The Guardsmen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am

The Guardsmen

by Simon Ball Harper

Perennial, $165

The Guardsmen, subtitled 'Harold Macmillan, Three Friends, and the World They Made', is about the last great Tory before Margaret Thatcher, along with Oliver Lyttleton (who would go on to create the National Theatre and much else besides), Harry Crookshank and Robert Cranborne, later the sixth Marquess of Salisbury. They started at Eton together, served in the Brigade of Guards and fought in the first world war together, and were contemporaries in Tory politics. Simon Ball, of Glasgow University, contends that the four formed an unbreakable bond in the trenches. He interweaves the strands of their lives to explain the price war exacted on peacetime Britain in the 1950s and 60s. The idea of a collective biography is a good one. It allows for a subtle examination of the very English themes of power and glory, and of class, from four perspectives. Ball makes effective use of rich seams of anecdote to produce a classic and highly readable work of history.