Review: Citizen Clem, John Bew

Rating: 5 out of 5

I had barely no impression of Mr Attlee before I started this book — neither did I know much about Mr John Bew though his biography of Castlereagh has been in my “To Read” list since perhaps mid-2012. What I can say after finishing this biography is that Mr Attlee probably ranks amongst the top PMs to have ever governed in the United Kingdom while Mr Bew’s style of biography is superb, with just enough humanity to make the people live the pages they are written on.

What I most appreciated in the makeup of this book is the window that the author draws into the subject by starting every chapter with a relevant literary quotation that we know Mr Attlee enjoyed at that particular time. It is clear that for an avid reader like Mr Attlee, literature provided a pillar of his world views — and it was delightful to see the various chapters in his life opened in such a way.

Other aspects of the PM are also characterised with quite some insight — I was surprised by how little space was devoted to the early, non-formative years, with useful descriptions into periods when something noteworthy happened. Instead, Mr Bew preferred to highlight specific instances of early activity where this was relevant in later chapters. -This methodology allowed Mr Attlee to be fleshed out while keeping in mind his prime achievements — for the general populace, the creation of the welfare state, and for Labourists, the skillful leadership of a fractured party for two decades — and on focussing the relevant characteristics which would play a role later on even in the early years.

Overall, this is a splendid biography but perhaps more importantly it also re-introduces the concept of a politician not acting primarily in their own self-interest — as well as one who is willing to listen and lead.

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