Baden-Powell (book)

Baden-Powell is a 1989 biography of Robert Baden-Powell by Tim Jeal. Tim Jeal's work, researched over five years, was first published by Hutchinson in the UK and Yale University Press . It was reviewed by The New York Times.[1] As James Casada writes in his review for Library Journal, it is "a balanced, definitive assessment which so far transcends previous treatments as to make them almost meaningless."[2]

Timjeal bpbook cover.jpg
Cover of the Yale edition
AuthorTim Jeal
PublisherHutchinson (first edition)
Publication date
Media typePrint
ISBN0-09-170670-X (Hutchinson edition)
369.43/092 B 20
LC ClassDA68.32.B2 J43 1989

Although Jeal's Baden-Powell "transcends previous treatments" and is exceptionally well referenced, as a "balanced, definitive assessment" it has come under criticism from academics who had earlier charged Baden-Powell with militarism. Several of their books and articles on Baden-Powell had become critical and negative since the 1960s, culminating in Michael Rosenthal's The Character Factory (1986), which added to the charge of militarism one of antisemitism. Jeal rebutted these in his chapters 'Character Factory or Helping Hand' (409-415) and 'Baden-Powell and the Dictators' (543-553). The leading scholar and critic, Ian Buruma (international Erasmus Prize Winner 2008), assessed the relative merits of Jeal's and Rosenthal's arguments in the New York Review of Books; and on the charges that the Boy Scouts had been primarily militaristic in inspiration, and Baden-Powell antisemitic in the 1930s, came down on the side of Jeal's vindications both in his original article 'Boy's Will be Boys' and in his response to Rosenthal's reply.[3] Allen Warren, a historian, and former provost of Vanbrugh College, York University, also supported Jeal's arguments in both fields in a four-page review.[4] Paul Fussell in reviewing Jeal's book in the Times Literary Supplement wrote stressing the civic rather than the military motivation behind Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts and opining that Jeal had done 'full justice to Baden-Powell's complexity and contradictions, his military delight and his pacifism, his fondness for groups and his stress on the individual...[and his dictum that] 'the real way to get happiness is giving out happiness to other people.' [5]

Although Jeal's earlier biography of David Livingstone had been highly critical, establishing that he had only made a single convert and had failed in many important geographical objectives, Jeal defended Baden-Powell not just against accusations of racism, militarism, but of having starved the Africans at Mafeking and stolen the basic idea for the Boy Scouts. Jeal relied on material from the archives of established Scout organizations and from Baden-Powell's own writings, diaries and private correspondence.

He also interviewed Baden-Powell's daughters and traced along with Scouting colleagues, his last serving private secretary and many members of his domestic staff still alive in the 1980s. His use of the letters written to Olave Baden-Powell by her favourite niece, Christian Davidson, (who lived with the Baden-Powells after her mother's death) enabled him to write in detail about Baden-Powell's relationship with his wife and with his three children. Jeal gives the only detailed account of Baden-Powell's marriage [6] and his tragic relationship with his only son Peter [7] and his disagreements with his daughters about their marriages.[8]

Particular attention in reviews has been given to Jeal's analysis of whether Baden-Powell was homosexual. Nelson Block states: "While the professional history community generally considers Jeal's conclusions on this topic to be speculative, the mainstream press seems to have taken them as fact". He then notes that there has been no published scholarly critique of Jeal.[9] But Jeal devoted the whole of Chapter Three "Men's Man" to the subject of his sexuality and quotes from Baden-Powell's own account of his dreams and also considered many other intimate papers before reaching his conclusion that Baden-Powell had been a repressed rather than an active homosexual.


The book comprises 18 introductory pages, and 670 editorial pages. It has 19 chapters, covering Baden-Powell's life from birth and home, to his Indian and African periods, the work he did on Scouting for boys, and his marriage. The text is encyclopedically referenced with over 1000 notes.



  1. ^ Steiner, Zara (1 April 1990). "There Is a Brotherhood of Boys". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Casada, James A. (1 March 1990). "The Boy-Man: The Life of Lord Baden-Powell (review)". Library Journal. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ New York Review of Books 'Boys will be Boys' Ian Buruma 15 March 1990. Michael Rosethal's reply: 'A Bad Scout?' and Buruma's response to this (same newspaper) both 28 June 1990
  4. ^ Scouting Magazine December 1989
  5. ^ Paul Fussell 'A radical road to happiness' Times Literary Supplement 13 October 1989
  6. ^ Jeal, Tim (1989). Baden-Powell. pp. 428–442, 457–468.
  7. ^ Jeal, Tim (1989). Baden-Powell. pp. 518–532.
  8. ^ Jeal, Tim (1989). Baden-Powell. pp. 523–540.
  9. ^ Block, Nelson R.; Proctor, Tammy M., eds. (2009). Scouting Frontiers: Youth and the Scout Movement’s First Century. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 1-4438-0450-9. However, in the almost twenty years since he presented his case, not a single published scholarly critique of his argument has been presented, though it begs for one.