Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee: Winner of the Orwell Prize (Hardback)John Bew (author)
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Winner of The Orwell Prize 2017
Book of the Year: The Times, The Sunday Times, The New Statesman, The Evening Standard
It was once said of Attlee that he was like a cricket ball – the higher he rose, the more elusive he became. In an oft-quoted phrase, Professor Vernon Bogdanor once called Attlee ‘the enigma’ of twentieth-century British history. This book begins with the assertion that the enigma has yet to be cracked.
The gallons of ink spilled on Winston Churchill - and the huge appetite for books about him - have created something of an imbalance in our understanding of twentieth-century Britain. Not only does Clement Attlee's life deserve to have a rightful place alongside the Churchill legend. It is also more emblematic, and more representative, of Britain in his time.
It is difficult to think of another individual through whom one can better tell the story of how Britain changed from the high imperialism of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897, through two world wars, the great depression, the nuclear age and the Cold War, and the transition from empire into commonwealth.
The story of Attlee is also much more dramatic than he himself ever made out - and not without an element of heroism. Here was a man born in the governing class who devoted his life to the service of the poor; who was carried off the battlefield three times in the First World War; who stood shoulder to shoulder with Churchill at Britain's darkest moment, and then triumphed over him at the general election of 1945. His government of 1945-51 included Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan and was the most radical in history, giving us the NHS, National Insurance, NATO and the atomic bomb. In many ways we still live in a world of Attlee's creation.
This book will pierce the reticence of Attlee and explore the intellectual foundations and core beliefs of one of the most important figures in twentieth-century British history, arguing that he remains underappreciated, rather than simply underestimated. It will reveal a public servant and patriotic socialist, who never lost sight of the national interest and whose view of humanity and belief in solidarity was grafted onto the Union Jack.
'Easily the best single-volume, cradle-to-grave life of Clement Attlee yet written.' - Andrew Roberts
'Fascinating ...He writes with flair and considerable intellectual confidence.' - Jason Cowley, The FT
'He has written with verve and confidence a first-rate life ...What a life and what a man.' - Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
'Outstanding... Bew's achievement is not only to bring this curious and introverted man to life but to make him oddly loveable.' - Robert Harris, The Sunday Times
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Number of pages: 688
Weight: 1182 g
Dimensions: 240 x 161 x 60 mm
Easily the best single-volume, cradle-to-grave life of Clement Attlee yet written. Professor Bew updates but also betters all the other biographies with this intelligent, well-researched and highly readable book. Scholarly and perceptive, it tells the story of how quiet determination and impeccable political timing wrought a peaceful revolution * Andrew Roberts *
If Labour is to return to power, it is not to Tony Blair and Harold Wilson to whom it should turn for inspiration but to the ethos and example of Attlee . . . Citizen Clem promises to be one of the highlights of the autumn season -- Jason Cowley * New Statesman *
The brilliant young historian John Bew urges Labour to recapture something of the ethos of the Attlee period * Telegraph *
In this monumental biography, John Bew sets out to explore, not just the scale of the achievement, but to discover what made Attlee tick . . . A good book about a remarkable man -- Chris Mullin * Guardian *
Fascinating . . . He writes with flair and considerable intellectual confidence . . . Bew believes that Labour has lost a sense of historical mission . . . This insight seems right to me -- Jason Cowley * Financial Times *
This biography makes a strong case for Attlee's greatness . . . Such contradictions deserve a discerning biographer, and in John Bew, Attlee has the man he deserves. He has written with verve and confidence a first-rate life of a man whom he correctly argues has been under-appreciated . . . What a life and what a man -- Daniel Finkelstein * The Times *
Outstanding . . . This excellent new life of Labour's greatest leader . . . We still live in the society that was shaped by Clement Attlee . . . Bew's achievement is not only to bring this curious and introverted man to life, but to make him oddly loveable. He steps out like a character from the pages of the social novels of H. G. Wells or George Orwell . . . To read this book in the shadow of the present Labour leadership election is a salutary experience -- Robert Harris * Sunday Times *
An absorbing new life of Clement Attlee shows how a quiet man from the suburbs became Labour's unlikely postwar hero . . . So how did a man who was the object of so much private derision by his peers come to preside over Labour's greatest (some might say only) radical government? Bew puts the question at the core of his story. He answers it convincingly by mixing arresting narrative with a thorough study of the people and policies of the Labour movement at a time of hardship interspersed by war and fierce ideological difference . . . The book is replete with amusing vignettes . . . This book will become required reading for the present-day Labour party -- John Kampfner * Observer *
Magisterial . . . A great work of personal biography, social history, political philosophy, international relations and ferrets-in-a-sack Labour Party infighting . . . Bew explores in great detail Attlee's pilgrim's progress toward socialism with a thorough critique of his literary, cultural and political reading. . . As the Labour Party retreats towards ideological self-immolation, as Britain stumbles on the world stage, and as European social democracy stands in peril, we need another Attlee more than ever. In the absence of which, we have Bew's brilliant book -- Tristram Hunt * Prospect *
Read this book to understand what Labour once was and what has been lost because of its embrace of identity politics and ultra-liberalism. Book of the Year -- Jason Cowley * New Statesman *
A masterful portrait of a man who led the Labour Party for 20 years and arguably did more than any other UK politician to shape the postwar world . . . Attlee was a patriot who believed that tolerance was Britain's greatest gift to the world. Now, more than ever, it is tolerance we need. Book of the Year -- Tom Watson * New Statesman *
Attlee was a distant and austere figure by reputation, but the book sweeps that away from the start, recalling Clem the street agitator and war hero. Book of the Year -- Roland White * Sunday Times *
The author sets out to claim a place among the greats for his subject and succeeds . . . The lessons for modern politics are made clearly. Book of the Year -- Daniel Finkelstein * The Times *
Bew has the detachment of a professional historian, but an understanding of politics and personalities. Book of the Year -- Kwasi Kwarteng * Evening Standard *
The best book in the field of British politics. Book of the Year. -- Philip Collins * The Times *
Bew is particularly good on the dynamics of his close relationship with Churchill . . . Bew's revelatory biography explains that achievement. But it also brings us a 3D, flesh and blood Citizen Clem, and boy, does he make him shine! -- Gordon Marsden * Times Higher Education *
This is a big book in scope and depth and is a very good read besides. It is not just a political biography, but an explanation of the man, what made him, the roots of his patriotism, his military experience in the First World War, his love of literature . . . in a way Citizen Clem is a history of the twentieth century * Tablet *
His true political genius and unflinching moral purpose are brilliantly reappraised in John Bew's Citizen Clem . . . This book is a rare beast - political biography at its finest, yet one that is deeply moving -- David Bell * Times Literary Supplement *
Winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography
Both a magnificent renewal of the art of political biography and a monument to the greatest leader the Labour party has ever had. It presents us with a man whose socialism was learned, not acquired * Jonathan Derbyshire, Judge of The Orwell Prize *
John Bew's survey of Labour's post-war hero Clement Attlee resurrects the idea of the political biography almost thought lost: encyclopaedic, analytical, massive in scope but intimate in understanding. * Waterstones Weekly *