In This Review

The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries
The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries
By Alastair Campbell
Knopf, 2007, 794 pp

For nearly a decade as Prime Minister Tony Blair's top political adviser, Campbell took time almost every day to write in his dairy. These "extracts" -- Campbell estimates these more than 700 pages to be only around one-sixth of the entire diary -- offer a fascinating study of power and a rare look behind the scenes of the Blair government. Most immediately striking is the personal toll of high office. Normally played down in memoirs written after the fact, here are the less glorious aspects of power: the strains placed on old friendships by political differences, the jealousies among ambitious government ministers, and the pressures on family life of politics in a 24-hour news cycle. Campbell also provides important insights into the man who made him and whom he helped make. Blair comes across as deeply committed to achieving big and difficult things: modernizing the Labor Party, saving lives in Kosovo, and preserving the United Kingdom's relationship with the United States. On Iraq, Blair is genuinely convinced by the case for war ("It's worse than you think, I actually believe in doing this," he tells a small group of advisers), but he is just as committed to the goal of trying to "steer [the Americans] in a sensible path." Campbell's critics will accuse him of "spin" -- these are, after all, the musings of a man who specialized in image management -- and readers will justifiably wonder which parts of the diaries have been left out or the degree to which the diarist was thinking of his legacy as he wrote. Those questions should not prevent anyone from profiting from the insights in this extraordinary book.