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Monday, May 6, 2013

“The Path to Power”, by Margaret Thatcher

656 pages, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN-13: 978-0060172701

Just how did the grocer's daughter end up on No. 10 Downing Street? Grit, conviction, and her famous steel backbone combined with razor-sharp wit. Margaret Thatcher rivals Sir Winston Churchill as being one of the greatest international leaders of the 20th Century; indeed, she is perhaps the greatest peace-time PM Britain has ever produced. This is her own account of the path she took to topple decades of Labour Party Socialism that crippled Britain.

At 17 the young Margaret Roberts was refused recommendation by her headmistress to receive a scholarship to Oxford University, the reason given that she did not complete three years of Latin. Margaret went directly to the Admissions office and challenged the entrance exam. She crammed three years of Latin into three months and sat as an independent. Margaret aced the test and studied chemistry at Oxford before becoming a tax lawyer and politician. Thus was born the Iron Lady, a woman who would be as much a bain to the Soviet Union as she was to Oxford University.

What makes an autobiography worthwhile are the confessions along the way. Like President Grant, she makes no bones that in her early days she made lots of mistakes and she learned several lessons the hard way. For many people the lessons she took from an event are not ones they would take from the same circumstances, but they explain many of the responses to events over her time in office. For example, the Heath cabinet was notable for its Comity, a Comity that lead them into destruction. The Thatcher governments were chiefly notable for their level of quarrelsomeness all through the 11 years she ran the country.

Thatcher adds a postscript to this book completed after the account of her time as Prime Minister in which she gives her prescriptions for a better Britain and Europe (in some ways, she might agree that her stance on the Euro is a la Nancy Reagan, i.e., “Just say No!”). She has a few swipes at John Major, the man she helped into power, perhaps hoping to be able to be an active and effective agent from behind the scenes. Major retaliates a bit in his own autobiography.

Margaret Thatcher stood up to the coal miners, stood up to the unions, and stood up for Britain. She earned the title “Iron Lady” by taking a stand and never bending in the name of popularity. Her wrath was to the debilitating social welfare state what Churchill’s “Bulldog defiance” was to the Axis powers during WW2. The Path to Power is excellent reading for those who find the British Parliament to be incomprehensible, and for those who wonder if an American woman can ever be another Thatcher and for those who simply like a Horatio Alger story. Now, is it a bit dry? Yes, but you didn't really expect gooey girl talk from Margaret Thatcher, did you?

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