Climbing the Bookshelves, By Shirley Williams

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The Independent Culture

Where to begin describing Shirley Williams? Daughter of the author Vera Brittain; internationalist and professor of politics at Harvard; minister for education responsible for the comprehensive school system; or co-founder of the breakaway political party, the SDLP?

She had two marriages (the second very happy, to fellow Harvard professor Dick Neustadt) and a daughter, Rebecca. But while Williams criticizes her mother as a remote figure to whom she didn't grow close until she was older, one can't help wondering if they have more in common than she'd like to think. Williams was dedicated to politics from an early age (she fought her first seat in parliament at 24) and describes the difficulties of being a mother and having to attend late Parliamentary sessions. I doubt there was ever any real conflict: Parliament won every time.

Even so, Williams comes across as a warm person with integrity and honour, and – her early evacuation to the US during the war being particularly formative – that "coping" quality of a previous generation.

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