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Summary

Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing.

Winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography.

Book of the year: The Times, The Sunday Times, New Statesman, The Spectator, Evening Standard.

Clement Attlee was the Labour prime minister who presided over Britain's radical postwar government, delivering the end of the empire in India, the foundation of the NHS and Britain's place in NATO. Called 'a sheep in sheep's clothing', his reputation has long been that of an unassuming character in the shadow of Churchill. But as John Bew's revelatory biography shows, Attlee was not only a hero of his age but an emblem of it, and his life tells the story of how Britain changed over the 20th century. Here, Bew pierces Attlee's reticence to examine the intellect and beliefs of Britain's greatest - and least appreciated - peacetime prime minister.

©2016 John Bew (P)2017 Quercus Editions Limited

Critic reviews

"Outstanding.... We still live in the society that was shaped by Clement Attlee." (Robert Harris, The Sunday Times)
"The best book in the field of British politics." (Philip Collins, The Times)
"Easily the best single-volume, cradle-to-grave life of Clement Attlee yet written." (Andrew Roberts)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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Outstanding biography

Would you consider the audio edition of Citizen Clem to be better than the print version?

it is wonderful to finally have an unabridged edition of this amazing biography. I enjoyed the audio edition better.

What did you like best about this story?

to learn about the life of one of the most important political leaders in this nations history. the monumental achievements as well as the failures of Attlee.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Learning about the way in which labour would not serve under Neville Chamberlain and how Attlee supported Churchill.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

seeing how Attlee's experience of social work in the east end of London changed him and how he began to view social conditions in a new way.

Any additional comments?

This is an amazing biography and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in politics and/or history.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Good old Clem

It is widely accepted that the 1945 Labour government was responsible for some of the most significant changes in Britain of the last 100 years. However, the character and contribution of the prime minister of the day in helping to bring about these changes is less appreciated that it should be, argues Bew. Attlee, a man of slight build, and someone whose reserve and shyness did not help his cause, was regularly dismissed by opposition and party colleagues alike – the famous quip by Churchill of a “sheep in sheep’s clothing.” And yet, he led the Labour movement for over twenty years; and even after the electoral defeats of 1951 (when Labour still received the largest share of the popular vote) and 1954, he remained the party’s biggest electoral asset.

As a counterpoint to the current political world, the politics of Clem Attlee (citizenship, patriotism and ethical socialism) and the character of the man himself are rightly given voice in this excellent short biography.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Really good listen. Great book, excellent narrator

The Mouse that Roared. Amazed at how such an unassuming man remained leader of Labour Party for 20 years, during the country's most tumultuous times. Seemed to possess humility, not the narcissistic qualities a lot of leader's have and also a proud to be British and a socialist. How times have changed

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Caroline
  • Orpington, United Kingdom
  • 21-04-18

A fascinating insight into 20th century history

I wouldn't normally choose a political biography but decided to give this a try on the basis of the reviews. It took me a while to get into it but when I did, I was gripped. It is very thought-provoking in so many ways as many of the decisions Attlee's government took are still with us today e. g. the NHS and welfare benefits and there was nothing inevitable about society changing in this way. Also, the creation of Israel and the effect on the Palestinians which Attlee anticipated. The narration was perfect too. Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in 20th century history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic, thorough book

I knew the history of this period well before reading this book. But this book greatly added to my knowledge and understanding. Very relevant to the current state of play in the Labour Party.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The incorruptible leader

I highly recommend this wonderful audiobook for anybody interested in British politics. Bew’s biography gives Attlee the credit he richly deserves.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Finally, an impartial light shone on uk's best PM!

For many, Churchill is considered the best PM and is more fondly remembered than Clem. But for me, Clem has left a larger legacy: NHS, national insurance, social housing, increased social security etc It's sad that the neo liberal elite are destroying that legacy bit by bit; slowly mirroring the UK's bigger brother: America.

All in all a great book; well written, and the narrator does a great job. Excellent value for money. Highly recommend!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Often a neglected figure of huge significance

Attlee warrants more of our study and consideration as we seek to develop a revived Labour Party with integrity and not spin.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very good biography elevated by unique angle.

An excellent book. The quality of the historical accounts and the insight into Attlee's character and works are very good indeed (though on their own would not likely be worthy of the five stars). What elevates the book is the angle that Bew finds: of exploring Attlee through his reading material at the point in time, and the contextual clues as to what he thought of it. This gives unique insight into the development of his ideas and gets inside the mind of an intensely private and reserved person (and it also works very well as a framing device within chapters). Davis's narration is highly competent and mostly engaging (though his stock voice for American characters leaves a little to be desired...) A hefty tome but - in my opinion - well worth your time.

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First class biography illuminating recent history

I found this a most interesting and informative book combining an excellent biography of an important politician of the 20th century with the political and social history he helped shape.

It is obvious from this biography that Clement Attlee's achievements in life have and continue to be underestimated. I had little idea how courageous he was both on the battle fields of WW1 and in fighting for a better life for those struggling with poverty and ill-health. He was a pioneer in promoting socialism long before it had any real power and I now learn that without his steady leadership it might have remained in the wilderness for much longer than it did as he moderated extremism.

I was amazed to learn that he had switched from being a Tory in his youth to being a radical socialist. I now realize how important is was the he was also a pragmatist who could work well with Churchill during the war. One is reminded that it was his post-war government setup the NHS and improved social welfare: things that were resisted at the time by some but are now valued and supported by all political parties.

It's surprising that he remained leader of his party for 20 years despite repeated plots to oust him and endured much criticism of his leadership style: but with hindsight his unconfrontational style was his strength that enabled him to moderate the different wings of his party who could have split the party. It's salutary to be reminded that politics doesn't change as in the present day bitter conflicts rage between the left and right wings within both of the main parties in the UK, while meanwhile the country heads for disaster.

The narrator is very good