Churchill : walking with destiny

by Andrew Roberts

Hardcover, 2018




[New York] : Viking, [2018]


"When we seek an example of great leaders with unalloyed courage, the person who comes to mind is Winston Churchill: the iconic, visionary war leader immune from the consensus of the day, who stood firmly for his beliefs when everyone doubted him. But how did young Winston become Churchill? What gave him the strength to take on the superior force of Nazi Germany when bombs rained on London and so many others had caved? In Churchill, Andrew Roberts gives readers the full and definitive Winston Churchill, from birth to lasting legacy, as personally revealing as it is compulsively readable. Roberts gained exclusive access to extensive new material: transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs from Churchill's contemporaries. The Royal Family permitted Roberts--in a first for a Churchill biographer--to read the detailed notes taken by King George VI in his diary after his weekly meetings with Churchill during World War II. This treasure trove of access allows Roberts to understand the man in revelatory new ways, and to identify the hidden forces fueling Churchill's legendary drive. We think of Churchill as a hero who saved civilization from the evils of Nazism and warned of the grave crimes of Soviet communism, but Roberts's masterwork reveals that he has as much to teach us about the challenges leaders face today--and the fundamental values of courage, tenacity, leadership and moral conviction."--Dust jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kaulsu
“In a survey of 3000 British teenagers in 2008, no fewer than 20% of them thought Winston Churchill to be a fictional character. In the same survey, 58% thought Sherlock Holmes, and 47% thought Eleanor Rigby, were real people.” This is a verbatim quote from the conclusion of the book…yet I cannot quite condemn the students! I thought Sherlock Holmes was a real sleuth until I was 20 or 21.

This biography, which I listened to rather than read, took over 50 hours! Did I really need to know the strategy behind each and every skirmish? I would say no, and I am sure had I read, instead of listened to, this book, I would have skimmed over much of it. But by having listened, I gained a much broader picture of Churchill, the operations of that mysterious body named “The House of Commons,” and learned an inordinate amount of British pronunciation. Don Juwan, indeed!

Besides Churchill himself, I gained a broader understanding of British history, and somewhat a continental view of the history of the United States—at least of the WWII era. Churchill was a man born in the 19th century who made a good transition to the 20th, but not a complete one. He was a believer in the Monarchy, Empire, British Raj (in India and in other colonies), and Zionism. Although I am glad to be finished with it, I am more than glad I read it!
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LibraryThing member breic
Magnificent. So far this year, I've only read Isaacson's "Einstein" and Chernow's "Grant." Roberts is two steps ahead of either of these historians. For example, he does an excellent job at integrating sources on one event but written at different times, and explaining the differences. Isaacson simply takes every source at face value. Like many popular biographers, Chernow seems to aim at defending Grant at best, but as often just sweeping under the rug any controversies. Roberts takes them on and addresses them, still largely defending Churchill but giving you the information that you can make up your own mind.

I learned lots of history, and much about Churchill's character. (I am basically ignorant of British politics, and certainly missed some details.) Roberts has an excellent eye for details, and adds in just enough anecdotes. My copy is full of highlights.

"Just before reaching the Virginia coast, Churchill told Captain Cecil Harcourt that he would like to see the Duke of York sail at full speed, scornful of the objection that the water was shallow and it would send up an immense wash. At 28 knots, a massive stern wave was created which, because someone had left the scuttles open, flooded several rooms between decks, including the Admiral’s cabin that Churchill used, and he had to shave with his trousers rolled above his knees, ‘humming a little tune to himself’, Vivian Cox recalled. ‘He knew he had really been rather naughty.’"

