A review of Charles Moore’s major new Thatcher biography

[Boston Globe]

In The Boston Globe, I’ve got a review of From Grantham to The Falklands, the first volume of Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher. It’s a stunningly detailed book — just about every fun fact I include in my review is something new that Moore has introduced to the historical record — and that makes sense, given his access. Thatcher’s camp let Moore dig through her personal papers and interview her, and she helped him secure interviews with everyone else and get an early glimpse at some government documents.

The only analog I can think of for this sort of access is what Edmund Morris got from Ronald Reagan in the mid 1980s. Of course, the book that resulted from that, Dutch, was widely criticized by historians because Morris invented a narrator and added in other fictional flourishes. But two quick thoughts on this: first, Morris’s book is actually really good, and his inventions are easy to spot, if also a little distracting. (I always wondered how many of those angry historians even bothered to read Dutch.) Second, Moore’s book actually makes an indirect case for why Morris needed to experiment. I get into this in my Globe review, but Moore’s biography, good as it is, never really captures Thatcher as a character.

Now that may be the Prime Minister’s fault! Thatcher and Reagan both developed reputations for having only a few core beliefs (and for being happy, in all other cases, to work from someone else’s script). And that presents a real dilemma for any biographer, no matter how good the access. Morris tried to solve this dilemma through one extreme — postmodern trickery, meta-biography, maximal interpretation. Now Moore has tried to solve it through the other — a frills-free approach that gets as much as possible on to the page. I’m not sure either writer managed a total success, but one thing’s for sure: like Thatcher and Reagan themselves, these two biographies are most interesting when considered together.


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