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The Impossible Office?

The History of the British Prime Minister

Anthony Seldon Jonathan Meakin Illias Thoms



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Cambridge University Press
01 July 2021
Marking the third centenary of the office of Prime Minister, this book tells its extraordinary story, explaining how and why it has endured longer than any other democratic political office in world history. Sir Anthony Seldon, historian of Number 10 Downing Street, explores the lives and careers, loves and scandals, successes and failures, of all our great Prime Ministers. From Robert Walpole and William Pitt the Younger, to Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher, Seldon discusses which of our Prime Ministers have been most effective and why. He reveals the changing relationship between the Monarchy and the office of the Prime Minister in intimate detail, describing how the increasing power of the Prime Minister in becoming leader of Britain coincided with the steadily falling influence of the Monarchy. This book celebrates the humanity and frailty, work and achievement, of these 55 remarkable individuals, who averted revolution and civil war, leading the country through times of peace, crisis and war.
By:   Anthony Seldon
Assisted by:   Jonathan Meakin, Illias Thoms
Imprint:   Cambridge University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 160mm,  Spine: 30mm
Weight:   770g
ISBN:   9781316515327
ISBN 10:   131651532X
Pages:   300
Publication Date:   01 July 2021
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Preface; 1. The Bookend Prime Ministers: Walpole and Johnson; 2. A Country Transformed, 1721-2021; 3. The Liminal Premiership: From the Saxons to 1806; 4. The Transformational Prime Ministers, 1806-2021; 5. The Powers of the Prime Minister, 1721-2021; 6. The Constraints on the Prime Minister, 1721-2021; 7. The Falling Power of the Monarchy, 1660-2021; 8. The Rise and Fall of the Foreign Secretary, 1782-2021; 9. The Rise, and Rise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1660-2021; 10. The Impossible Office: The Prime Minister by 2021.

Sir Anthony Seldon is the acknowledged national authority on all matters to do with Number 10 and Prime Ministers. His first book on a Prime Minister, Churchill's Indian Summer (1981) was published forty years ago, and since then he has written or edited many books, including the definitive insider accounts of the last five Prime Ministers. He is the honorary historian at Number 10 Downing Street, chair of the National Archive Trust, and has interviewed virtually all those who have worked in Number 10 in the last 50 years. Jonathan Meakin was educated at Royal Holloway, University of London and at the University of St Andrews. He has had a lifelong interest in history. He has worked on many publications with Anthony Seldon, including Cameron at 10 and The Cabinet Office, 1916-2016. Illias Thoms has worked with Anthony Seldon for over ten years and this is their fourth book together, including Cameron at 10 and Brown at 10. He graduated from Balliol College, Oxford with a degree in history and politics in 2014 and works as an assistant director in the UK film and television industries.

Reviews for The Impossible Office?: The History of the British Prime Minister

'A tremendous, magisterial book, informed and underpinned by brilliant historical and political insight. A triumph.' William Boyd, author of Trio, Restless and Any Human Heart 'Anthony Seldon enriches our understanding of what it takes to run Britain, with some intriguing ideas for improving the Premiership.' Camilla Cavendish, former Head of No. 10 Policy Unit, and author of Extra Time: Ten Lessons for Living Longer Better 'A brilliant, panoramic survey of the fifty-five individuals who have been prime minister since Robert Walpole - and their families too. The most moving sentence is right at the end. On the evening of David Cameron's resignation, his daughter asks him at bedtime: 'Daddy, when are we going back home?' By then, you feel you know many of the holders of the office of prime minister intimately, how they changed it and it and how it changed them. A must read.' Andrew Adonis, former transport minister, education minister and Head of No. 10 Policy Unit, and author of Ernest Bevin, Labour's Churchill 'Three hundred years of one of the world's most difficult jobs is worth some reflection - and there is no better way to go about that than to read this excellent book. With a rich knowledge of our prime ministers and the eye of an expert historian, Anthony Seldon has produced a stimulating and enjoyable study of the unceasing development of their power and role. There is much here to inform everyone from the general reader to the political addict, and some important indicators of what the future may hold.' William Hague, former Leader of the Opposition, First Secretary of State, Foreign Secretary, and Leader of the House of Commons 'A fascinating review of the role of the prime minister and those who have filled it. How were they constrained, how did they change the role, and how did it change them and the country. Anthony Seldon also suggests some improvements including making No. 10 more streamlined, agile and diverse and ensuring that prime ministers and those around them understand the role. Reading this book would give them a good start.' Jacqui Smith, former Home Secretary 'Anthony Seldon has a brilliant ability to capture the humanity of prime ministers as well as their role in history which is why this fascinating account is so readable as well as authoritative. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand both how Downing Street works and the extraordinary characters of those who have lived there.' Rachel Sylvester, The Times 'A good guide to the constitutional position of the Sovereign's Minister.' Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph '... an intelligent and insightful account of the evolution of the role.' Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer (Book of the Week) '... chockful of fascinating Prime Ministerial history ...' Paul Donnelley, Daily Express 'The author [is to be] congratulated on producing a readable, lively, amusing, and serious account of the office of prime minister.' Michael Wheeler, Church Times

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