A Life
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 An engrossing, if tediously detailed, biography of William Maxwell Aitken (lst Baron Beaverbrook), the Canadian adventurer who gained fame as a British press-lord, politico, and socialite. While Chisholm (Nancy Cunard, 1979, etc.) and Davie (Titanic, 1987) dish out much revealing dirt, they seem less interested in the larger meaning of Beaverbrook's life than in its minutiae. Drawing on untapped archival sources and scores of interviews, the husband/wife team offers an unsparing portrait of a man on the make. The son of a Presbyterian minister, young Aitken amassed a fortune in the securities business before leaving Canada for England (under a cloud of financial scandal) at age 31 in 1910. Elected to Parliament that same year, he became a power in the Bonar Law and Lloyd George governments and was elevated to the peerage in 1917. After WW I, Beaverbrook plunged into journalism, making the Daily Express and Evening Standard into profitable platforms for his strongly held views (conservative, imperialistic, isolationist). An energetic charmer, the twice-wed Beaverbrook was a world-class philanderer whose many prominent mistresses included Diana Cooper, Dorothy Schiff (then Hall), Rebecca West, et al. Beaverbrook was on close terms with a host of male notables as well, from Winston Churchill (in whose cabinet he served during WW II) through Rudyard Kipling, A.J.P. Taylor, and Evelyn Waugh. The press baron also made some first-rate enemies--e.g., the Astor family and Louis Mountbatten. After the war, Beaverbrook tended to his newspapers, wrote several books, and attempted to become a patron of the arts. He died at age 85 in 1964, widely if warily respected. The authors quote copiously from even the most trivial Beaverbrook correspondence--yet fail to focus properly upon the significance of their subject's actions in the context of his times. These cavils apart: a comprehensive rundown on one of the fourth estate's more consequential figures. (Thirty-two pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-56879-6
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1992