Arena of Ambition:

A History of the Cambridge Union

By Stephen Parkinson

How has a student debating society at Cambridge University thrived for nearly two centuries, and commanded such attention from the outside world?

Older than fourteen colleges and the Boat Race, the Cambridge Union has been an important part of university life at Cambridge since its foundation in 1815. Ex-Presidents have included John Maynard Keynes, Rab Butler, Robert Harris, Ken Clarke, and Arianna Huffington – as well as an Olympic medallist, an Oscar nominee and two winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Generations of undergraduates have flocked to its celebrated debating chamber and spoken as equals with its distinguished guests – Prime Ministers like Baldwin and Churchill, Presidents like Roosevelt and Reagan, and controversial figures like Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell.

Stephen Parkinson, an ex-President of the Union, charts the history of the Union from its nineteenth-century origins, focusing particularly on the turbulent Second World War and post-war years – during which the Union building was hit by a German bomb and commandeered by the army, future Cabinet ministers fell out over bitterly contested elections, and controversies raged about the admission of women and the place of such an apparently antiquated club in a modern university. It is the story of a student society like no other.


Arena of Ambition is published by Icon Books and available now in all good bookshops.

Order your copy direct now at the special price of £20, including free P&P in the UK. Call TBS Distribution on 01206 255800 quoting ‘Union / Arena’ and pay with any major credit card. (Please call TBS on the same number to ask about overseas shipping prices. Other queries to

Alternatively, buy the book from these online retailers: