cover image A Life at the Center: Memoirs of a Radical Reformer

A Life at the Center: Memoirs of a Radical Reformer

Roy Jenkins. Random House (NY), $30 (585pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41311-0

Lord Jenkins is a British politician at home equally in the chambers of power and the world of letters. A leading Labour figure for 35 years, serving as Home Secretary twice and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and only narrowly missing the premiership, he always seemed to be slightly out of step with much of his party; he was both more pragmatic and less doctrinaire. Eventually Jenkins became leader of the nascent Social Democratic party, which during the early 1980s looked capable of forming a viable third-party government in combination with the Liberals. It was not to be, and Jenkins, politically active only as a peer, is now Chancellor of Oxford University. The author of a number of political biographies, Jenkins produces polished prose that throws much light on puzzling passages in postwar British history--the careers of George Brown, Harold Wilson and David Owen, for instance. Jenkins also recounts his frequent visits to the U.S. and vivid meetings with LBJ, JFK and an appallingly frank and alarming J. Edgar Hoover. The book provides a greater sense of the cut and thrust at the upper levels of power--and of the astonishing impact of the British press--than do most political memoirs, though the length and detail may daunt readers. Still, this is the best book of its kind since Denis Healey's 1991 memoir, The Time of My Life . Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)