Maggie: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman in Power by Chris Ogden

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

MAGGIE: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN POWER was published several months before Margaret Thatcher’s sudden fall. But after reading Chris Ogden’s biography, particularly the chapters on Thatcher’s third them, few will be surprised by her fate. Ogden presents a picture of a formidable leader spoiled by too many years in power. Thatcher’s autocratic manner, her refusal to tolerate even the slightest dissent, made her too many enemies within her own party. Fired ministers were treated so badly they felt like “squashed flies” (as one of them, John Biffen, put it), and with hindsight it seems inevitable that one day they would gang up to oust her.

However, Ogden also gives full weight to Thatcher’s many strengths: her powers of leadership, her extraordinary single-mindedness and capacity for hard work, her iron will when faced with a crisis. One cannot help but admire how she fought her way from lower-middle-class origins to the pinnacle of British political life, and then (single-handedly, it sometimes seems) reversed Britain’s long postwar economic decline. Also remarkable is how Thatcher, through careful cultivation of her relationships with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, brought Britain’s voice once more to the forefront of the world’s diplomatic stage.

It is an astonishing story, and MAGGIE is a highly readable biography—well-researched and full of lively anecdotes of Thatcher’s public and private life. Unlike Hugo Young’s more detailed THE IRON LADY (1989), it is written for American readers, many of whom are unfamiliar with the British system of government. Young is to be preferred on at least one or two counts, however. Ogden gives the impression that Thatcherism was fully formed in Thatcher’s mind almost from the moment she first became an M.P. in 1959, but Young is careful (and probably more accurate) to distinguish between early and later Thatcher. Young also gives a more penetrating and critical account of the Falklands war in 1982.