NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN: Vol. I: Pioneering and Reform, 1869-1929 by David Dilks

NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN: Vol. I: Pioneering and Reform, 1869-1929

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For those who immediately associate Neville Chamberlain with an umbrella, biographer Dilks' apology for discovering ""no terrible secrets in Chamberlain's private life"" will ring true. Dilks, professor of international history at Leeds U., does make much of one out-of-character episode, however, signaled in the title. This was Chamberlain's assignment, by his father Joseph Chamberlain--in many ways the much more interesting Birmingham Liberal--to run a sisal plantation in Nassau. The venture failed miserably, giving Neville, then in his mid-twenties, crucial experience of failure. As in a war, he had learned to give commands and assume leadership; but the episode also ""enhanced characteristics which he retained; determination to put a brave face on the difficulties, single-mindedness, reluctance to reveal distress or depression."" So out of this unlikely scene of lizards and tropical gales there emerges the Chamberlain we all recognize. As for the rest, his early manhood consisted of moving out from the shadow of his famous father and older brother, Austen, the designated political heir--who went to Cambridge while Neville got a practical education at Mason College (later to be the University of Birmingham, largely under the impetus of Joseph Chamberlain). Nevertheless, after a business career, Neville was elected to the Birmingham City Council at age 42; and from there he followed his father's route as Lord Mayor. Thereafter Dilk follows him into the labyrinths of 1920 British national politics as he rose into the Cabinet, first at the Post Office, then at Health, and on to Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many important issues marked this period, including the General Strike of 1926, the reform of local government, taxes, and poor rates. Dilks is dutifully complete in this tome, but the action is all official and bloodless, and there are no surprises. A biography for scholars, this is definitive and (in both senses) thick.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Cambridge Univ. Press