when she had frizzy hair and wore too much jewelry…
Much has happened since then. She became the Iron Lady, she became prime minister, she became a symbol to love or hate, she became an “ism”…We all think we know what happened to her and why—but do we really?
Moore’s great gift is his ability to make Thatcher’s story fresh again, and above all to remind us of how odd she was. By beginning at the beginning, by showing us the reality of the childhood we only know through clichés—“grocer’s daughter,” “scholarship girl”—by introducing us to the boyfriends we’ve never met and by quoting from her chatty, breathless letters to her sister (“I decided to buy a really nice undie-set to go under my turquoise chiffon blouse”) Moore shows us how impossible it would have been for anyone who knew her as a young woman to imagine what she would become.
He also captures her unsettling personality, her “actressy” manner, her stiffness in public, her private warmth, her inept outbursts and faux pas, almost always using the language of people who were there at the time. During the decade and a half he worked on this authorized biography—of which this is only the first volume—Moore had unprecedented access to her private papers, on condition that nothing be published until after her death. He interviewed just about everyone who knew Thatcher, from her private secretaries to her political enemies, and he did so meticulously. This enabled Moore to produce not a hagiography or a court biography, as some feared he would, but a multi-faceted picture of a compelling and unusual life.
Moore is at his best when presenting different views of the same situation. Some of these contradictory impressions are explained by the fact that she was female in an almost entirely male world. In later years, many assumed she had no interest in other women or awareness of herself as a role model, but Moore shows over and over again that this was not the case.
Her oddity was also connected to her brilliance, another one of her qualities now lost beneath layers of history and controversy. Thatcher got to Oxford from Grantham not because she had connections but because she worked incredibly hard, even overcoming objections from a teacher who told her to forget Oxford because “you haven’t got Latin.” She said, “I’ll get Latin” and went to take lessons from a Latin teacher at a local boy’s school. Later, she passed the Bar exam after studying tax law on her own.
The same autodidactic instinct impelled her to study economic and political theory. Although this is very much a narrative biography, it is also a thematic book about ideas: where they come from, how they affect people and how they get shaped into policies. And Thatcher proved unusually receptive to what were then very unfashionable ideas. In the summer of 1968, when the rest of the world was turning on and dropping out, she was in her suburban sitting room reading library books on Conservative political philosophy.
In the end, this combination of biography and intellectual history works perfectly. After all, Thatcher’s ideas were shaped by the place where she was born, by the people she met, by Oxford in the 1940s and Finchley in the 1950s, by her quirkiness and her brilliance, by her provinciality and her romantic choices. To understand what happened to Britain during her prime ministership and afterwards, it really is important to understand who she was: Moore’s Thatcher will now become the definitive account.
Gird your loins! Because unless you are fanatical about twentieth-century British politics, the last page of this hulking biography—this being only the first of two volumes—will remain out of reach. Authorized here means Moore was granted full access to Lady Thatcher (who, it will be remembered, is only recently deceased) and to her private papers; what it means to the reader is that the treatment is neither unvarnished nor uncritical. Everyone knows Margaret Thatcher was the longest serving—and first female—prime minister of Great Britain, and everyone knows of her legendary reputation for being the Iron Lady and the supposedly compassionless manner in which she ran the country during her tenure at 10 Downing Street. What we learn here, in exacting detail, are the makings of a single-minded politico who conceived early on her prescription for the ills of Britain and let other aspects of her life take second place to achieving the government positions in which she could see her ideas through. The thorough lesson in the fine points of British government that this massive treatment becomes will leave Thatcher admirers set in their beliefs, while Thatcher detractors will see what they want to see in the book. Middle-grounders, then, will get the most out of it, for their sense of both the good and the bad within the woman will be sustained. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Thatcher’s recent death has heightened interest in the late prime minister. --Brad Hooper