Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands: The Authorized Biography

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9780307958945: Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands: The Authorized Biography

With unequaled authority and dramatic detail, the first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher reveals as never before the early life, rise to power, and first years as prime minister of the woman who transformed Britain and the world in the late twentieth century. Moore has had unique access to all of Thatcher’s private and governmental papers, and interviewed her and her family extensively for this book. Many of her former colleagues and intimates have also shared previously unseen papers, diaries, and letters, and spoken frankly to him, knowing that what they revealed would not be published until after her death. The book immediately supersedes all other biographies and sheds much new light on the whole spectrum of British political life from Thatcher’s entry into Parliament in 1959 to what was arguably the zenith of her power—victory in the Falklands in 1982.

Drawing on an extraordinary cache of letters to her sister Muriel, Moore illuminates Thatcher’s youth, her relationship with her parents, and her early romantic attachments, including her first encounters with Denis Thatcher and their courtship and marriage. Moore brilliantly depicts her determination and boldness from the very beginning of her political career and gives the fullest account of her wresting the Tory leadership from former prime minister Edward Heath at a moment when no senior figure in the party dared to challenge him. His account of Thatcher’s dramatic relationship with Ronald Reagan is riveting. This book also explores in compelling detail the obstacles and indignities that Thatcher encountered as a woman in what was still overwhelmingly a man’s world.

Moore’s admiration for Thatcher is evident, yet his portrait is convincingly clear-eyed, conveying both how remarkable she was and how infuriating she could be, her extraordinary grasp at mastering policy and what needed to be done, and her surprising vulnerabilities. At the moment when Margaret Thatcher becomes a part of history, Moore’s portrait enlivens her, compellingly re-creating the circumstances and experiences that shaped one of the most significant world leaders of the postwar era. 

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Review:

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.

About the Author:

Charles Moore was born in 1956 and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read history. He joined the staff of The Daily Telegraph in 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher came to power, and as a political columnist in the 1980s, he covered several years of Thatcher’s first and second governments. From 1984 to 1990 he was editor of The Spectator; from 1992 to 1995, editor of The Sunday Telegraph; and from 1995 to 2003, editor of The Daily Telegraph, for which he is still a regular columnist. He lives in Sussex.

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