Richard Reeves
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John Stuart Mill

Victorian Firebrand

Reviews and News

“Reeves does an excellent job…Portrays Mill as a firebrand for our times as well as his own…takes us through Mill’s fraught and anxious youth with a light touch…It is good to be reminded of the passion behind that formidable intellect.”
Alan Ryan, New York Review of Books, 8th December 2011

“Mill's specific political views do not map neatly onto today's categories of left and right…What united all these opinions, as Mr. Reeves skillfully shows, was a constant dedication to liberty as he understood it: "the consciousness of working out [our] own destiny under [our] own moral responsibility." Adam Kirsch, New York Sun, 9 July 2008. Whole review is here.

“Mill is worth revisiting because his life and his thought shed light on the way we produce and circulate ideas in the United States — and, for that matter, in Britain as well…give me John Stuart Mill any day, and give me a biography as fascinating to read as the one written by Richard Reeves.”
Alan Wolfe, The Chronicle of Higher Education 9 May 2008. For the whole review click here.

“It is a brave biographer who tackles a subject as complex and controversial as J S Mill. Richard Reeves has succeeded in doing this with enviable style. I blush to say it so bluntly, but this is the best book I have read for a long time…Reeves is a good reader of Mill…He is no starry-eyed Millite, as modern liberals can be; he does not let his subject off the hook easily or present him as someone who can give us easy answers.” Ben Wilson, Literary Review, December 2007/January 2008.

“[A] gripping and authoritative biography… Liberty, individuality and imagination were the essence of his thought, and now that Mill's liberalism seems to have finally run its course, Reeves spells out its implications with exemplary lucidity, thoroughness and brio.” For the whole review click here.
Hilary Spurling, 23 December 2007, The Observer.

"This biography dispassionately presents the richness and contradictoriness of Mill’s theories, and skilfully shows the way in which his integrity forced him to modify them in the light of his experience...[Mill] tried to reconcile Romanticism with the Enlightenment, socialism with liberalism, fairness with elitism. Impossible projects, but, in a lucid, balanced, understated way, Reeves shows us how brilliantly they fail.” For the whole review click here.
Jane O’Grady, Sunday Times, 9 December 2007

“Reeves brings [Mill] vividly to life. Mill, he shows, could hardly have been further removed from the desiccated, calculating machine of anti-Mill legend. His long love affair with Harriet Taylor - the wife of a prosperous pharmacist of radical inclinations - set tongues wagging all over literary and intellectual London. Reeves's picture of their relationship, and particularly of their belated marriage after John Taylor's death, is beautifully done. So is his picture of the disputatious, slightly gauche and indomitably radical young Mill. Best of all is his treatment of the no longer gauche, but equally disputatious and, if possible, even more radical older Mill…” For the whole review click here.
David Marquand, New Statesman, 6 December 2007:

“Mill’s own influence was on the wane for much of the 20th century when Marx became the centre of attention. But it has been rekindled in the past few decades as faith in collectivist nostrums has evaporated and there have been numerous academic studies of different aspects of his work. The time is therefore ripe for a full-scale modern biography which provides reliable pointers to the main doctrinal issues, but concentrates on the man and his career. This is amply provided by Richard Reeves in his well, but unobtrusively, documented new book.” For the whole review click here
Samuel Brittan, The Spectator, 1 Decemeber 2007

Mill was a man whose thinking was “intensely autobiographical” and Reeves’s biography flows from this idea: that Mill’s thought and life should be “treated as one”…One of the real achievements of Reeves’s book is to pay proper attention to Mill’s considerable work as a journalist…Readers will come away from John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand with a deep appreciation for Mill’s “life’s work” on behalf of liberal democracy, but they may still yearn for more of the man.”
Maria Frawley, 21 March 2008, Times Literary Supplement.

