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5.0 out of 5 stars An intellectual bodice ripper!, February 2, 2012
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This review is from: John Stuart MillVictorian Firebrand (Hardcover)
This is a fascinating and compelling read which reflects considerable study and research by the author, Richard Reeves.

John Stuart Mill is a fascinating character in many ways, although I suspect many today would find a lot of his views rather pederstrian in nature, given the current climate of what some call "a liberal society". However, his personal life would probably raise eyebrows among a majority of the populace, particularly his platonic relationship with a married woman whose husband apparently ignored the realtionship to a great degree. The lady would subsequently become his wife.

Surpisingly, given the vast amount of his published works amounting to some thirty volumes, Mill has only two major biographical works to his name. The first, The Life of John Stuart Mill. with a Pref. by F. A. Hayekwas only published in 1954 while the second, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Correspondence and Subsequent Marriage.]examines the friendship and subsequent marriage of the two soul mates. Mill himself left us his Autobiography [[ASIN:0865976503 The Collected Works, Vol. 1: Autobiography... which, despite the author's well known sense of detachment and objectivity, does not do justice to his life.

Mill also is a controversial character, as others who have made reference to his youthful exuberance to the promotion of contraception, have previously noted. He set an astonishing example, which others today would do well to follow, of not campaigning during the period prior to his election as a Member of Parliament for the Westminster Constituency. The main source of the controversy around Mill and his thought is to do with his portrayal as a Liberal, in the British sense of the word.

Richard Reeves does not set out with an explicit aim to capture Mill and his views for the Centre Left ground but it is clearly part of his intention and I feel that some readers of this book may conclude that he has done so. A word of warning hear. There are many who consider themselves to be on the "right" (perhaps even "Right") of the political spectrum who accuse Mill of being a Socialist. Indeed, I suspect many of those same people have little familiarity with his works.

Reeves, unlike his illustrious predecessors, makes Mill come alive within the pages of this work. He provides a vivid picture of the life of Mill which is far from being dry as dust and fills out the two dimensional outline with which many are familiar into a robust three dimensional figure with an unusual life and lifestyle, which, although distant from that of most English eccentrics, places him towards that sort of characterisation.

We are faced with a narrative which is sympathetic to Mill's experience as a child of being torn away from his mother's arms and placed under the ruthless eye of his father, a cold, distant man, who teaches Mill a classical education from an early age and which causes emotional and psychological trauma later in life. It is this pairing of the human side of his life with the intellectual journey which makes for such compelling reading and makes it difficult for the reader to put the book down long enough to make a cup of tea or coffee. The author writes in such a way as to bring home the dramatic events in Mill's life in such a way that we are almost in awe at the way that the objective Mill deals with those events whereas we, mere mortals, would struggle to deal with them.

I am very appreciative too, of the treatment Mill and Harriet Taylor receive at the biographer's hands. Whilst he questions the notion of the platonic relationship, he holds up a clear picture of the intellectual nature of their relationship and one can almost imagine the conversations between the two being very detached and objective. Reeves makes clear the affection that Mill has for Harriet and makes explicit the esteem that Mill had for her, so much so that he articulates views which run somewhat contrary to his documented thought, and sustains those views even beyond her death

It does seem to me that the clarity with which some view Mill's position on the political spectrum is not an accurate viewpoint. Although he remains, to me at least, predominantly a Classical Liberal, his individualism is the key to his understanding. In many respects setting him up as the archetypal libertarian is bound to fail as noone's thought can be so pure. While there are clear signs of a social democrat Mill exhibited by his support for Represntatives for (and not of) the working classes and his enthusiasm for co-operatives, they are in no way dominant.

Richard Reeves has done a tremendous service to the restoration of John Stuart Mill as one of the giants of British thought by portraying a man with an enormous intellect who'se works will be discussed and debated for many years to come. At the end of this superb book, I hope readers will not find a conclusion but a renewed interest in finding out more about this Victorian Firebrand.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 21, 2012 8:58:12 AM PDT
TGS says:
Nicholas Capaldi has written a biography of Mill.

In reply to an earlier post on May 21, 2012 9:47:24 AM PDT
Junglies says:
Thank you. I am searching for it now ;-)
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