"'I offered him an ash-tray for his cigar but he pointedly ignored it, his eyes boring into mine,' Karsh recalled. 'At the camera, I made sure everything was in focus, closed the lens and stood up, my hand ready to close the shutter release, when something made me hesitate.' Karsh then said, 'Forgive me, sir,' an without permission removed the cigar from Churchill's mouth. 'His jaw tightened in belligerence; his eyes blazed. I clicked the shutter.' The result was the greatest of all the thousands of images of Churchill, capturing his resolution, defiance and solidity, and, as Karsh noted, also his capacity for belligerence."
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LibraryThing member jmcilree
I lasted to page 170 before giving up. Far too often the author moves from topic to topic like a bee, barely alighting, before moving on again. The last few pages I read touched on 10 different topics in 14 paragraphs. It’s as if he collected index cards of Churhill’s life and put them altogether, calling it a book. (2019-09-30)… (more)
LibraryThing member drmaf
Impressive one volume addition to the voluminous Churchill biography collection. I can only compare it with the one previous single volume biog I have read, Roy Jenkins' Churchill, which I enjoyed massively and have re-read many times. Roberts is less self-consciously literary than Jenkins, the sweeping phrases Jenkins enjoys are replaced by terse fact sweetened just a touch with proper attention to Churchill's foibles and his puckish humour. It is less hagiographical, Roberts does not hold back on Churchill's many faults, his racism, his chauvinism, his blundering insensitivity, his crash through or crash militarism, any more then he holds back on Churchill's equally numerous virtues, his energy, wit, determination, immense intelligence, his unbelievable appetite for hard work his continuing loyalty to the father who he could never please. Roberts is also determined to make this book about Churchill alone as much as possible, while Clementine and his children are given their due, the crowd of eccentric relatives whom Jenkins devotes much attention make only cameo appearances. However the most impressive thing about the book is its ability to sweep through Churchill's massively busy 90 years at an even pace without missing a thing in less than 1000 pages. A most worthy entry in a very crowded field. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member maneekuhi
In the very final sentences of his 982 page bio, “Churchill: Walking With Destiny”, author Andrew Roberts writes: “His hero John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, won great battles and built Blenheim Palace. His other hero, Napoleon, won even more battles and built an empire. Winston Churchill did better than either of them: the battles he won saved Liberty.” Winston Spencer Churchill (born November 30, 1874 and died January 24, 1965) is one of my heroes; I admire him greatly. Roberts leads off the book’s final chapter with a quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have known finer and greater characters, wiser philosophers, more understanding personalities, but no greater man.”

Churchill accomplished much in his 90 years. Most of us are aware of his two terms as Prime Minister, but perhaps some are not aware that during his lifetime he published over 6 million words in 37 books, more than Shakespeare and Dickens combined, and that he won a Nobel for his writing. He was an accomplished painter. Churchill has the longest span of service on an MP from the 20th century on, well over 60 years. Some of the best pages of Andrews book are the last twenty-two, detailing Churchill’s magnificent funeral, and summarizing highlights from his long life and career.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the first half of the book, which takes us from birth to the late 1930’s. I found it a bit tedious. I could get through no more than twenty pages a day, and sometimes that was a task. There was an awful lot of detail I didn’t particularly care for and the book’s format was a bit daunting. The type is a bit small, and there are well over 500 words crammed into most pages. The prose is good but there are many references to the election and parliamentarian systems that made no sense to me and were not explained; it seemed that the book was written for a Brit audience, not a global one.

However, the second half was particularly good. Lots of tension, bits from Churchill’s amazing speeches, so many lows and highs, Churchill’s prescience of Hitler and his strategies, amusing anecdotes, his days in the US and his relationships with FDR and DDE, new discoveries – many WSC attributes but flaws as well. Roberts made Churchill come alive for me in those pages. Yet, it wasn’t all Churchill all the time either. The stunning news of Pearl Harbor, D-Day. There were so many other interesting characters as well that we got to meet through Churchill’s eyes, e.g., Stalin. And there were some lessons of history. The European country which lost the greatest percentage of its population? Poland 17.2 % The fascinating second half of “Churchill” has some of the best bio writing I have ever read.

4 ½ stars. Recommended.
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