In June 1983 Margaret Thatcher won the biggest increase in a government's Parliamentary majority in British electoral history. Over the next four years, as Charles Moore relates in this central volume of his uniquely authoritative biography, Britain's first woman prime minister changed the course of her country's history and that of the world, often by sheer force of will.
The book reveals as never before how she faced down the Miners' Strike, transformed relations with Europe, privatized the commanding heights of British industry and continued the reinvigoration of the British economy. It describes her role on the world stage with dramatic immediacy, identifying Mikhail Gorbachev as 'a man to do business with' before he became leader of the Soviet Union, and then persistently pushing him and Ronald Reagan, her great ideological soulmate, to order world affairs according to her vision. For the only time since Churchill, she ensured that Britain had a central place in dealings between the superpowers.
But even at her zenith she was beset by difficulties. The beloved Reagan two-timed her during the US invasion of Grenada. She lost the minister to whom she was personally closest to scandal and almost had to resign as a result of the Westland affair. She found herself isolated within her own government over Europe. She was at odds with the Queen over the Commonwealth and South Africa. She bullied senior colleagues and she set in motion the poll tax. Both these last would later return to wound her, fatally.
In all this, Charles Moore has had unprecedented access to all Mrs Thatcher's private and government papers. The participants in the events described have been so frank in interview that we feel we are eavesdropping on their conversations as they pass. We look over Mrs Thatcher's shoulder as she vigorously annotates documents, so seeing her views on many particular issues in detail, and we understand for the first time how closely she relied on a handful of trusted advisors to help shape her views and carry out her will. We see her as a public performer, an often anxious mother, a workaholic and the first woman in western democratic history who truly came to dominate her country in her time.
In the early hours of 12 October 1984, during the Conservative party conference in Brighton, the IRA attempted to assassinate her. She carried on within hours to give her leader's speech at the conference (and later went on to sign the Anglo-Irish agreement). One of her many left-wing critics, watching her that day, said 'I don't approve of her as Prime Minister, but by God she's a great tank commander.' This titanic figure, with all her capacities and all her flaws, storms from these pages as from no other book.
The second volume is if anything even better than the first, a model of close research, fluent prose and impeccable judgement. Yet the real measure of his achievement is that amid all the summits and meetings, the policy papers and parliamentary duels, he never loses sight of the woman at the centre of it all. Almost every page of Moore's book throws up an unexpected insight or nugget. Moore writes as an unashamed Thatcher fan, but it is to his immense credit that the book never feels unduly partisan. He is frank about her failings. What keeps you turning the pages is not just Moore's lovely, smooth style, but his quiet dry humour. It is a tribute to Moore's skill as a writer that he makes you look at her as a human being. This is, I think, one of the great biographical achievements of our times.
Charles Moore has overcome the challenge of following his outstanding and compelling first volume on Mrs Thatcher's rise by making his second, the account of her period of greatest success, as exciting as a novel. ... As in the first volume, Moore shows a Thatcher far different from the myths of both Left and Right which are now part of British culture. ... This is a magnificent piece of work, and when he has completed it with the third volume, Moore will have done the justice she deserves to a great Prime Minister.
Moore is supremely skilled at focusing on this issue or that and then swiftly pulling his camera back to show the sheer hectic muddle and rush of her life as Prime Minister. ... The extent of his research is unmatched by any other biographer. It includes interviews with many hundreds of people, both allies and enemies ... Unlike stuffier writers, he recognises the value in speaking to those whose lowlier positions let them spy on events from an oblique angle. Her detective recalls the way President Mitterrand kept staring at her legs on a car journey and an interpreter remembers her first set-to with not-yet-President Gorbachev.
Moore's project is a study of detailed depth, and fine and transparent judgements, which rises to the largeness of a figure and a time that were of world significance. It is written with evident admiration but never slops over into sycophancy. Very few journalists, with a lifetime of against-deadline scribbling behind them, could muster the sustained intellectual power this required.
An awesomely thorough and authoritative portrait ... the definitive explanation of the strange person who most shaped modern Britain.