"Richard Reeves…has something close to a virgin field. This is also, it appears, his first book (his other published work is journalism), so it is intriguing to know if his scholarship matches his pluck. On the whole it does. He is interested in scotching the myth of Mill as dry-as-dust, humourless, logic-chopping machine, and keen to show him a flesh and blood man, passionate about his principles to the point of recklessness (and about his wife to the point of derangement).” Click here to read the review
Jad Adams, The Guardian, 1 December 1, 2007

“Reeves tells his stories well, and if he is right we should be looking to Mill for inspiration and enlightenment in our perplexing political times…a timely and readable biography…”
Click here for the review
Jonathan Rée, Prospect, December 2007

“Richard Reeves has assembled an impressive array of material and marshalled it with great style…the pace never slackens, the writing is slick and lucid and there are even some funny stories (Mill is funnier than you might think -which, admittedly, isn't saying much)…It seems harsh, after such evident labour, to say that Reeves has more work to do. But he does. If Mill is the best philosopher we've got and liberalism our most potent moral and political philosophy, we need to know what that will mean for us, now.” For the whole review click here.
Phil Collins, The Telegraph, 17 January 2008
“Richard Reeves, in this substantial biography, aims to show that Mill was in truth a "passionate man of action… Verging at times on hagiography (Mill's life was "the finest example of thought in action of the last two centuries"), this fluently written biography presents a well-researched picture of Mill's achievements. Mill may or may not have been a passionate "firebrand", but he remains one of Britain's most influential intellectuals." For the whole review click here.
John Cottingham, The Tablet, 31 January 2008

“A truly handsome biography…Unlike so many of those who undertake biography, Reeves is a good storyteller. An engrossing book…Reeves’s book is not hagiography. It is what biography should be…It should be required reading for all those who advocate educational reform geared to economic imperatives.”
Robert Giddings, Tribune, 22 February 2008

“Richard Reeves’s book provides a comprehensive and detailed account of the evolution of John Stuart Mill’s thinking…It was his writing, particularly on economics and liberty, which provided much of the framework of ideas which enabled Britain to emerge with the liberal democratic institutions and practices which have become a model for much of the rest of the world. Richard Reeves’s biography describes in carefully chosen detail how JS Mill managed to accomplish so much.” For the whole review click here. John Mills, Camden New Journal, 17 January 2008.

“Mill's work, especially On Liberty and The Subjection of Women - seems more resonant and provocative than ever these days…Richard Reeves is a first time biographer and a first-rate writer.” Click here for the whole piece (“Books to read now”).
Susannah Herbert, Sunday Times Literary Editor, 7 December 2007

“A fine new biography…a brave and very successful attempt to fit together the biographical details of Mill’s life – his extraordinary childhood and education, his enduring love for Harriet - with the aspects of his philosophical writing which might have relevance today.”
Laurie Taylor, BBC R4, Thinking Allowed, 21 November 2007

“Richard Reeves and his publisher are to be congratulated on a first-rate piece of work. This is a book for the general reader and not just the philosophically inclined. History buffs will love it. Eminently readable, handsomely illustrated and well-annotated, I cannot think of a better antidote to the awful dreck of Christmas television.” George Rosie, For the full review click here.
Sunday Herald, 26 December 2007.

“Reeves has written a fine portrait of the man and given a clear and concise summary of his views without losing the philosopher's neat turn of phrase…The book is more than just a biography. It is a timely reminder of the need for greater debate on the political systems we have in place in the UK, and beyond, in the 21st century…It is hoped those who might not have normally dipped into a book about Mill will think twice and give Reeves' fresh and insightful biography a try.”For the whole review click here.
John Sykes, Nottingham Evening Post, 16 December 2007.

