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An adventurer and charlatan? A clever rogue? Or perspicacious politician, founder of the modern British Conservative party? These different characterizations have all had their supporters: Disraeli rarely inspired indifference from his contemporaries, and later commentators have often mirrored these divergent evaluations. By the time he at last became Prime Minister, in 1874, he was no longer the exotic, dandified figure who nearly forty years earlier had obtained protection from his creditors by the simple expedient of election to a seat in the House of Commons. But he was still a one-of-a-kind figure in Westminster politics, favorite of his monarch but distrusted or disliked by most of the members of his party. Disraeli was a novelist as well as a politician, and he showed in his political life a novelist's command of the potent image and pregnant phrase. His speeches and writings remain memorable and influential. But any icon is open to manipulation and selective understanding, and Disraeli in particular has been claimed as a spiritual ancestor by an exceptionally diverse group of conservatives. Edgar Feuchtwanger's lively new study does justice to Disraeli's controversial life and ambiguous political legacy, providing a portrait of one of the great personalities of the age as well as shedding light on key political developments of Victorian Britain.
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