General readers in search of a reliable and readable single-volume biography of Edmund Burke have had few options in recent decades. Although some significant new material (including especially Burke’s complete personal correspondence) has become available since the middle of the 20th century, no authoritative biography has made his story widely accessible. This is odd, given Burke’s importance to Anglo-American political thought, and especially to English and American conservatives who tend to be fertile in producing books about their heroes.
But precisely Burke’s importance and relevance may have stood in the way of a definitive short biography. Writers telling his story have tended to use it to make points of their own — from Russell Kirk’s effort to make Burke the Christian moralist he needed right through Conor Cruise O’Brien’s mission to prove that Burke, like all good things, was first and foremost Irish. This has yielded some great books, including Kirk’s and O’Brien’s, but no great, straightforward overview of Burke’s life and work. So while some superb academic biographies have appeared, most notably F. P. Lock’s two-volume masterpiece (in 1999 and 2006), there has been nothing of the sort for the non-specialist reader.