1st Edition

Neville Chamberlain A Biography

By Robert Self Copyright 2006

    History has not looked kindly upon Neville Chamberlain. Despite a long and distinguished political career, his trip to Munich in 1938 and the 'appeasement' of Hitler have forever overshadowed his many other achievements and blighted his reputation, his name now synonymous with the futility of trying to reason with dictators and bullies. Yet, as this biography shows, there is much more to this complex and intriguing character than is generally supposed, and even the infamous events of 1938 are open to more charitable interpretations than is usually the case. Appeasement brought the British government crucial time in which to rearm, and in particular allowed the RAF to drastically increase the number of fighter aircraft it could muster for the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940. Based on the study of over 150 collections of private papers on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as exhaustive exploration of British government records held in the National Archives, it is no exaggeration to say that the author has surveyed virtually all the existing archival material written by or to Chamberlain, as well as a high proportion of that referring to him. As such, this volume will no doubt establish itself as the definitive account of Chamberlain's life and career, and provide a much fuller and fairer picture of his actions than has hitherto been the case.

    Contents: Preface; The Chamberlain enigma; Formative influences: from Highbury to Andros; Birmingham and National Service, 1911-August 1917; The frustrated backbencher, August 1917-October 1922; A rising star, October 1922-October 1924; The Ministry of Health, November 1924-May 1929; Opposition and the financial crisis, June 1929-October 1931; The Treasury, tariffs, and economic diplomacy, 1931-34; Depression and recovery, 1931-35; Unemployment, special areas and Lloyd George's 'New Deal', 1932-37; Foreign and defence policy, 1934-37; A new style of Prime Minister, May 1937-February 1938; The road to Munich, March-September 1938; Betrayal, October 1938-March 1939; The coming of war, March-September 1939; 'The Bore War', September 1939-January 1940; Decline and fall, February-May 1940; Epilogue, May-November 1940; Notes and references; A guide to sources; Index.


    Robert Self is a specialist in interwar British and international history with extensive experience in historical archives (both private papers and government collections) on both sides of the Atlantic. Among his most recent publications are an edited volume of The Austen Chamberlain Diary Letters to his sisters, and four volumes of The Neville Chamberlain Diary Letters - the latter also published by Ashgate.

    'This book is of major importance and will fill the last significant gap in modern British political biography. At last, there will be a life of Neville Chamberlain which is complete, authoritative and based on the most extensive research in government and private archives. Dr Self’s lucid study gives a balanced examination of Chamberlain’s personal and political life, and a crucial reassessment of this most critical and controversial of 20th century Prime Ministers.' Dr Stuart Ball, Reader in History, University of Leicester 'The author, after immersing himself in the diaries of Neville Chamberlain, has made an authoritative reassessment of a Prime Minister much derided because of his policy of appeasement of the dictators of the 1930s. Self reveals his constructive contribution to public life, in Birmingham's local government, as a social reformer and as a key supporter of Churchill against Halifax in stopping Britain's capitulation to Hitler in May 1940.' George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government, LSE '... Robert Self's study is by far the most scholarly and well-argued. It provides us with an often incisive and highly detailed account of inter-war Conservative politics with Chamberlain at its centre... Self has done his best to defend and explain Chamberlain. His impressive biography is a substantial contribution to modern political history.' The Tribune 'Self's effort to see Chamberlain as the great talent he was is both useful and necessary.' London Review of Books 'The book is well researched and very readable... Much to be recommended.' Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society ’... (a) highly detailed and engrossing account ... Neville Chamberlain has at last been blessed with the biography he deserves.' History Today ’...Chamberlain was always going to need a very good historian to be his biographer; but, in Robert Self, he has assuredly found one. It is not the least of Self's achievements that he covers all areas of Chamber