Robin W. Winks is the Randolph W. Townsend, Jr., Professor of History at Yale University, where he specializes in the history of the British Empire and its successor states. He was Eastman Professor at Oxford University for the 1992-93 academic year.
I cannot decide which is more compelling: Lady Thatcher's memoirs, this great intriguing gorget of a book, an artifact one holds in the hand--two hands, really--ever protective of its author's throat, or the range of reviews that have appeared in the British press, lengthy, opinionated, vituperative or self-serving statements that seem seldom to speak of the book, but rather to the self-image of the reviewer. There can be few memoirs in this century that are so open to attack by those who profess to inside information, yet are so consistently fascinating even for readers who, due to modesty or perhaps simply honesty, must read nearer to the surface level.
This is not an autobiography. Only once does Margaret Thatcher permit herself use of the word. She has, she is clear, written a memoir, which is (whatever the lazier dictionaries may tell us) quite a different matter. The scholar of self revelation, Roy Pascal, has argued that the only successful books within the genre are those in which the reader can detect the author changing in the course of the autobiographical reexamination of the life being recorded--an author caught by surprise by the act of reconstructing a personal vision of the past. Lady Thatcher is never by herself surprised, and one can find not one instance in these 914 pages where she suggests that, in writing those pages, she changed her mind. What we have here is a memoir, perhaps a very fine one, but neither more nor less.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
The Downing Street Years is a shrewd construction. The British reviewers could not agree on whether it was readable--surely some found it not so, for the first "considered" reviews of this massive volume appeared in less than 24 hours after it was handed out to salivating reviewers--or whether it tells readers anything they do not already know. The answer to these two rather inconsequential questions is yes, and yes: the book is immensely readable, beautifully constructed, and except for one fairly long
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