Leslie Mitchell

Sulk & Bulster

Pitt the Elder: Man of War


The Bodley Head 372pp £25 order from our bookshop

At the outset, the author is clear that this book is not a candidate for academic honours. He has consulted historians. Their names litter the text. But its purpose is different from theirs. This biography is aimed at ‘a wider public’ than that which curls up of an evening with some deeply researched history. True, there is a claim that ‘major primary sources’ have been consulted, but the bibliography could have been more complete. In short, this is a book for those who like their history to be pleasant and undemanding.

In conformity with this mood, the style is vivid, rollicking, and occasionally demotic. Pitt’s rhetoric ran ‘so often to apocalypse on draught’; or simply ‘Pitt didn’t do consistency’. There are cheerful comparisons made with twentieth-century political situations. The loss of Minorca is linked to the desperate situation in the summer of 1940, when ‘Churchill, facing forty German divisions with no allies at all, whistled through his teeth and talked Agincourt’. This is a style that makes a rattling good story even more rattling.

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