When Michael Foot's last book of essays, Debts of Honour, was published, it was compared with Strachey's Eminent Victorians and Churchill's Great Contemporaries. Foot himself was set beside Arnold Bennett and J.B.
Priestley as a great and incisive essayist, even proposed as 'the Hazlitt of our times'. His new book demonstrates that his pen has retained its power to delight and extended its capacity to criticise to new themes and new personalities. In this book he brings together a series of biographical verdicts on contemporary figures whom he has known: Jennie Lee, Barbara Castle, David Owen, Enoch Powell, Speaker Thomas and Frank Cousins among them. He gives his individual view — from the time when he was one of the most dazzling young fleet Street journalists — of four Prime Ministers: Lloyd George, Churchill, MacDonald and Baldwin, and paints portraits of several of the leading commentators and publicists of those and later days: James Cameron, George Orwell and Arthur Koestler. He adds to this a record of honoured an unexpected practitioners of the political art from the past who he believes still exert their influence today. But people are inseparable from causes. Michael Foot talks here of party too, because he believes that the fierce exchanges of party politics are essential to our freedom; and of party politicians, because they sustain causes when cowards retreat and traitors turn their backs. Not all his loyalists are heroes, nor all his loners victims. Yet each receives Michael Foot's candour, warming or withering, because he believes that party politicians and working journalists should write what they believe about each other without fear or sycophancy. The result is the revival of the essay as a political weapon or humanist appreciation. And as the combination of the two was seen by some to produce, in ebts of Honour, Foot's intellectual autobiography, so this book may be viewed as a piecemeal biography of his own times.