Edward Pearce has had the excellent idea of writing biographies of three outstanding postwar politicians who failed to become prime minister-RA Butler, Denis Healey and Iain Macleod. Nearly 20 years ago Richard Thorpe had a similar idea; his The Uncrowned Prime Ministers contains studies of Austen Chamberlain, Curzon and Butler. Pearce does it differently, but equally well.
He has always been a vivid writer, sometimes, perhaps, too colourful-but here he has his virtuosity under full control. His judgements, too, are sharp, causing heavy casualties among those politicians he dislikes. He sensibly does not produce a general thesis on why some…
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