"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 Roberts gained exclusive access to extensive new material: transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs from Churchill's contemporaries.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.
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!
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."
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.