Philip Ziegler

No Rose without a thorn

Kenneth Rose was gossip columnist by appointment to the aristocracy and gentry. He was, of course, a snob — nobody could write a social column in the Sunday Telegraph for more than 50 years without some snobbish instincts — but he was an intelligent one, singularly well-informed, and capable from time to time of administering

Saviour of the world

Churchill must be the most written-about figure in public life since Napoleon Bonaparte (a subject, incidentally, to which Andrew Roberts has already contributed a substantial and prize-winning biography). As the publisher obligingly warns us, there have been over 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life, including some dross, but many works of serious importance. To add

Daring? No. Well written? Yes

This has all the appearance of a book invented by a publisher. Two years ago W. Sydney Robinson published an excellent biography of the Victorian newspaperman W.T. Stead. How best to follow this? No attractive subject for another full-scale biography suggested itself. Why not therefore fill in time by writing long essays on four worthies

The Thucydides of court gossip? Steady on…

Sir Brian Unwin leads off with some decidedly questionable assertions. He wonders why the first of his two subjects, the Comtesse de Boigne, should have been ‘ignored or un-noticed by most historians’ — curious words to apply to a woman whose words are quoted in virtually every biography or history of her period. As to

Was Roy Jenkins the greatest prime minister we never had?

In any list of the-best-prime-ministers-we never-had, the name of Roy Jenkins is likely to be prominent. He was intelligent, moderate, courteous, thoughtful: he was exactly the sort of man whom any civil servant would wish to see installed in No.10. That, no doubt, is why he never got there. John Campbell makes no bones about

Clash of the titans

This is an odd book: interesting, informative, intelligent, but still decidedly odd. It is a history of the Victorian era which almost entirely eschews wars and imperial adventures and concentrates instead on the social, political and intellectual climate of the times.  This is still a vast spectrum. Simon Heffer concludes that he must decide which

Edwardian Requiem, by Michael Waterhouse – review

The photograph on the jacket, reproduced above, says it all — or at least all of what most of us think we know about Sir Edward Grey. Patrician, reflective, dignified, he stares into the future with the uncompromising honesty of one who has never even contemplated straying from the paths of rectitude. In fact, he

‘The Undivided Past’, by David Cannadine – review

David Cannadine detests generalisations and looks disapprovingly on any attempt to divide humanity into precise categories. The Undivided Past provides a resoundingly dusty answer to any historian rash enough to seek for certainties in this our life. It is highly intelligent, stimulating, occasionally provocative and enormous fun to read. Cannadine considers the six ways in

More Lothario than Hamlet

Ronald ‘Trader’ Faulkner is that relative rarity: an unassuming actor. In their memoirs most actors, after the obligatory two or three chapters describing the hardships at the outset of their careers, indulge in a paean of self-glorification — mentioning their failures, certainly, but only so as to highlight their far more considerable successes. Faulkner is

A painless lesson in political history

This book is not a history, explains Ruth Winstone, who has edited this collection of excerpts from diaries published between 1921 and 2011. It is, she says, ‘an impressionist view of politically changing times’. It is, indeed, a patchwork quilt of a book, no two pieces precisely meshing with each other yet providing in total

Highbrows and eyebrows

Juliet Nicolson is a member of a literary dynasty second in productivity only to the Pakenhams. She is herself the author of two distinguished volumes of social history describing Britain immediately before and immediately after the first world war. This is her first novel. The danger of letting a social historian write novels is that

Agreeing to differ

‘Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts; Lordie, how they could love.’ The ballad has many variant versions but the denouement is always the same; he was her man and he did her wrong. Rooty-toot-toot three times she shoot, and Johnny ended up in a coffin. Thatcher and Reagan were sweethearts; Lordie, how they could love. But

Talking tough

This thoughtful, challenging and deeply depressing book takes as its launch pad the Nuremberg Trials, in which the author’s father played so prominent a part. Churchill would have executed the Nazi leaders out of hand. Eisenhower wanted to exterminate all the German General Staff as well as all of the Gestapo and all Nazi Party

Philip Ziegler’s books of the year

In her biography of William Morris Fiona MacCarthy opened a window onto the brilliantly talented yet curiously anaemic world of the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates. In The Last Pre-Raphaelite she switches her attention to Morris’s once great friend and later stern critic, Edward Burne-Jones. Her scholarship is exemplary; her style fluent; her judgment discriminating; above

Voyages of discovery

Roger Louis is an American professor from the University of Texas at Austin who knows more about the history of the British Empire than any other two academics put together. When the Oxford University Press embarked on its mammoth history of the Empire the general editor they chose —to the chagrin of certain professors from

The Diamond Queen by Andrew Marr

‘Of making many books there is no end’, particularly when the subject is Queen Elizabeth II. It is less than ten years since Ben Pimlott and Sarah Bradford independently produced authoritative and excellent biography-centred books on the Queen. Since then a fair number of minor studies have appeared. Can enough have happened in the meantime,

At home in the corridors of power

To be the daughter of an enormously powerful man must always be an enthralling if sometimes daunting experience. To be close to that father when, almost single-handed, he is shaping the destinies of the nation, if not the world, is to be uniquely privileged. Mary Soames took no part in the decision-making that was happening