Paperback: Margaret Thatcher: Volume One, by John Campbell

Vintage £11.99
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The Independent Culture

Though concerned only with the road to Downing Street, this superbly researched volume, "The Grocer's Daughter", is addictive reading. Campbell notes the gulf between image and reality that characterised Thatcher.

Recalling her childhood, she described her father as a "specialist grocer", but the shop was actually a general store and post office. While she extolled the "Victorian values" he instilled, her mythologisation of him was "entirely retrospective": "Having once escaped from Alfred at the age of 18, she saw very little of him for the remainder of his life." Campbell delineates her daunting character – "unable to relax", "devoid of a sense of either irony or humour" – and assesses the implications for her career. Her study of science at Oxford "reinforced her rigid cast of mind". This exacerbated her "lack of imaginative sympathy with other views". Entering No 10, she proclaimed the prayer of St Francis ("where there is despair may we bring hope"), which Campbell astringently annotates: "To those who shared her capitalist vision she undoubtedly brought hope, though to those less fortunate she... brought despair." From hesitant start to Icarus-like descent, her premiership is superbly scrutinised in Volume Two: The Iron Lady.