Max Beaverbrook was widely disliked during his lifetime as a newspaper owner and backstairs politician who used the Daily Express to further his own interests. Charles Williams’s biography doesn’t make him any more likeable, but it does give a full account of a remarkable 20th-century career.
It’s hard not to admire the young Max Aitken’s rise from rags to riches. One of six children of a Scots Presbyterian minister who had emigrated to Canada before Max was born in 1879, he endured a hard, joyless childhood in remote New Brunswick. He did badly at school, failed the entrance exam to Dalhousie University and then fooled around, getting into debt. All this changed when, aged twenty-one, he took a job in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with an established financier named Stairs. Aitken worked hard, learned quickly and showed a marked talent for making money. Attaching himself to an older and more powerful man was to become a pattern.
Aged twenty-six, Aitken made a loveless but socially ambitious marriage to Gladys Henderson Drury, the daughter of a lieutenant colonel. By the time he was thirty he was a millionaire, having amassed a fortune during the Canadian boom of the 1900s by driving through industrial mergers. Of the