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The vicious political struggle that electrified Victorian society, brilliantly re-created for a new generation.William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the nineteenth century. Their intense mutual hatred was both ideologically driven and deeply personal. Their vitriolic duels, carried out over decades, lend profound insight into the social and political currents that dominated Victorian England. To Disraeli―a legendary dandy descended from Sephardic Jews―his antagonist was an "unprincipled maniac" characterized by an "extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy, and superstition." For the conservative aristocrat Gladstone, his rival was "the Grand Corrupter," whose destruction he plotted "day and night, week by week, month by month." In the tradition of Roy Jenkins and A. N. Wilson, Richard Aldous has written an outstanding political biography, giving us the first dual portrait of this intense and momentous rivalry. Aldous's vivid narrative style―by turns powerful, witty, and stirring―brings new life to the Gladstone and Disraeli story and confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.
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Richard Aldous is a professor of history at Bard College, where he holds the Eugene Meyer Chair. He is the author and editor of eleven books and is a contributor to television and radio on both sides of the Atlantic. Aldous’s writing appears regularly in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Book Review, and The American Interest, where he is a contributing editor. He lives in Red Hook, New York.From Publishers Weekly:
Two titans, Disraeli and Gladstone, dominated English politics in the Victorian age. Each did multiple stints as prime minister and as leader of the Conservative (Disraeli) or Liberal (Gladstone) party. Political opposition shifted over the years to mutual personal disapproval and finally to rage-driven attack. Aldous (of University College, Dublin) traces the development of this seemingly pathological antagonism amid the policy disputes of the era. Both combatants displayed rhetorical skills unimaginable in a politician today. Both were writers, Gladstone of dull works on religion and on Homer, Disraeli of novels lampooning notable figures of his day, especially Gladstone. Aldous portrays both as possessing repellent character traits, such as Disraeli's vindictive mockery and Gladstone's moral hypocrisy. All these tangy ingredients make this joint biography highly appetizing, even if some readers may find issues like the Corn Laws, that so energized Gladstone and Disraeli, a bit faded. However, vexing issues of international trade, religion in public life and voting rights divide our nation as they did Victorian England. Aldous's smooth pacing and adroit writing bring a forgotten world back to life and demonstrate how two forceful if warring personalities can create a history that neither could have achieved acting alone. (Sept.)
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