“Reeves charts Mill's intellectual journey towards his great philosophical works, Principles of Political Economy and On Liberty; but of more interest, perhaps, is Mill's irregular private life, which the author deals with using commendable thoroughness and tact…The book under review would have been better had Reeves chosen to engage more aggressively with Mill's critics… As it is, it comes over as a paean of praise without quite ever providing the evidence of why the praise is due.” For the whole review click here.
Simon Heffer, Sunday Telegraph, 16 December 2007

‘Alongside detailed and insightful analyses of his works, we get numerous painstakingly collated and fascinating glimpses of the world of 19th-century activism and of Mill’s singular private life…Reeves’ great achievement is to show us not only the man and his work, but also to reveal the ways in which the one inevitably shaped the other.” For the whole review click here.
Andrew Saunders, Management Today, December 2007

“Mill's work, especially On Liberty and The Subjection of Women - seems more resonant and provocative than ever these days…Richard Reeves is a first time biographer and a first-rate writer.” Click here for the whole piece (“Books to read now”).
Susannah Herbert, Sunday Times Literary Editor, 7 December 2007

“This is a stunning achievement: a biography of a man famous for his austerity and high-minded detachment for the grubby business of life that is absolutely compelling…Reeves successfully combines the story of Mill's extraordinary public life with that of his private life…I may not be a guru, but a book that makes me re-evaluate such a famous figure, his philosophy and finally my own view of the world, has certainly made me happy. Do your brain a favour and buy this book for Christmas.” You can read the whole review here.
Ian Cawood, Birmingham Post, 1 December 2007

"Richard Reeves's sparkling new biography can be read as an attempt to do justice to this eminent thinker, and it succeeds triumphantly.  Practically every aspect of Mill's life and thought is freshly presented, from his unhappy early education at the hands of his father, who had sealed up emotion in himself and tried to do so in his children, to the relationship with Harriet that freed Mill emotionally and enabled him to produce On Liberty -- his most impassioned book.”
John Gray, The Independent, 23 November 2007

"Over 600 pages long, the book never flags.  The author writes lucidly and confidently about the politics of the time.  He also has a deep and profound understanding of the philosophical issues, explained coherently for the lay reader... This is a triumphant volume about one of the major architects of modern Britain. Reeves gives us Mill’s mind; more importantly, he rewards us with Mill the man." For the whole review click here:
Lorne Jackson, Birmingham Sunday Mercury, 18 November 2007

"Reeves's examination of Mill's thought is meticulously explored in parallel with his life. This is a masterpiece of the biographical approach to philosophy -- and far easier to read than the great man's own writing…Reeves's account of his strange childhood is tremendously moving…we are better off for this book.  Though it is a tragedy that a man whose life was dedicated to the pursuit of truth and liberty for all should spend his own in periodic misery, we are fortunate in at last having a biography that does justice to this sacrifice." To see the whole review click here
Milo Andreas Wagner, Catholic Herald, 2 November 2007

‘Mill was the great English progressive whose lifelong exposition of the case for liberty and equality has proved one of the building blocks of liberalism. This lucid biography intermingling his life and an account of his ideas could not have come at a more timely moment - when both socialism and liberalism have lost their way. Any reconstruction of British liberalism will surely need to incorporate Mill's ideas. This book represents their best contemporary compass.’ Will Hutton

‘A biography like this was long overdue. Combining a critical reading with a sympathetic touch, bringing out beyond any doubt the hot-blooded, passionate Mill, and written in a style that makes it unputdownable, this book should be read by anybody with any pretensions to being cultivated – to say nothing of those who are interested in Politics!’ Dr Georgios Varouxakis, Queen Mary College, University of London

Mill has recently been voted ‘Britain’s Greatest Liberal’:

John Stuart Mill chosen as greatest British Liberal

The Liberal Democrat History Group's search for the greatest British Liberal in history has ended, with Liberal Democrats voting for the philosopher John Stuart Mill. Click here for more details.

Click here to listen to Professor Alan Ryan speak for Mill in Radio 4’s In Our Time

For my notes from the debate click here (20.12kb)

Click here for Anne Perkin’s report of the vote and debate on Guardian Unlimited

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