The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection by Tony Benn and Ruth Winstone (editor)
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|The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection by Tony Benn and Ruth Winstone (editor)|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A composite volume of extracts from the diaries which Tony Benn kept for over seventy years. It's a very readable, inspirational and thought provoking book. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 736||Date: March 2017|
Tony Benn must be one of the most famous diarists of the modern age. He kept a diary from his schooldays in the nineteen forties until he made his last entry in 2009, five years before his death. Benn was also a particularly charismatic politician: since my teens I've found myself listening to him believing that I disagreed with what he was saying and then realising that perhaps we weren't so far apart after all. Whatever he spoke about always gave food for thought. Of course the ideal way to enjoy the diaries would be to read the individual volumes, beginning with Years Of Hope: Diaries,Letters and Papers 1940-1962, but that's a lengthy undertaking and The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection edited by Ruth Winstone gives you the opportunity to sample the best of the diaries in a mere seven hundred or so pages. Be warned though: there has been a previous composite volume, also called The Benn Diaries and published in 1996. The current volume goes to 2009.
The book opens with a brief chronology, which I found most useful. It gives important dates in Benn's life as well as other dates of national importance and allows you to anchor some of the diary entries. Even more useful is the Who's Who and list of family members, for obvious reasons! Interesting too is Ruth Winstone's Editor's Final Note where she explains the contradictions of Benn: an effective minister, but a loner, self-deprecating and analytical, but egotistical, scathing of the news media, but loved their attention, courageous but susceptible to flattery and misjudgement.
The diaries open with extracts from the early diaries and covers his time as a schoolboy. His school report from 1940 suggests that there were areas where he could have worked harder, but then it's on to Oxford and training (when only a teenager) as a pilot in the RAF. He was elected as a Labour MP in 1950, but the seeds of a future problem had already been sown. In 1941 Benn's father had been created Lord Stansgate and on his death Benn would inherit the title, rendering him ineligible to sit in the Commons. As a teenager I watched his battle to stay in the Commons after his father's death from afar - it was good to have a ringside seat with the diaries. Equally interesting are his stories of leadership battles, operating as a cabinet minister and the trials and tribulations of elections. In my teens it was Benn who opened my eyes to politics: it wasn't all about stuffy, elderly men doing what seemed to be right for them. Benn was radical and he wasn't going to toe the party line if that line cut across his convictions.
I did wonder if reading a composite volume of the diaries would be akin to reading a shortened version of a classic, but I needn't have worried: Ruth Winstone has done an exceptional job of giving us the best of the diaries whilst still maintaining the flow of the originals. The greatest compliment I can give is to say that other than the volume I've read fairly recently I wasn't aware of any cuts. It was a brilliant read, inspirational and thought provoking. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
You'll find a fuller review of the final diary here. I've also particularly enjoyed the diaries of Chris Mullin, which, coincidentally, were also edited by Ruth Winstone: start with A View from the Foothills.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Benn Diaries: The Definitive Collection by Tony Benn and Ruth Winstone (editor) at Amazon.com.
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