Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

by Thomas E. Ricks

Hardcover, 2017

Status

Available

Collection

Publication

New York : Penguin Press, 2017.

Description

"From #1 New York Times bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks, a dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, with a focus on the pivotal years from the mid-1930s through the 1940s, when their farsighted vision and inspired action in the face of the threat of fascism and communism helped preserve democracy for the world. Both George Orwell and Winston Churchill came close to death in the mid-1930's--Orwell shot in the neck in a trench line in the Spanish Civil War, and Churchill struck by a car in New York City. If they'd died then, history would scarcely remember them. At the time, Churchill was a politician on the outs, his loyalty to his class and party suspect. Orwell was a mildly successful novelist, to put it generously. No one would have predicted that by the end of the 20th century they would be considered two of the most important people in British history for having the vision and courage to campaign tirelessly, in words and in deeds, against the totalitarian threat from both the left and the right. Together, to an extent not sufficiently appreciated, they kept the West's compass set toward freedom as its due north. It's not easy to recall now how lonely a position both men once occupied. By the late 1930's, democracy was discredited in many circles, and authoritarian rulers were everywhere in the ascent. There were some who decried the scourge of communism, but saw in Hitler and Mussolini 'men we could do business with,' if not in fact saviors. And there were others who saw the Nazi and fascist threat as malign, but tended to view communism as the path to salvation. Churchill and Orwell, on the other hand, had the foresight to see clearly that the issue was human freedom--that whatever its coloration, a government that denied its people basic freedoms was a totalitarian menace and had to be resisted. In the end, Churchill and Orwell proved their age's necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940'sto triumph over freedom's enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell's reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its 50-year course, and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks's masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction, and to the courage it can take to stay true to it, through thick and thin"--… (more)

Media reviews

According to Ricks, both Winston Churchill and George Orwell lived through World War II and had a shared outlook on the war. "At a time not unlike today — when people were wondering whether democracy was sustainable, when a lot of people thought you needed authoritarian rule, either from the right or the left — Orwell and Churchill, from their very different perspectives, come together on a key point: We don't have to have authoritarian government."
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both men’s “dominant priority, a commitment to human freedom, gave them common cause”. They didn’t need any personal interaction to be kindred spirits in the struggles against Hitler’s Nazism and Stalin’s Marxism-Leninism. “They responded with the same tools — their intellects, their confidence in their own judgements even when those judgements were rebuked by most of their contemporaries, and their extraordinary skill with words. And both steered by the core principles of liberal democracy: freedom of thought, speech, and association.”
Churchill and Orwell never met, Ricks writes separate biographies and then works hard to deliver a common theme. He succeeds because these two men made cases for individual freedom better than anyone in their century.
Only after war broke out in 1939 did Churchill and Orwell find common cause, seeing the conflict in similar terms even if they did not work together. For Churchill, this was a war “to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.” For Orwell, “If this war is about anything at all, it is a war in favor of freedom of thought.”
These two were pillars of the 20th century struggle against “the twin totalitarian threats of fascism and communism,” Ricks argues. “Churchill’s flamboyant extroversion, his skills with speech, and the urgency of a desperate wartime defense led him to a communal triumph that did much to shape our world today. Orwell’s increasingly phlegmatic and introverted personality, combined with a fierce idealism and a devotion to accuracy in writing, brought him as a writer to fight to protect a private place in that modern world.” Both men shared this unshakable belief: that their audience deserved the truth

User reviews

LibraryThing member VivienneR
A combined biography of Churchill and Orwell that is well worth reading. Like the author, both men were war correspondents: both left a lasting impact. I always thought it was a shame that Churchill was re-elected in 1951, although he craved the job, he was too old to have the same influence. Ricks agrees. Just as it was a pity that Orwell didn't live long enough to appreciate the tremendous legacy he handed down.

When the National Review, a conservative magazine, compiled a list of the most significant non-fiction books of the 20th century, Homage to Catalonia and The Collected Essays were in the top ten, Orwell being the only author to achieve the honour of having two books listed in the group. At the top of the list was Churchill's WWII memoirs. Ricks intentionally includes this significant information twice, at the beginning and again near the end.

