Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

by Thomas E. Ricks

Hardcover, 2017

Status

Available

Collection

Publication

New York : Penguin Press, 2017.

Description

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"--

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 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 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 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 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 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)

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