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John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand Hardcover – July 1, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Hardcover, July 1, 2008
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Editorial Reviews


Richard Reeves' sparkling new biography succeeds triumphantly. Practically every aspect of Mill's life and thought is freshly presented. -- John Gray Independent Gripping and authoritative... Liberty, individualism and imagination were the essence of Mill's thought, and now that Mill's liberalism seems to have finally run its course, Reeves spells out its implications with exemplary lucidity, thoroughness and brio. -- Hilary Spurling Observer Richard Reeves has assembled an impressive array of material and marshalled it with great style... the pace never slackens, the writing is slick and lucid. -- Phil Collins Daily Telegraph Meticulously explored... This is a masterpiece. Catholic Herald --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Richard Reeves is a leading social and political commentator, writing regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, Observer, and Prospect. He is a former Columnist of the Year and Young Financial Journalist of the Year and has held research fellowships at the Institute for Public Policy Research and the University of London.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590200764
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590200766
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,983,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on November 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very good look back on the life of the famous public thinker and activist.

Richard Reeves provides the basic information necessary for a modern reader to understand John Stuart Mill's impact on his own age and afterwards, especially as related to the concept of personal liberty and the fight for women's rights. While his unusual personal life (e.g., an unequaled childhood education and a long love interest with a married woman who, upon widowhood, became his wife) is covered by Mr. Reeves, the main thrust of this book is Mill's thinking and actions related to the great liberal issues of 19th century Britain.

One area I did find lacking in Mr. Reeves' otherwise strong effort is the absent of analysis on Mill's direct impact on India given the subject of this biography's long career in a leadership post at the East India Company.
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Format: Paperback
I cannot imagine the amount of effort it must have required to evaluate all the relevant material needed to write this book. Roland Barthes once quipped that a biography is a novel that dare not speak its name. If I had to name one biography that would make that aphorism less applicable, it would be this one. The second part of the book title might mislead one to think that this is a page turner, but it is not. When a thoroughly written book is written about a thoroughly reflective writer, the necessary exposition dilutes any feeling like suspense.

As the book reveals the flaws in some of Mill's statements, this book isn't a lengthy adulation, but it generally seems to be a gallant defense of Mill. This book sweeps away two of the lingering myths about JSM: the idea that he never said anything aphoristic and that he was emotionally numb.

The flaws in this book are minor overall. I point out that the endnotes and bibliography of the book are far more generous than the index. I cite this single example: One of the most memorable things that Mill ever said about conservatism (pp 374-375) can't be found using the index, even though the index makes eight other entries under 'conservatism' that reveal nothing as memorable as what can be found on those two pages. I also wish that the book had attempted to show more about Mill's stances on social issues that are still contentious in the current decade (like animal rights.) Unfortunately, the greater number of words are written about Mill's stances on issues that are nearly settled (slavery and women's suffrage.) I realize that the author's aim was to explain to readers how stances that are uncontroversial today are only so because of the earlier confrontation by thinkers like Mill.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Richard Reeves, the newly appointed director of the think-tank Demos, has written a fine biography of John Stuart Mill, `the foremost public intellectual in British history'.

Reeves notes Mill's economic egalitarianism, his belief that "the only properly `private' property was the fruit of a person's labour." But Mill also had utopian free trade beliefs, for instance he wrote, "It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete." He also held, but later abandoned, Ricardo's wage fund theory, that there was only a fixed amount of money available for wages, which meant that collective action to raise wages was self-defeating.

Mill produced the classic, `The subjection of women'. He wrote that in Britain "there remain no legal slaves except the mistress of every house." As Reeves writes, "British feminism has many mothers, but only one father. ... gender equality ... was also a distillation of the major concerns of Mill's thinking: the innate equality of all human beings, the corrosive power of dependency, the triumph of reason over custom, the intrinsic value of individual liberty, and the role of institutions and social customs in shaping character." Mill opposed faith schools, noting that they taught `bad morals: passivity, blind faith, fatalism, complacency and prejudice against other religions'.

Mill dismissed the notion of "waging `war for an idea' as being as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue ... it is as little justifiable to force our ideas on other people, as to compel them to submit to our will in any other respect." But he was no pacifist, writing that war was "infinitely less evil than systematic submission to injustice." In the American Civil War, Mill campaigned for the North's victory over the slaveholding South.
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