Ricks, an American, is able to take an objective, cosmopolitan view of the two Britons, and writes with clarity and frankness - a style of which both his subjects would approve. Whether the reader is familiar with either man or not, it's an intensely interesting book and in fact difficult to put down. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
---George Orwell

This was an almost perfect read for me. It is concise and insightful and well written. It loses half a star because Ricks at times overstated his case. I loved the format which alternated chapters between these two very different men who have both left behind a legacy that is especially relevant in today's political climate. Ricks starts with a brief history of each man and then follows them into and through WWII. What is especially interesting is that Orwell kept a diary throughout his life, and so he commented on Churchill often. In fact:

"The last article George Orwell would ever complete and publish was a review of the second volume of Churchill's war memoirs, Their Finest Hour. He was appreciative of the politician, despite the vast difference in their political views:

"The political reminiscences which he has published from time to time have always been a great deal above average, in frankness as well as in literary quality. Churchill is among other things a journalist, with a real if not very discriminating feeling for literature, and he also has a restless, enquiring mind, interested in both concrete facts and in the analysis of motives, sometimes including his own motives. In general, Churchill's writings are more like those of a human being than of a public figure."

My favorite parts of the book were those that focused on Orwell, but then I have a thing for Orwell, and I have read a lot of his writing. Ricks does an excellent job of showing how Orwell'w writing grew with his life's experiences, and how Spain was a turning point for him:

"What he saw in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 would inform all his subsequent work. There is a direct line from the streets of Barcelona in 1937 to the torture chambers of 1984....Orwell, arriving home, had become the writer we know today from Animal Farm and 1984. Burma had made him an anti-imperialist, but it was his time in Spain that developed his political vision and with it the determination to criticize right and left with equal vigor. Before Spain, he had been a fairly conventional leftist, arguing that fascism and capitalism were essentially the same. Until this point, Orwell still clung to some of the views of the 1930s left. He would leave Spain resolved to oppose the abuse of power at both ends of the political spectrum."

The book is a mere 339 pages (with the last 60 of these being the notes and acknowledgements), but it packs a punch. Well worth your time if you are at all interested in the subject. Ricks has put together a unique and very interesting narrative that will pull you right into its pages.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
This an excellent joint biography of two of the most influential 20th-century figures. While certainly not exhaustive, this book provides an overview of the lives of both Winston Churchill and George Orwell, delving into each's careers as the themes of war, politics, and personal liberties are explored. This is a very timely book for those interested connecting current politics to history and I enjoyed the conclusion's connections of the book's themes to contemporary issues.… (more)
LibraryThing member MichaelHodges
Great read, great history of WW2 and details extending from mid thirties until the sixties of the twentieth century. Comparison of two great contemporary history and political writers. Comparisons of craft development and political successes related to many colonial wars and WW2 from 1939 to VE day and extending until Churchill's death in 1965. Life stories of Burma, India and Spanish Civil war and the written history generated by Churchill at the conclusion of WW2. Comparisons made to Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. 270pp of top notch word-craft from "Ricks"… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
If one has read neither Churchill nor Orwell, this book is an excellent introduction and summary of their writings. As a comparison of the two men, Ricks really doesn't have much to say other than that Churchill had a larger influence as a political leader and orator while Orwell has left a more lasting written legacy. A good read either way, but nothing new for those who have read both Churchill and Orwell.… (more)
LibraryThing member broreb
Very good biography of Churchill & Orwell, delving into their roles and perspectives on the war and post-war world. Ricks writing style is very engaging and makes what could be somewhat dry subjects very readable. Although Ricks makes a point to link the 2 subjects, and there are areas of overlap and commonalities (Orwell admired and often agreed with Churchill although they were not political allies and Churchill was a fan of 1984), the 2 never actually met and the combining of the 2 in one book may have been a bit of a stretch. That being said, it works and is not only informative but entertaining. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member GlennBell
This is an interesting book in that it combines the biographies of two famous men in one story. The author compares and shows similarities between Churchill and Orwell. I liked the book in that it provided information on both individuals that I did not know. I had less knowledge about Orwell albeit I have read some of his most famous works. It was sad to recall that Churchill did poorly after the war. It is also unfortunate that Orwell had such poor health. I recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member martinhughharvey
This book waas highly touted, I enjoy the author, but it didn't do as much for me as I hoped. Both Churchill and Orwell were almost in a minority of two warning about fascism, communism, and the Naziis in the 1930's, although Orwell barely just after his experiencxe in the Spanish Civil War in the latter part of that decade, but Churchill had been alone "in the wilderness, the object of mucg derision and exclusion, for his, mainly, anti-Maziism. We all know about Churchill's call to duty in 1940 and his redemption and Orwel''s "Animal Farm" and "1984".

Orwell barely survived WWII and Churchill lived long after asa succesful author but an unsuccesful politician.

The book is not long and very readable. I learnt little about Churchill from it; more about Orwell but really not much. The better part of the book is in its wrap-up and conclkusions
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