Books: A Swinger for All Seasons

DISRAELI by Robert Blake. 819 pages. St. Martin's. $12.50.

In Britain's political pantheon stands one statue raffishly askew, absurd finger-curls atop a drooping, oversized head, a sardonic smile on its decidedly un-English face. Benjamin Disraeli was as unlikely a Prime Minister as England ever had, as prodigal a son as the mother of parliaments ever spawned. During nearly 40 years of Tory leadership, he was hated with rare passion by his enemies, notably Liberal Leader William Gladstone, and often only barely trusted by his own lieutenants. Intrigued more by power than principle, too cynically clever by half in an age craving sober...

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