How many British prime ministers have there been in history? There’s a small measure of academic dispute here, and it also depends whether you care to start the real counting with the First Lords of the Treasury pre-Walpole. But the official tally stands at fifty-two men and one woman. And here at Faber Finds, of course, we care for them all, whatever their political stripe or level of accomplishment, for all of this is a matter of historical record, not to say the cause of some extraordinarily fine biographical writing. Finds already has on its list Norman Gash’s Peel, Lord Blake’s Disraeli, Andrew Robert’s Salisbury – and John Grigg’s Lloyd George, in four volumes. Anthony Seldon, one of the notable biographers of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (1997-2007), has now selected his 5 personal favourite political biographies for The Browser, and we’re delighted to see that Grigg’s Lloyd George makes the list. Below are Seldon’s comments on his selection, in an interview with Daisy Banks:
BROWSER: Your next choice, Lloyd George, is in four volumes written by John Grigg, who is regarded by many as one of the greatest political biographers of the 20th century.
SELDON: I think what is special about this biography is John Grigg himself. He was the son of Edward Grigg, an eminent figure in Britain in World War II, who was in Churchill’s wartime government. John Grigg went on to forsake his own membership of the House of Lords when his father died. He was an important figure himself in politics. He was a prominent critic of the Suez Crisis. He had this real insider’s understanding of politics, which is what makes him such a good biographer. He also wrote very elegantly. He managed to be a great literary biographer.
BROWSER: What made this work about Lloyd George particularly compelling?
SELDON: I think the insight into the politics of the period around Lloyd George and the quality of his own writing. He won the Whitbread Award for the second volume and he won the Wolfson Prize for the third. He was this combination of someone who grew up with politics at a very early age in the world of his father and then in his own right. He used all that understanding to write extraordinary biographies in a very polished and fine style.
BROWSER: Is there one particular aspect of Lloyd George that you understood better from reading this work?
SELDON: I think it shows his humanity. The closer you get to people the more you realise that simplistic judgments are naive…