Jane Ridley

Prime Minister’s Pet

Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman


Biteback 400pp £25 order from our bookshop

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.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,