Allen Lane, £30; Bantam, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography; Volume One: Not for Turning, By Charles Moore
Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher, By Robin Harris

The late premier's chosen biographer has done a great job. She did have secrets to tell, and to hide

After the triumphant obsequies comes the pent-up rush of new biographies, "authorised" and otherwise. Charles Moore was appointed Lady Thatcher's official biographer in 1997, on condition that the book did not appear in her lifetime.

He might reasonably be a little miffed that the Lady also approved another life by Robin Harris, who helped her write her memoirs, now published with the same title and a prominent endorsement. Harris has written a lively, loyal and unashamedly admiring study of his heroine ("The reader will discern remarkably few warts") with the great benefit of being single-volume. Nevertheless, the main event is unquestionably Moore, who has discharged the first part of his commission superbly.

He has marshalled a huge range of sources, many of them new, without letting himself be swamped. In addition to Lady Thatcher's own papers, with her famously furious scribblings all over the submissions by ministers and officials, he has quarried the National Archives, Conservative Party and American archives (where he acknowledges some research assistance: otherwise he commendably did most of it himself).

He has spoken to practically everyone who ever had anything to do with her, and interweaves their recollections skilfully to bring out wider themes. He has also been given access to private diaries which bring immediacy to the narrative. These are the benefits of being the official biographer.

Above all, in this first volume, he has the young Margaret's letters to her elder sister Muriel. Mrs Thatcher's own account of her early life, later expanded in her memoirs, while not untrue, was not the whole truth. The one person who could have told more about the real dynamics of the Roberts family above the shop in Grantham was Muriel. But she discreetly never talked.

Moore had "two substantial conversations" with her before she died in 2004. He still did not get much out of her about family life – though she did suggest that their hitherto shadowy mother was the stricter and more puritanical of their parents. But he does have 150 letters Margaret wrote to Muriel, as well as some later ones between Muriel and Alfred; these are a goldmine.

First, they reveal the young Margaret to be obsessed with clothes: she is always telling Muriel what she wore to every dinner, ball or meeting she attended, and how she managed to buy, borrow or adapt her outfits for each occasion. Yet she was not concerned with clothes for their own sake, but specifically for the effect they enabled her to make. From an early age she loved turning heads. More clearly than before one can see how knowingly, as PM, she used her clothes to dramatise her impact.

Second – and completely unknown – they reveal that she had several quite serious boyfriends before she married Denis, all but one considerably older than herself. Yet there is no great passion in her regard. She appraises them coolly as husband material, so that the decision to accept Denis ("not a very attractive creature"), rather than a 47-year old doctor by whom she was a good deal more smitten, seems more than ever a calculated career move.

Much later, Alfred's lonely letters to Muriel confirm that Margaret had very little contact with her sainted father after she moved south and launched on her career. There is some doubt she even attended his funeral. She rediscovered and revered his memory only when he was safely dead and she needed to reinvent herself as the grocer's daughter. These family letters, while they do in some ways render her more human, reinforce the view that she was from the beginning chillingly focused on her career.

From Oxford onwards, the story of her struggle to impose herself in a man's world is broadly familiar, but told with a new depth of detail. Love her or loathe her, it is a heroic odyssey: her phenomenal determination and inexhaustibility, her combination of blazing certainty with intense practicality, leave the reader repeatedly awestruck. Moore manages to demonstrate all these qualities without being in the least bit hagiographic.

This volume covers the first three tumultuous years of her government. Moore does not shirk or simplify the complexity of the issues she faced: not just the economy, inflation, the nationalised industries and the trade unions, but also Rhodesia, Northern Ireland, Britain's European budget contribution and lesser episodes like the Iranian embassy siege and the unmasking of Anthony Blunt.

All these, but above all the agonised arguments between her advisers and gurus - far more important than most of the Cabinet – over taxation, exchange controls, monetary targets and Geoffrey Howe's 1981 budget, are recounted with exemplary clarity, not just through her eyes but with complete fairness. More than just biography, this is excellent history. The level of tension within No.10 at the nadir of her popularity is captured by an extraordinary memo the head of her policy unit, John Hoskyns, wrote in August 1981.

Hoskyns believed passionately in what she was trying to do, but was afraid that her style of management endangered the enterprise. Bravely – he was also an ex-soldier - he told her so. "You lack management competence... Your own leadership style is wrong... You bully your weaker colleagues. You criticise colleagues in front of each other... You give little praise or credit and you are too ready to blame others... The result is an unhappy ship". She never changed: if anything she got worse. You can already see why they got rid of her in 1990.

The last hundred pages are devoted to the Falklands: an accidental episode, marginal to her real project, which nevertheless became her apotheosis and earned those military honours at her funeral. Moore ends with the victory dinner which "may well have been the happiest moment of her life". If the second volume, charting her mounting hubris and eventual nemesis, maintains this quality it will be a tremendous achievement.

John Campbell's biography of Margaret Thatcher, 'The Iron Lady', is published by Vintage

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent