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The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to Johnson

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  67 reviews
A landmark history of the men and women who have defined the UK's role in the modern world - and what makes them special - by a seasoned political journalist.

At a time of unprecedented political upheaval, this magisterial history explains who leads us and why. From Harold Wilson to Theresa May, it brilliantly brings to life all nine inhabitants of 10 Downing Street over th
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 3rd 2020 (first published September 5th 2019)
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Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-history
A book that looks at the nine British Prime Ministers that held office between the appointment of Harold Wilson in 1964 and the resignation of Theresa May in 2019.

I wouldn’t say this book was a detailed analysis of the time in office of each PM. Nor do I think the author intended it to be so. Each PM gets only around 40 pages of text, although the author packs more into those pages than you might think.

The author has a generally leftist outlook, and his opinions do come through to an extent, b
Jacob Stelling
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting summary of the 'modern' prime ministers, which begins by providing a definition of what a 'modern' prime minister is and the qualities required in such a role, something which helps the author to judge each leader in turn, whilst also providing the criteria for the reader to make their own judgements.

I enjoyed reading this book, not the longest out there but useful as a summary. Also helps to challenge some long-existing stereotypes and begins to rehabilitate some figures, such as
Rob Thompson
The Prime Ministers is a thoughtful book that expands on the lectures the author did for BBC Parliament.

He selects the nine prime ministers nominally because they are prominent politicians of the “television era”. This is a modest way of obscuring the real reason for picking them, which is they are prime ministers whom Richards has observed closely.

Richards nicely summarises the each of the politicians. He makes observations which aren't immediately evident. For example, he points out that Marga
Lewis Virgo
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Prime Ministers reflections on leadership is a great book for nay British politics enthusiast.

It has a great coverage of all the individuals who acquired the thorny crown. The best chapters were on Wilson, Heath and Callaghan. Some of the other good ones were on Major, Blair and Brown.

Whilst the chapters on Cameron and May are not bad, they just were not as good as the others. And far too critical in my opinion but still good. The book also has at some points a left wing/anti brexit tone b
Kenny Robertson
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction to the last 50 years of British politics. I loved the author’s insistent generosity of spirit to each of the last 10 PMs.
Richard Smith
The main thing that this book taught me is that having the skills of a good teacher may be the most important qualification to be a good prime minister, although it's a job where you are more likely to fail than succeed. I took many quotes from the book.

Here is a link to my blog with the quotes:
David Highton
This book covers the premierships of all 9 holders of the office in the media age from Harold Wilson in 1964 to Theresa May in 2016 to 2019. he seeks to define the qualities of political leadership and to compare and contrast these 9 leading politicians. Overall, a insightful analysis and a good precis of recent political history
Apr 08, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Conceptually a fascinating study of leadership style and content, but each of the chapters on the last 9 Prime Ministers is padded out and the narrative suffers from a lack of structure with too many comparisons in the individual chapters which should have been reserved for a heavyweight analysis in the final chapter. So although it is a deeply interesting read it's conclusions lack conviction. ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eloquently written. Not an easy read for a British politics outsider and non-native English reader. Fair and justified comments towards each of the modern PMs covered, esp. how they ended. Good insights into the nature and requirements of the unique post of PM.
Steve Angelkov
Informative and well researched book, no doubt will need a revised edition to cover the current PM and his peers.
Oliver Rogers
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Politics fans and those that remember the period under consideration
Shelves: politics
Interesting reflection on the tenures of modern Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom

I thought the most interesting theory advanced by this book was the writer's suggestion that we've passed the high watermark of Thatcherite policies under David Cameron and the coalition government in the early 2010s. Steve Richards argues that the evidence on domestic policy from the Conservatives' 2017 manifesto shows that Theresa May was looking to be a much more left-wing premier and Boris Johnson has done l
Sep 20, 2021 rated it liked it
This book is a journalist’s look into the latest Prime Ministers. Going back about fifty years, we start with Harold Wilson and make our way through Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, to end up with May. This company is united by the fact that they made it to the top of their respective parties, and were then able to hold on to become Prime Minister.

Why I emphasised that the author is a journalist is that this bears very much on how the subjects are treated. From the start
Rich B
Apr 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not my usual genre, but enjoyed this book a lot.

Looks at every British Prime Minister from Harold Wilson right up to Boris Johnson. It’s partly a recap of major events in British politics dating back to the 1960s. But, mostly it’s an insightful observation and reflection on how each prime minister as an individual handled the burden of leadership.

It’s well-researched and detailed. Clearly written and never feels boring or padded out. You do feel like you’re getting an insider’s view of British
Sep 08, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this absolutely fascinating. Steve Richards has looked at the last ten British Prime Ministers, starting from Harold Wilson who first came into office in 1964 (as it happens, the year after I was born). Interestingly, he was the only one of the ten who served non-consecutive terms as Prime Minister.

It is certainly intriguing to consider the vast changes in the nature of political coverage in the media throughout that period. Harold Wilson was one of the first Prime ministers to recognis
Apr 29, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a thoughtful, stimulating and well argued commentary on British Prime Ministers from Harold Wilson to Theresa May. Based on unscripted television talks on most of these PMs, Steve Richards puts each in the context of what he considers to be the essential qualities of a successful prime minister, such as being a political teacher and managing their party. This is a good template and enables the different careers and experiences to be assessed fairly.

The book was evidently written before a
David Cutler
Oct 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It flows well and each PM is given around 40 pages, even if like our current PM the amount of time they have spent I office is shorter. Each one doesn’t outstay their welcome. And what an extraordinary bunch they are. Poor Queen.

