Of the great political figures of Victorian Britain, none have captured the popular imagination like Benjamin Disraeli. A converted Jew from a family of merchants and the son of a noted literary scholar, he rose in an aristocratic age to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. While numerous biographies have been written about him, most concentrate on his ostentatious personality, the style that characterized the man. Ian Machin's brief study, a volume in the "Profiles in Power" series, focuses instead on the political side of Disraeli's life, examining the positions and tactics he adopted over the course of his long career in public life.
Machin's book offers a good introduction to Disraeli and his politics, examining both his rise through the Tory ranks and his attitudes towards the prevailing issues in mid‑Victorian politics.. His contention is that the quest for power is the dominant theme running through Disraeli's career. To achieve it, Disraeli adopted an opportunistic approach in advocating policies or principles, trimming his sails to catch the prevailing political wind. This is most readily apparent in his economic policy, where Disraeli's advocacy of protectionism (which led to the destruction of Sir Robert Peel's government in 1846) was abandoned six years later in an attempt to improve his party's odds of winning seats in Parliament. Even after the Conservatives finally took office with a majority government in 1874, Machin notes, Disraeli possessed no legislative agenda beyond pursuing reform measures that would appeal to the public in an increasingly democratic age.
Though some might object to Machin's interpretation of Disraeli's career, this should not overshadow the overall qualities of the book. Balanced and insightful, it does a remarkable job of surveying Disraeli's life and career in such a short number of pages. For readers seeking to learn about this larger‑than‑life political figure, this is a good place to start.