‘I am not an admirer of contemporary biography, and I dislike to be the subject of it,’ wrote Benjamin Disraeli to Thomas Kebbel in 1860. Kebbel was one of the first biographers to attempt to capture Disraeli in print. Since his book appeared many writers have followed his example. Already this year has seen the publication of a new volume of Disraeli’s letters, a 500-page monograph on his politics and a memoir by a woman claiming to be his great-granddaughter. With the exception of the volume of letters, the scholarly achievement of which is beyond measure, all these titles therefore have to distinguish themselves from the competition by finding something new to say. This is no easy task since, in addition to the new releases, that competition includes Robert Blake’s magisterial Disraeli (1966), as well as a handful of more recent stand-alone biographies.
Douglas Hurd and Edward Young’s Disraeli or, The Two Lives, rises to the challenge magnificently. Their book is less a biography than an unashamedly partisan, elegant and invigorating account of Disraeli the Tory. Hurd and Young navigate their way nimbly through the contours of Disraeli’s life but are less concerned