I most liked the many parallels that he draws between very different PMs facing similar situations whether it is a referendum, a divided party or a honeymoon period at the start of an incumbency. Steve Richards is on the Left as a journalist,
Nov 14, 2021 rated it liked it
Overall, this is a decent book which does what it says it will - a whistle-stop tour of fifty years of Prime Ministers. The narrative itself seems a little rushed, with the constant use of ‘ached’ and ‘nerve-shredding’ in most chapters. I found the chapters on Major, Blair and Brown illuminating, with really interesting narrative, while the earlier chapters weren’t as good. I also feel that in covering the more recent PMs the author is less balanced, particularly on Theresa May (although perhaps ...more
Simon Howard
This was Richards’s book reflecting on the leadership of the nine Prime Ministers from Wilson to May. There is now an extended revised edition also covering Johnson, but I have the original version.

I had mixed feelings about the book. After a lengthy introduction, it was structured chronologically, with roughly forty pages dedicated to each leader. Each profile was readable and interesting, and these struck me as broadly balanced appraisals.

However, I thought that his critical analysis and comp
Megan Johnson
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
The intention of this book was to give an overview into the prime ministers and leadership over the past 50 years and each leader gets around 40/ 50 pages which I must say are very well written and how the author managed to cram so much detail into those pages! I just wanted more, I felt I had great summaries of each, but felt it lacked depth (which again, I feel is more my different expectations rather than the book itself).

Richards has a slight left view which comes across in the book but I t
Jul 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pacy, punchy and perceptive canter through modern prime ministers and their legacies. Richards is effective at comparing and contrasting the leaders' approaches in a continuous thread rather than just setting out standalone profiles of each person. He also posits some fascinating "what if" scenarios, such as if Tony Blair (who held no ministerial office experience) had been foreign secretary or education secretary before being catapulted into 10 Downing Street in 1997. Richards is a fair assesso ...more
Nov 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
An interesting and very readable assessment of Prime Ministers from Wilson onwards, with chapters on Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair, and Brown particularly providing great insight and details I hadn’t thought of before. The concept of ‘political teaching’, especially, provides a fresh prism through which to consider the current and future occupants of No. 10. Much of it is framed in almost Shakespearean terms, as per the opening, and it makes for some interesting framing of how the seeds of prim ...more
Colin Hoad
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb insights from a guy who really knows his onions. This is a great potted history of the modern PMs, warts and all, assessing what made them good at the job and how they ultimately fell from power as all British PMs have done since Wilson. Richards does a good job at focusing on the traits, quirks and mindsets of the PMs themselves, eschewing lengthy historical narratives and instead homing in on what made these individuals tick. He dispels popular myths while applying a forensic objectivit ...more
Alastair Savin
Nov 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book got better as it went along. The earlier chapters were a little dry, unless you were like me and knew a bit about Wilson already the authors habit of jumping back and forth through his different terms would have been very confusing. However the author throughout compared each prime minister with the ones already discussed which meant that the analysis and enjoyment I got from the book built steadily throughout.

I thought his analysis on recent prime ministers was superb and gave me a m
James Watson
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly honest, objective, and concise accounts of each 'modern' prime minister, and is a recommended read for anyone wishing to get a quick overview of the British political system.

My only criticism would be that the commentary is sometimes too anecdotal, which means that there's a lack of objective facts, statistics, figures or defined ideologies - meaning that it's up to the reader to compare and distinguish between PM's. However, this might have been Richards intention.

It also would have
Jonathan Downing
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and insightful historical sweep of UK Prime Ministers (from Harold Wilson through to Boris Johnson), slightly let down by some repetition and perhaps some slightly tendentious readings of PM's falls being presaged by their rises. Particularly enjoyed and learned a lot from the chapters on Wilson and Heath, and his analysis of Thatcher's use of political space was an interesting framing of her premiership which helped provide new insights. The chapter on Johnson, added for the ...more
Adrian Foster
Aug 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an outstanding series of insights! Sharing his views on leadership from all of the British Prime Ministers from Harold Wilson in 1963 through to Theresa May in 2018, there are a number of points that jumped out:
-That most prime ministers have little relevant experience when they get the job
-That many end up focussing on the problems of the previous leader, not their own
-That a key factor to success is being able to read the political currents effectively
-That many do not act decisively eno
Sean Flatley
Sep 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great read of all the British Prime Minister since the 1960's

I loved this book as it's gives a great history and leadership of all the British Prime Minister since the 1960's and it also brought back some childhood memories as I was born in 1969 and grew up in the 70's, 80's etc and remembering all the major events the Prime Minister had to faced, especially when their leadership skills was brought into questions
But overall a great read and well researched and written
Now onto Steve Richards
William Smith
From Wilson to Johnson, Richard inexclusively compares the strengths, weakness, fortunes, and failures of the 10 most recent British leaders since 1974 until 2020. Whilst evaluated within meandering, unclear narrative, the commentary is judicious, albeit unoriginal. The Prime Ministers is by no means sufficiently deep into the history, or penetrating into the character, to be an essential read on British Prime Ministers. However, each Prime Minister's chapter are introductory gems for novices t ...more
Eric Kalnins
The style/ content of the book is in the title ... Reflections! An interesting and generally informative read offering the others opinions and value judgements which, for me, lets down the tone. For example, most if not all of the Prime Ministers are described as weak despite Richards at one point saying it is not a helpful to describe someone as such.

Even so, still a book I would recommend 👍

Jesse Young
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A real wonderful, reflective read in Richards' inimitable style. This book was based on his 'reflections on leadership' TV series, and it expands those insights in a more holistic and deeper fashion. The book assumes a reasonable familiarity with the major events of post-50s British history (i.e, the "winter of discontent" and the Falklands war and so forth), and it's an easy and empathetic read. Great. ...more
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