James Grant...writes with a sympathy and grasp of detail that suggests a [deep] familiarity. Bagehot was a financial journalist with a love of English literature and a facility for clear and cogent prose. So is Mr. Grant ... But this is no hagiography. Mr. Grant is sometimes impatient with his subject. He has had his fill, he writes with remarkable frankness at the book’s outset ... But the author’s occasional impatience with his subject makes the book more readable, not less ... What Mr. Grant has produced isn’t so much a conventional 'life'...as a study of the political and economic ideas Bagehot spent the bulk of his energies thinking and writing about ... Bagehot is a terrific and efficient survey of the political and economic disputations of mid-Victorian England and a fine narrative of the life of the era’s most brilliant essayist. It is also, I think, a book meant for journalists: those wretched scribblers who string words together for a living in the vain hope that somebody may read them a year from now.
While a full appreciation of Bagehot has been hobbled by his polymathic attainments, he has nevertheless been fortunate in his devotees ... James Grant follows this pattern, burnishing his subject’s reputation but offering a somewhat limited appraisal of Bagehot’s achievements ... The characterization that the highbrow Labour Party politician Richard Crossman (another Bagehot devotee) bestowed on Bagehot’s writing — a 'mixture of rollicking cynicism and cool analysis' — applies to Grant’s own brilliantly contrarian criticism ... This biography, though, takes wing only when it treats Bagehot’s role as a banker and financial journalist. That these are the very aspects of Bagehot’s work that have been relatively neglected by most scholars, who have tended to concentrate on his literary, political and sociological oeuvre, might be reason enough to commend Grant’s excellent if uneven biography.
No rapt idolater of his subject, Grant never shies away from pointing out Bagehot’s personal failings, such as priggishness and a supercilious condescension toward the uneducated ... Throughout his book, Grant quotes abundantly from Bagehot’s economic thought but slightly shortchanges the essays and biographical sketches. These 'estimations' are a delight ... One detects a certain ambivalence ... In a superb, deliberately contrarian piece about Edward Gibbon, Bagehot neatly mocks English prejudice when he describes the future historian’s temporary conversion to Catholicism.