This is a political autobiography which has had some mixed reviews. Some reviewers thought that Shirley Williams hadn't dished enough dirt. She was even nice about David Owen, wrote one disappointed reviewer. But isn't that the point? An autobiography is supposed to reflect the character of its author, and Shirley Williams, is, well, just plain nice.
Shirley was the first politician I ever met. When I was 15 she came to speak at my school in Saffron Walden. She was Education Secretary at the time. When I met her for lunch a couple of months ago she feigned to be rather horrified when I said it was her that had started me on the road to Thatcherism!
Perhaps the most unexpectedly interesting part of this book was about Shirley's childhood. With a mother called Vera Brittain and being evacuated to America for part of the war, it couldn't fail to have been eventful. She is also very open about her love life and speaks movingly of her relationship with her husband Dick Neustadt, an American political academic who died in 2003.
Dick was a regular customer at Politico's and loved to chew the political fat with me over the counter. He was a lovely man and they were both clearly very happy together.
I remember taking part in one of the Dinner with Portillo programmes, where the subject was Margaret Thatcher. I remember being quite intimidated by the establishment status of most of the other guests. Shirley was brilliant and sought to draw me into the conversation at every opportunity. But we all deferred to her. She was the star turn and she knew it.
In some ways I think it is true to say that Shirley Williams never achieved her full political potential. If things had been different she could have reached the very top. As she herself says, at times she lacked self confidence and perhaps wasn't quite ruthless enough. She was also too often in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is by no means a classic political autobiography. Too often it relates events but gives little fresh insight into them - that's especially true of her account of the history of the SDP. But it is a very enjoyable book, full of anecdote, endowed with more humour than I had expected and above all it is quite an honest book. Shirley is well aware of her own weaknesses and deficiencies and is quite content to write about them.
Shirley Williams has been a real character in our politics for forty years. I feel as if I grew up with her. I may not approve of many of her political beliefs, but I recognise a massive and historically important political figure when I see one. She rightly commands huge respect.
Buy the book HERE.