Review: Not For Turning

Posted 16 September, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher
By: Robin Harris
Format/Source: galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley

Margaret Thatcher is one of the most significant political figures of the twentieth century—a Prime Minister whose impact on modern British history is comparable only to Winston Churchill’s. Like them or not, her radical policies made Britain the country it is today. And like her or not, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy remains a massive political force, responsible for laying the groundwork for New Labour, Tony Blair, David Cameron, and being a strong ally to the United States throughout the Cold War.

Now Robin Harris, for many years Mrs. Thatcher’s speechwriter, close adviser and the draftsman of both volumes of her autobiography, has written the definitive book about this indomitable woman. In this international bestseller, he tells the compelling story of her life, from humble beginnings above her father’s grocery store in Grantham, her early days as one of the first women in Westminster (she became known as “Thatcher Milk Snatcher” during her time in the Ministry of Education) and then on to her groundbreaking career as Prime Minister (by which time her reputation already demanded a more powerful epithet: “Iron Lady”).

We follow Thatcher through hard-fought political battles and experience with her the tribulations of the miners’ strike and the Falklands War, of her sometimes troubled friendship with Ronald Reagan and their shared staunch opposition to Communism. We learn of the intrigue behind the scenes at Ten Downing Street. And how during one of the darkest hours of her premiership she refused to alter course and, adapting the words of a British play, declared to her enemies, inside and outside the Government: “You turn if you want to. The Lady’s Not for Turning.” summing up for admirers and detractors alike the defiance and consistency of Mrs. Thatcher’s approach. Throughout Not for Turning we sense the passionate intellect which fuelled her ambitions and drove her into the highest office in the land, and out again…

Not for Turning is an unforgettable portrait of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, written by one of her most trusted advisers, and a fitting tribute to an extraordinary leader.

Despite having studied 20th century world history and British history, I’ve never read a biography on Margaret Thatcher. There’s a lot of biographies and books out there on Britain’s first female Prime Minister but this book intrigued me because the author had worked with Mrs. Thatcher for a number of years while she was in office. I was approved of a galley copy of this novel from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available on September 24th.

I found this book pretty easy to read, I couldn’t quite put it down once I started reading. It was quite an interesting read–again, having never read a biography on her tenure in office or her memoirs. This book focused more on Thatcher’s work and impact, not necessarily (I suspect) a straight biography and a day-to-day breakdown of every event that happened while she was in office. The major events that happened during Mrs. Thatcher’s time are presented thematically, which was helpful. Some of the chapters were a bit slow compared to others, especially the early ones that delved deep into national economic policies; I’m still a bit of a newbie in that subject and every country obviously has had different problems concerning their economy. It can be dry but again, illuminating.

I thought the presentation of Margaret Thatcher as a leader and as a person was balanced in that the author recongised and pointed out what critics and other biographies have stated about her; sometimes he would agree with the perception of Mrs. Thatcher’s decision, sometimes he would disagree but at least whenever he presented his opinion, he would support her points with his experiences working with her. Critics may argue that her presentation is biased but I thought his book was insightful and at least she recognised some of Mrs. Thatcher’s weaknesses and failings.

My favourite parts of this book was actually the anecdotes and stories about her personal life: her early years, balancing a personal life with her husband while working and leading a nation, etc.. Despite knowing about Margaret Thatcher and her role on the global stage during the 1980s (her special friendship with the United States and Ronald Reagan, the Falklands War, etc.), I didn’t know too much about her as a person (aside from her general fierceness). Regardless of your personal politics, I don’t think you can deny that she was a force of character and this book really exemplifies this part of her.

Overall, I thought Not for Turning was an illuminating read, especially as it was the first book I’ve ever read on Margaret Thatcher. Reading this book, I find her as a person to be a bit of an enigma: obviously a very tough persona with a very specific vision of the world, a woman working and leading in a traditionally male occupation and yet, from the stories mentioned, she easily falls into the role of housewife and entertainer and the more traditional views and roles of a woman–I found the contrast to be fascinating. Obviously she couldn’t have it all (and I’m not sure if she even thought of her life in those turns) but it’s interesting to see a character like her strive onward the way she did. Students of British politics and contemporary British history may find this book especially interesting.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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