HAROLD MACMILLAN by Nigel Fisher

HAROLD MACMILLAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fisher, a political colleague and declared admirer, has reduced the Conservative Prime Minister's minutely detailed, but often stylish and astute, five-volume memoir to a bland, parochial political biography--and added some independent judgments. Macmillan, he says, did not want his personal life included: ""I am content to respect his privacy."" Given Fisher's finickiness, it is perhaps just as well. (Anything untoward we may have read about Macmillan's relations with his higher-class in-laws--in Anthony Sampson's 1967 Macmillan: A Study in Ambiguity--is unfounded; so is the intimation that he might have married partly for social advancement.) The book is otherwise inbred--with lists of Macmillan's friends at Eton and Oxford, his companions during official travels; tributes to ministerial colleagues; dossiers on all and sundry. Overall there is much who-what-when context, little close-up or long view. One can, of course, learn of Macmillan's sympathy for the unemployed at industrial Stockton-on-Tees, which he represented for nearly 40 years in Parliament; his farsighted, unorthodox advocacy of economic planning in the mid-'30s; his opposition to Munich; his finesse as British WW II emissary in North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean; his renewed postwar ""advocacy of a partnership between Government and industry""; his initiative as Minister of Housing and--on a fresh, critical note--his failure, in the Foreign Office (or as Chancellor of the Exchequer), ""to promote a closer association with the Continent,"" an early and subsequent interest. Then came Suez, the fall of the Eden government, Macmillan's succession (1957), and--for the second half of the book--the events of his nearly seven years in office. . . omitting only, but crucially, Britain's impending economic collapse. Fisher does justly note that ""the first three-and-a-half years of the Premiership were a period of almost unalloyed success, the last three of gradual decline."" And occasionally--re Macmillan's adroitness in weaning stand-pat Conservatives to decolonization--he provides the telling intimate glimpse. But mostly the separate episodes are simply recorded, with little reflection on their import either. The Macmillan memoirs are a historian's treasure-house; this is a serviceable account of his career (less trenchant than Sampson, but in some respects more informative) for students of recent British political history.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's