The Downing Street Years, by Margaret Thatcher
You cannot stop rulers from writing memoirs. Egyptian pharaohs and Persian kings published their doings on vainglorious stelae, notorious for exaggerations and plain inventions. Generations of schoolboys once had to struggle through the war memoirs of Julius Caesar in Latin. The modern tradition was inaugurated by Winston Churchill in 1923, when he published four volumes about World War I. His colleague, A.J. Balfour, noted dryly: “Winston has published an enormous book about himself and called it The World Crisis.” Churchill’s motives were self-justification (he had served as First Lord of the Admiralty during the disastrous Dardanelles campaign) and money, and his success at both set off an avalanche of print, led by Lloyd George. So it has continued.
On the western side of the Atlantic, untimely death spared readers the vindications of Wilson, Harding, Roosevelt, and Kennedy; but Coolidge, Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan have all spoken, some more than once, others at considerable length. On the eastern side, Chamberlain and Macdonald died before they had the chance and Balfour and Baldwin stayed their hands. All the rest, even the dullest, like Attlee, Douglas-Home, Heath, and Callaghan, insisted on being heard. Eden and, still more, Harold Wilson and Macmillan engaged in multivolume ventures of prodigious length and unspeakable tedium, and of course we have had six more volumes of Churchill.
About the Author
Paul Johnson is the author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity, and A History of the Jews, among many other books.