In This Review

A Journey: My Political Life
A Journey: My Political Life
By Tony Blair
Knopf, 2010, 720 pp

This book is nearly unique among modern political memoirs in that the author is said to have written it. The resulting prose is at best cloying and chatty, at worst cliché-ridden and convoluted. It recounts few political events that recent British memoirs have not already described. On Iraq it is evasive. Yet it is worth the read because it reveals, better than any book of its kind, how modern politics really works. To judge from Blair's frank and surprisingly cynical admissions, politicians are often ignorant, scared, and burdened by the past. Their environment is hostile, as illustrated by Blair's blunt asides on the small-mindedness of nongovernmental organizations, the hypocrisy of the Tory opposition, and the antagonistic incompetence of his buddy Gordon Brown. To achieve anything, leaders must corner electoral opponents with clever rhetoric that manipulates, even misleads, the public. In the end, many historically important matters are decided on little more than gut instinct and personal morality. No one can win at this game forever. This helps explain why a man who entered office with the reputation of being an instinctive politico, able to read the public mind with uncanny clarity, ended up -- for all his achievements -- a deeply disliked public figure.