Lord Beaverbrook (Magill Book Reviews)
Max Aitkin, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, and one of tenchildren to grow up in the provincial backwater of New Brunswick,overcame enormous odds (including the skepticism of family,friends, and the world at large) to become Lord Beaverbrook, one ofthe dominant figures in twentieth century media and politics. Atthe time of his death in 1964, Beaverbrook’s London newspapers, theDAILY EXPRESS, the SUNDAY EXPRESS, and the EVENING STANDARD, had acombined circulation of more than four million readers. Author ofseveral influential books of contemporary history, Beaverbrook wasa master shaper of public opinion yet curiously ineffective in hiscampaigns for particular political changes.
Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie do an excellent job ofexplaining Beaverbrook’s meteoric rise and are evenhanded inportraying his lighter and darker sides, scrupulously presentingthe evidence pro and con, astutely evaluating Beaverbrook’s ownclaims to importance, and frankly admitting the paucity of evidencein certain cases. It is still very difficult, for example, tounderstand the precise methods by which Beaverbrook attained hisfortune, the role women played in his life, and what records weredestroyed by Beaverbrook, his family, and his authorizedbiographer, A.J.P. Taylor.
Beaverbrook took British newspapers from the nineteenth century,when parties controlled the press, into the twentieth century, whenthe press made the parties increasingly attentive to publicopinion. If his newspapers had lost much of their influence by thetime he died, it is nevertheless the case that he had helpedtransform the nature of both politics and media in the twentiethcentury.
Sources for Further Study
Columbia Journalism Review. XXXII, May, 1993, p.73.
Contemporary Review. CCLXII, February, 1993, p.106.
London Review of Books. XIV, October 22, 1992, p.20.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 28, 1993, p.2.
The New Republic. CCVIII, May 10, 1993, p.46.
The New Yorker. LXIX, March 1, 1993, p.109.
Newsweek. CXXI, January 18, 1993, p.56.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, November 30, 1992, p.44.
The Times Literary Supplement. October 9, 1992, p.5.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, January 17, 1993, p.8.
Lord Beaverbrook (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Max Aitken, one of ten children of a Presbyterian clergyman, grew up in the provincial backwater of NeW Brunswick, Canada, and overcame enormous odds (including the skepticism of family, friends, and the World at large) to become Lord Beaverbrook, one of the dominant figures in twentieth century media and politics. At the time of his death in 1964, Beaverbrook’s London newspapers, the Daily Express, the Sunday Express, and the Evening Standard, had a combined circulation of more than four million readers. Author of several influential books of contemporary history, Beaverbrook was a master shaper of public opinion yet oddly ineffective in his campaigns for particular political changes. His legacy lies in the way he opened up politics to public discussion-a curious contribution for a man who liked to work behind the scenes, scheming and deal-making in the tradition of the nineteenth century robber barons.
Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie do an excellent job of explaining Beaverbrook’s meteoric rise and are evenhanded in portraying his lighter and darker sides, scrupulously presenting the evidence pro and con, astutely evaluating Beaverbrook’s own claims to importance, and frankly admitting the paucity of evidence in certain cases. It is still very difficult, for example, to understand the precise methods by which Beaverbrook attained his fortune, what role women played in his life, and what records he and his family destroyed. Unfortunately, Beaverbrook’s authorized biographer, the distinguished historian A. J. P. Taylor, deliberately destroyed many of his subject’s papers, openly professing his love for his subject and his determination not to leave behind private papers that would surely have yielded great insight into the psychology of this major, controversial figure. Chisholm and Davie do as well as can be expected in view of this contemptible history of cover-ups.
By his own account, Max Aitken was a rambunctious, irreverent child, inattentive and mischievous at school and not much better in church, where he was employed working the foot pedals of the organ. Though he could not follow the strictures of his pious father, and tensions naturally figured in the upbringing of a wayward son, relations between the adult Beaverbrook and his father were surprisingly amicable. Beaverbrook took a fond and often helpful position in family affairs, often financing the educations and careers of his relatives, though keeping his distance from them and demanding that they account for the various generous sums he allotted them.
Before the age of twenty he had failed examinations for entrance into Dalhousie University and briefly considered a career in law before finding his metier in commerce, quickly becoming a millionaire in booming turn-of-the-century Canada. His story is a classic example of the self-made man who rises by pluck and enterprise, taking risks all the way, engaging in what today would be called insider trading, and plying and mining every friend and associate for information and connections that would help to make his fortune. Aitken had seemingly endless energy, relishing the role of go-between for older financiers who took him on as a protege’. He worked every angle and did not worry much when certain schemes failed-there was always another plan, another South American country that might need a modern transportation system, another collection of Canadian companies he could combine into a powerful conglomerate.
A wealthy man before the age of thirty, he sought a broader public stage and more influence by involving himself in British politics, getting elected to Parliament in 1906 and befriending Conservative leader Bonar Law, a fellow Canadian. This astonishing rise made him enemies. It was said, with some justice, that he bought his peerage by way of his substantial monetary contributions to the Conservative Party. He was never made welcome by Conservatives, and he became extremely unpopular in Canada for what was perceived as his shady financial and political maneuvering. As an outsider, however, Beaverbrook could not take the conventional route, which at any rate was unsuitable to his unschooled and undisciplined personality. The extraordinary thing is the impact he had on Law, a principled, sober, and responsible politician who was often at his best when advised by the questionable Beaverbrook, and who, in...
(The entire section is 1798 words.)