14,765 book reviews and counting...

Books in the Media Update

This website is no longer being updated; theBookseller.com is the home of all books related-content and will continue to be updated with regular articles about books featured in the media. Thank you for using this website, and we hope you join us on theBookseller.com.

Ernest Bevin Reviews

Ernest Bevin by Andrew Adonis

Ernest Bevin: Labour's Churchill

Andrew Adonis

3.81 out of 5

10 reviews

Imprint: Biteback Publishing
Publisher: Biteback Publishing
Publication date: 18 Jun 2020
ISBN: 9781785905988

In this major, wide-ranging new biography Andrew Adonis brings to life one of our greatest statesmen - a politician whose light is often unjustly hidden beneath that of his more celebrated contemporaries.

  • The ObserverBook of the Week
5 stars out of 5
Andrew Rawnsley
28 Jun 2020

"a biography brimming with colour and insight that brings both the character of the man and his many achievements vividly to life"

While hugely admiring of his subject, Adonis is not blind to his flaws. A Churchillian scale of achievement was accompanied by some Churchill-like attitudes. Bevin was another unreconstructed imperialist, wrongly thinking that Britain could sustain its place in the postwar world by trying to maintain an empire that was bound to become defunct. He failed to engage with the nascent integration of Europe. He made a terrible mess of the Israel/Palestine question. This was not least, Adonis shows, because he had a pronounced streak of antisemitism.


4 stars out of 5
20 Dec 2020

"does a superb job in reintroducing a giant from Labour’s past"

Adonis shows his subject “warts and all” – and the warts were prodigious. Bevin was ruthless and relentless, a good hater who played the man more often than the ball. He was egocentric and vain. His mismanagement of the troubled Palestine mandate was rooted in anti-Jewish prejudice. As Isaiah Berlin once observed, Bevin “had [not] much to do with Jews of one kind or another before 1945, but that famous phrase about ‘wanting to get to the head of queue’ came tripping very naturally from his tongue”. Bevin was what we now think of as a man of his times, in his views and in his prejudices. But in his achievements he transcended them, as Adonis argues persuasively. His biography owes much to Alan Bullock’s three-volume official Life, and makes no claim to originality, but does a superb job in reintroducing a giant from Labour’s past. Its wider significance, however, lies in the reassertion of political pragmatism paired with reformist instincts by a thoughtful present-day Labour politician. “We cannot govern the world with emotionalism”, Bevin warned his party in 1944: “Hard thinking, great decision, tremendous will power will have to be applied”. The party did rather well when it heeded such admonitions – and so did the country.

4 stars out of 5
8 Nov 2020

"Adonis gives full credit to all Bevin’s qualities"

With the disappearance of Bevin from the scene, a certain intellectual vigour and ferocity of will disappeared too. It’s important to stress ‘intellectual’. Though he sometimes tried to hide it, Bevin simply thought harder and deeper than his rivals. By comparison today, where is the architecture for the UK’s new relationship with the EU, or for East-West relations, come to that? What is to be done about, against or with China, apart from irritable name-calling and capricious tariff-slapping? If Ernest Bevin were surveying the contemporary political scene, I think that the former West-Country drayman might be tempted to mutter: ‘They use the snaffle and the curb all right, but where’s the bloody horse?’

3 stars out of 5
1 Sep 2020

"Adonis offers a nice line in comparisons between Bevin’s and his own political experiences and a lot of respect for his subject"

Ernest Bevin was a great figure of British politics in the second quarter of the 20th century. As a trade union leader, minister of labour during the Second World War and foreign secretary in the 1945 Labour government, he fought Nazism and communism. A pro-empire socialist patriot, he knew and loved power, and wielded it in the service of the organised British working class. He is the subject of a new biography by Andrew Adonis. Heavily reliant on previous Bevin biographies, Adonis offers a nice line in comparisons between Bevin’s and his own political experiences and a lot of respect for his subject. The result is a book that is better researched than Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill by an author who is much less self-obsessed.

4 stars out of 5
George Eaton
12 Aug 2020

"Andrew Adonis’s biography on “Labour’s Churchill” rescues Bevin from undeserved obscurity"

For decades Bevin’s imposing frame loomed over British politics. That he has been largely forgotten would bewilder past generations. In this vivid biography, Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer and former transport secretary, makes it his mission to rescue Bevin from undeserved obscurity. Labour’s Churchill is the first major work to be published on its subject since the historian Alan Bullock’s epic trilogy concluded in 1983. But Bevin’s story is worthy of cinema. 

3 stars out of 5
2 Aug 2020

"A compelling biography requires a compelling subject, and Bevin is certainly that"

A compelling biography requires a compelling subject, and Bevin is certainly that. Raised in poverty by a single mother, “Ernie” rose to become Britain’s Foreign Secretary. “There were only two posts in the Foreign Office he could have held,” went the joke, “Foreign Secretary and doorkeeper.”

3 stars out of 5
4 Jul 2020

"Andrew Adonis writes rivetingly"

As for Bevin’s character, Adonis’s contention that he had ceased to be working class by the time he came into government because of how he dressed and where he lived is like suggesting that the Marquis of Bath ceased to be an aristocrat when he donned a kaftan and moved into a cottage on his vast estate. Bevin the minister was little different to Bevin the Bristol drayman, still finding cultural sustenance in football and the music hall. He refused all honours, including a peerage, a knighthood and the Companion of Honour (CH) offered by Churchill after the war.

4 stars out of 5
3 Jul 2020

"A fascinating book by Andrew Adonis goes one step further and calls him Labour’s Churchill."

This painstakingly researched book also tells us of Bevin’s remarkable rise, starting life as an orphan so poor he had to steal for food.

When he rose to run the grandest of government departments it was sometimes said “there were only two posts in the Foreign Office that Ernie Bevan could have held: foreign secretary and doorkeeper”. As Adonis points out, that was simply not true — his diplomatic achievements were of such an order that he would have made a fine ambassador. 

3 stars out of 5
27 Jun 2020

"Bevin was a bundle of engaging contradictions"

Bevin was a bundle of engaging contradictions: a democrat with an authoritarian manner, a socialist who became a Garrick club member and owned a flamboyantly yellow Talbot Darracq motor car. He loved grub but was not exactly a gourmet. Confronted by caviar, he said, “this jam tastes fishy”.

4 stars out of 5
Robert Shrimsley
17 Jun 2020

"Someone should definitely slip a copy of this book into Keir Starmer’s backpack"

Adonis acknowledges his debt to earlier works, most notably Alan Bullock’s epic three-volume biography, but as a reintroduction to a forgotten giant this is a fine work. The author — a former member of Tony Blair’s Downing Street strategy unit and later cabinet minister — has one eye firmly on the present and his message is a simple one. Labour needs to return to its most successful roots as a patriotic party, grounded in the everyday needs of ordinary people and focused relentlessly on achievable goals rather than impossible dreams.