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The Chief

The Life of Lord Northcliffe Britain's Greatest Press Baron

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About The Book

'Superb...his pages fizz with character and colour' Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times
'Scholarly and very readable' Andrew Lycett, Spectator
'Energetic and hugely entertaining' A.N.Wilson, TLS
A definitive and compelling biography of Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe (1865-1922), the greatest press magnate in history, the genius who invented modern popular journalism, and against whom all the other great newspaper proprietors must be measured.


By the time of his tragically early death at 57 in August 1922, Northcliffe had founded the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, and had also owned The Times and the Observer. At one point he owned two-thirds of all the titles on Fleet Street. He laid down the essential features of British popular journalism that we see now.

He was a tough and uncompromising businessman, but in The Chief Andrew Roberts puts his ruthlessness and wilfulness in the overall context of a life of visionary business skill, journalistic brilliance, distinguished wartime public service and heartfelt patriotism. From a modest background, growing up on the outskirts of Dublin, by 27 he presided over a magazine empire with the largest circulation in the world. He wanted his readers to know that he was on their side, which they instinctively did. He was proud of his populist approach, saw the importance of appealing to both sexes in his pages, and allowed his editors leeway so long as they understood and followed his vision. The formula he created for the Daily Mail is still world-beating to this day. 

Based on exclusive access to the Harmsworth family archive, The Chief is a compelling and essential portrait of a man who changed the way we learn about the news, and whose influence still resonates today. 
 

About The Author

Professor Andrew Roberts, who was born in 1963, took a first class honours degree in Modern History at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, from where he is an honorary senior scholar and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). He is presently the Roger and Martha Mertz Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department at King’s College, London. He has written or edited 19 books, which have been translated into 23 languages, and appears regularly on radio and television around the world. He lives in London with his wife and two children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (August 4, 2022)
  • Length: 560 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781398508705

Raves and Reviews

Roberts does a superb job of bringing [Northcliffe's story] alive… His pages fizz with character and colour...but at their heart is Northcliffe himself: charismatic, swashbuckling, admirable and appalling. His book is littered with affairs, tantrums and tirades, all of which add considerably to its attractions… Some of the most memorable scenes come in the early 1920s, as Northcliffe succumbs to all-out megalomania.’

– Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'With an experienced historian’s use of contemporary documents, Roberts makes Northcliffe’s eventful life a panoramic account of his times... [a] restrained, scholarly and very readable book.'

– Andrew Lycett, Spectator

'Lord Northcliffe...was the daddy of all press barons...classless, dynamic and fearless. This compelling biography...leaves you exhausted by the sheer work that bred success. Northcliffe had his faults...but what an exciting man he must have been to work for.'

– Quentin Letts, The Times

'The way Roberts persuasively tells it, not only did Northcliffe establish the template for British journalism ever since, but he also did much to win the First World War. You do finish The Chief utterly open-mouthed at all that Northcliffe got done in his 57 years.

– James Walton, Daily Telegraph

‘Towards the end of The Chief, his keenly researched biography of Lord Northcliffe, the Daily Mail founder and “Britain’s greatest press baron”, the historian Andrew Roberts observes: “Great men are seldom nice men.”…there’s no question that Northcliffe was indeed an exceptional character… His last months were spent in a state of delirium that manifested as extreme megalomania.’

– Andrew Anthony, Observer

'Reading this energetic and hugely entertaining biography, you are trapped on a carousel in an insane fairground, whizzing round and round inside the head of “the Chief”. What hits you again and again is the absolute randomness of his inspired, sometimes loathsome, obsessions.'

– A.N.Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

'Lord Northcliffe - founder of the Daily Mail, inventor of tabloid journalism, the most significant media innovator of the early 20th century - ended up in Hell... This has long been the highbrow take on Northcliffe. Shovelling information and entertainment was Northcliffe’s business model. His conjuror’s trick was simple: give as many people as possible what they want. It is the megalomaniac perception of Northcliffe that Andrew Roberts seeks to rebut in a new and sympathetic biography. [Rupert Murdoch] took Northcliffe’s principles and dialled them up.'

– Nicholas Harris, UnHerd

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