TIDES OF FORTUNE 1945-1955 by Harold Macmillan


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If Churchill was a snorting legend, Eden a matinee idol, what on earth can be said of their unflappable successor? ""There's nothing so long as an English Sunday,"" complained Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger, and perhaps he had Harold Macmillan in mind. ""Before the winter was out a deep pall of grief was cast over the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. The troubled but glorious reign of King George VI came suddenly to an end."" This sedative style, with its sepulchral cadences and editorial aplomb, is typical of Macmillan's remarkable memoirs. In a difficult moment, after the 1951 General Election, asked to take over the Ministry of Housing, Macmillan discusses the prospect with his wife in Churchill's garden. Together they remember his activities during the war at the Ministry of Supply. ""Surely,"" he concludes, as if they were exchanging recipes, ""we could build the house in the same way that we built the tanks and the guns."" Later, recounting his controversial term as Foreign Secretary, he imperturbably refers to l'affaire Philby. ""Since there was no evidence available which could have justified a prosecution, I had surely no right to blacken this man's character. As is well known, he was subsequently to make a full confession when in a foreign country."" A genius of sorts is needed to turn abysses into cavities, tight rope walking amidst the glare of world events into entre-nous strolls through Hyde Park at dusk. No doubt only a Conservative from a famous publishing family could be so genuine a master of the bland and understated. What dim gems await us when, in the concluding volumes, Suez looms and he becomes Prime Minister. History's children are, in some cases, born old. A must.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row