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The Prime Minister:
Peter Hennessy, former journalist turned scholar of contemporary political history, is an academic aeolus whose infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Whitehall and Westminster, blows the dust off documents and reinflates a mandarin's minute with a telling topicality. The holder of the Chair of Contemporary History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, he has natural gift (and inclination) for grafting germane gossip onto the gravity of his subject and thus enlivening his expert exhumation of archives with appropriate anecdote. His earlier work, Whitehall has become a classic, and in his latest study he turns his attention to the steady accretion of power by Prime Ministers since the last world war and makes an assessment of each occupant of 10 Downing Street. Hennessy delights in proceeding by exposure as well as explication, throwing up fascinating insights on Premiers as they arrive at crucial decisions. He is undoubtedly happiest when chronicling the manoeuvrings of the backroom boys in Whitehall rather than those in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, but then the shift of power away from the legislature to the executive is becoming all too apparent. In each of his studies, Hennessy shows how individual Prime Ministers struggled and shaped the governance of the nation to their different personalities, and then their day of hard graft and glory is gone. As Harold Macmillan, one of the more charismatic holders of the office, said after his resignation, "nothing rolls up more quickly than a red carpet" --Michael Hatfield [via]