From Palmerston to Clinton: Books on the world’s political leaders from Yale University Press

From Lord Palmerston to Bill Clinton, Yale University Press publishes a variety of books that examine the lives of the world’s leaders, from past to present.

We recently discussed the mounting pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al Asad, following the political upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Al Asad is a fascinating figure whose life and actions are examined in Yale’s book The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar Al Asad and Modern Syria by David W. Lesch. However, Al Asad is not the only world leader featured in a book by Yale.

BILL CLINTON (USA): Many books about Bill Clinton have been published in recent years, but shockingly, no single-volume biography covers the full scope of Clinton’s life from the cradle to the present day, not even Clinton’s own account, My Life. More troubling still, books on Clinton have tended to be highly polarized, casting the former president in an overly positive or negative light. In this, the first complete oral history of Clinton’s life, historian Michael Takiff presents the first truly balanced book on one of the USA’s most controversial and fascinating presidents. Through more than 150 chronologically arranged interviews with key figures including Bob Dole, James Carville, and Tom Brokaw, among many others, A Complicated Man goes far beyond the well-worn party-line territory to capture the larger-than-life essence of Clinton the man. With the tremendous attention given to the Lewinsky scandal, it is easy to overlook the president’s humble upbringing, as well as his many achievements at home and abroad: the longest economic boom in American history, a balanced budget, successful intervention in the Balkans, and a series of landmark – if controversial – free-trade agreements. Through the candid recollections of Takiff’s many subjects, A Complicated Man leaves no area unexplored, revealing the most complete and unexpected portrait of our forty-second president published to date.

Did you know? As a child, Bill Clinton was given the nickname Bubba – a common southern nickname. In high school, he played the Saxophone as part of a jazz trio called “Three Blind Mice.”

KING HUSSEIN (JORDAN): King Hussein of Jordan ascended the throne in 1953, at the age of seventeen. He inherited a country that was riven with instability; the entire Middle East was in disarray following the 1948 war and the creation of Israel, and across the region traditional regimes were being overthrown by Arab nationalists. In this absorbing biography King Hussein of Jordan: A Political Life Nigel Ashton tells how Hussein managed not only to survive but to flourish in the half-century that followed. Clever political management enabled him to thwart the numerous threats to his life and kingdom, and his charm and diplomatic savvy made him a favourite in the West. Most strikingly, he conducted a covert dialogue with Israeli leaders for more than thirty years, culminating in the historic 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. Ashton has had unique access to Hussein’s private papers, including his secret correspondence with US, British, and Israeli leaders, and has conducted numerous interviews with members of Hussein’s circle and immediate family. The resulting book brings new depth to our understanding not only of the King himself but of the entire Middle East during the second half of the twentieth century.

Did you know? On 20 July 1951, a Palestinian extremist opened fire on the 15-year-old Hussein and his grandfather King Abdullah. Abdullah was killed, but Hussein survived the assassination attempt. The Jordanian government claims that the young prince was saved when the bullet was deflected by a medal on his uniform which had been given to him by his grandfather.

LORD PALMERSTON (UK): A grand and fascinating figure in Victorian politics, the charismatic Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) presided over a period of great political and social change. He served as foreign secretary for fifteen years and prime minister for nine, engaged in struggles with everyone from the Duke of Wellington to Lord John Russell to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, engineered the defeat of the Russians in the Crimean War, and played a major role in the development of liberalism and the Liberal Party. Palmerston: A Biography by David Brown, informed by unprecedented research in the statesman’s personal archives, gives full weight not only to Palmerston’s foreign policy achievements, but also to his domestic political activity, political thought, life as a landlord, and private life and affairs. Through the lens of the period, the book pinpoints for the first time the nature and extent of Palmerston’s contributions to the making of modern Britain.

Did you know? On 1 April 1818 Lieutenant Davies, a mentally unstable retired officer who had a grievance about his pension from the War Office shot Palmerston as he walked up the stairs of the War Office. However the bullet only grazed his back and the wound was slight. After Palmerston learned about Davies’s mental condition, he paid for his legal defence at the trial.

WINSTON CHURCHILL (UK): Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian by John Lukacs presents an alternative view of Winston Churchill, investigating the workings of his historical imagination, and his successes and failures as a statesman. In previous works John Lukacs told the story of Churchill’s titanic struggle with Adolf Hitler in the early days of World War II. In this text he turns his attention to Churchill the man and visionary statesman. Each chapter of the book provides a portrait of Churchill. Lukacs treats Churchill’s vital relationships with Stalin, Roosevelt and Eisenhower, as well as his complex, farsighted political vision concerning the coming of World War II and the Cold War. Lukacs also assesses Churchill’s abilities as a historian looking backward into the origins of the conflicts of which he was so much a part. In addition, the author examines the often contradictory ways Churchill has been perceived by critics and admirers alike. The last chapter is an evocation of the three days Lukacs spent in London attending Churchill’s funeral in 1965.

Did you know? Winston Churchill switched party allegiances twice, from Conservative to Liberal, then back to Conservative. After formally rejoining the Tory Party, he commented wryly that “anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat”.

These are just a small selection of Yale books on world leaders. Could can view the full list here

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