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The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 31, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Tony Blair was one of Great Britain's youngest and longest-serving Prime Ministers, and Campbell was Blair's Press Secretary from 1994 to 2003, accompanying Blair through his initial, hugely succesful campaign for Prime Minister, the reform of the Labour Party, the death of Princess Diana, the Clinton presidency, 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The style of Campbell's diaries, full of shorthand and acronyms ("TB" for Tony Blair, "BC" for Bill Clinton), takes some getting used to but pays off in immediacy and candor; rather than a polished account of events, Campbell gives readers refreshingly unvarnished impressions of what occurred at the time it was occurring, free of spin or second-guessing. People behave badly-swearing, losing tempers, perspiring, dressing inappropriately and lusting after women-and political fortunes, as well as marriages, suffer the strain. Appearances by Bill Clinton (in the midst of the Lewinsky fallout) are remarkable for the vulnerability they reveal, and the arrangements for Diana's funeral, made by the Blair cabinet and the Royal Family together, exhibit a fascinating mix of compassion and calculation (Blair comments, shrewdly, "She will become an icon straight away. She will live on as an icon.") As readers watch Blair navigate the shoals of political life, they, like the author, will emerge admiring him, and appreciating the frank and ultimately flattering portrait that Campbell provides.
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“Alastair Campbell's diaries provide a fascinating front row seat to the daily drama of the Blair premiership. American readers will be intrigued by Blair's relations with the Clintons, with Bush post 9/11, with Condi, Cheney, Powell, Princess Diana and the Queen.”
—Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles
“Beyond question the most important and revelatory book so far written about the inner workings of Blair’s government . . . By turns arrogant, brilliant, combative, demotic and emotional, Campbell delivers his impressions and verdicts in a wholly committed, staccato style. It is an earthy account of life in the Blair government's 24/7 media-centric world.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“The Blair Years is a classic text of the you-are-there school of politics at work. Surely a valuable source for scholars to scour for many years to come, it is available here and now as one of the most compelling reads of history in the raw . . . The diaries provide a behind-the-scenes look at dramatic junctures in recent history.”
–Los Angeles Times
Reviews from Britain:
“This is a brilliant, absorbing account . . . Vivid, direct, immediate, and honest in its way, the diary draws you into a world for which ‘evil’ is hardly too strong a word . . . Rich in detail, powerful in mood, honest within its own lights, it is the more intriguing for the dark and often unspoken presence, at its core, of a mystery: the Master, Blair . . . These diaries will be gasped at, and relied upon, for decades to come. Buy them: they will suck you in.”
“This is a riveting, compelling and genuinely revelatory book . . . The Campbell that comes across in these diaries is certainly a complex and interesting character: . . . engagingly frank, with a winning line in black humour, a certain blokeish faux-naivety when faced with an array of international statesmen and an unrivalled understanding of how the tabloid press works.”
–The Sunday Times
“There are fascinating details and revelatory nuggets . . . Campbell brings back to vivid and gripping life the night that Diana died [and] when Nato was losing public opinion over Kosovo.”
“Electric . . . Campbell is a first-rate diarist [with] a very acute eye for the telling detail . . . He has a novelist’s ability to reveal character through a close study of behaviour and–rare in a political diarist–an artist’s understanding that it is the smallest things which reveal the most . . . The portrait of Tony Blair is by turns endearing and unnervingly frightening . . . This is a perfect piece of diary-writing: eagle-eyed, gossipy, funny.”
–Mail on Sunday
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Top Customer Reviews
There are also many amusing/bizarre anecdotes such as Campbell walking in on Mo Mowlan in the bath.
The Diana parts felt set up to me. We hear about how she wanted to meet Campbell, then they met, she asks for him later, and then of course her crash and death. His affection for her seems somewhat overblown, and it says something of his reputation that I found myself believing his portrayal in "The Queen", coldly feeding the "People's Princess" line to Blair, more than his own diaries. The cartoonish version of Campbell as the arch spin doctor is now a cultural fixture of its own, turning up not only in "The Queen" but in books like "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen". I wonder what Campbell must think about that.
Ambition and rivaly are never far from the surface. When describing Blair's lengths football header session with Kevin Keegan, Campbell is careful to note that it was easier than it seemed, since "of course a professional like Keegan can head the ball towards a target in the same way most of us can throw it, so it wasn't that difficult."
I found it amusing that Campbell goes out of his way not to to use the word "spin". I expect that he became thoroughly sick of hearing that word.
Note that this is "Extracts from" Alastair Campbell's diaries. The really secret stuff is, well, secret.
For every interesting piece about, say, dinner with Princess Diana (who served Mr. Campbell tea), the Queen's bored reaction to the Millennium celebrations, or juicy details on Bill Clinton's personal opinion of then-President elect Bush, there are scores of entries that cover minutia so densely recorded that I truly think this is a book that will be of greatest value to a graduate student studying foreign affairs, or a future historian who wishes to research the Blair years. The average reader hoping to get a backstage pass to politics as undertaken at 10 Downing Street will probably do better looking elsewhere.
While Campbell is comprehensive, he is not (at least as evidenced here) gifted with those talents that make for an engrossing reading experience.
Terror. I wrote a research paper on that very subject and checked this book out from a library as a source. I like it because the information is first-hand, straight from the confines of Number 10. I enjoy reading about Blair and made this the first "chronicle" really, to my Blair library. It's an easy read, though long, because of the journal entry-like style. It's also really gritty, not polished over like many things you might read about someone in government. It's fantastic.