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The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs Disraeli

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Gladstone and Disraeli were the fiercest political rivals of the modern age. Their intense hatred was ideological and deeply personal. Victorian Britain ruled the oceans and vast territories 'on which the sun never set'. The vitriolic duel between Gladstone and Disraeli was nothing less than a battle to lead the richest and most powerful nation on earth. To Disraeli, his antagonist was an 'unprincipled maniac' characterised by an 'extraordinary mixture of envy, vindictiveness, hypocrisy and superstition'. For Gladstone, his rival was 'The Grand Corrupter' whose destruction he plotted 'day and night, week by week, month by month'. Victorians were electrified by the confrontation. No wonder that when Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass" appeared in 1871, so many readers recognised the great adversaries as the warring lion and unicorn 'fighting for the crown'. Richard Aldous gives us the first modern telling of this dramatic story of an intense and momentous rivalry. His vivid narrative style - at turns powerful, witty, stirring and theatrical - breathes new life into a familiar, half-remembered tale that is pivotal in Britain's island history. "The Lion and the Unicorn" is a brilliant rethinking of the Gladstone and Disraeli story for a new generation. Richard Aldous confirms a perennial truth: in politics, everything is personal.

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About the Author:

Richard Aldous was the Head of History and Archives at University College, Dublin for 15 years. His many books include a critically acclaimed biography of Gladstone and Disraeli, and the no. 1 bestselling Great Irish Speeches. He writes for publications including the New York Times and Irish Times, and is a regular contributor to television and radio on both sides of the Atlantic. He is currently the Eugene Meyer Professor of British History and Literature at Bard College in 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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