A Hero for Our Times?

Lord Louis Mountbatten died in 1979, a victim of IRA assassins. Since then, no fewer than three biographies on the man have appeared (if one includes The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, the book on Mountbatten's self-orchestrated television documentary, shown in this country as Mountbatten: A Man for the Century). The latest, by Philip Ziegler, is easily the most ambitious. Making use of Mountbatten's personal archives at Broadlands, Ziegler has produced a lengthy volume on his subject; and, he tells us, he could have written a book of "two, three, or even four volumes." We can be glad he did not. The book suffers from Ziegler's inability to sum up events succinctly, not to mention understand them. After 700 pages, the reader is apt to feel about Mountbatten as Dr. Johnson did about Paradise Lost: he would not wish it longer. Still, Ziegler is minutely informative, if not brilliant, which is about as much as one can expect from an official biographer.

As for Mountbatten himself (or "Dickie," as he preferred), he was colorful. Born His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg, great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and nephew to the Tsar, Mountbatten could hardly avoid fame. By temperament he did not want to. Following in the footsteps of his father and brother, he pursued a career in the Royal Navy, a glamorous calling in itself As a cadet, and later as a junior...

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