EARLY ON IN this magnificent biography, Richard Thorpe reveals that Anthony Eden was rated last out of nineteen in a poll on British twentieth-century prime ministers. In a field populated by Neville Chamberlain, A J Balfour, John Major and Ted Heath that is no mean achievement. By any objective standards, Eden's conspicuous act of failure - Suez - cannot rate above some of the disasters presided over by his four fellow Tories. To have been responsible for Munich; to have failed to unite the Party and save it from catastrophic defeat as Balfour did (and Major, ninety years later); to have brought us the three-day week and 27 per cent inflation, as Heath did - all these were far more damaging than Suez. So, too, was the economic mismanagement of the Wilson Government, which led to the IMF's being called in to run the British economy six months after Wilson resigned; or the blundering of Callaghan, which led to the Winter of Discontent. And do Ramsay Eden: glamour MacDonald or Bonar Law really merit more praise than Eden?
This scholarly book, for which the author has left no stone unturned in his research and investigation, is partly a rehabilitative exercise on Eden's behalf, and about time too. Thorpe's distinction lies in having redeemed his subject without making any proselytising efforts to do so. The facts - many of