Roy Jenkins gives us an exhaustively-researched biography of Winston Churchill. It is a complete treatment which deals with Churchill's early years, family life, writing projects, and political machinations as well as his high-profile WWII and post-war leadership. Reading it (or listening to the audio book) is a significant time commitment.
I won't try to summarize Churchill's life briefly, accepting the author's implied judgment that this is not possible. Instead, I will share two impressions of him that came from reading this book. The first is that Winston is, with all due respect, a bit of a pompous ass. He was certainly courageous, brilliant, resilient, charming, and loyal. But he also insisted on his comforts, indulged in petty jealousies, exaggerated his accomplishments, and loved the sound of his own thundering voice. These qualities are manifest throughout his life--and account for some of his public successes. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed his company. I hope I would have seen the value of enduring it.
Churchill is revered as a wartime leader, responsible for thwarting Hitler's designs on Great Britain and pushing the German armies back from conquered Europe. This book highlights Churchill's political and interpersonal skills. His military background contributed to Britain's early French and Norwegian operations--which were largely unsuccessful. His greater contribution was fostering relationships among the maneuvering politicians, exiled monarchs, competing general officers, and demoralized refugees that were necessary to Allied victory. He spent much of the war meeting and organizing summits between key players. And he continued to facilitate relationships between American and Russian leaders even as their countries' increasing roles in the war edged Churchill and Great Britain to the sidelines.
The book is rich with revealing anecdotes. For example, the author describes a high-level summit in Washington, DC. The war was ending and the Allied leaders were discussing how to manage post-war Europe. Josef Stalin said, "The Germans won't be a problem. We'll just take fifty thousand of their top politicians and officers and shoot them." Aghast, Churchill made an impassioned speech about preferring to be taken outside and shot himself rather than to allow his country's honor to be stained by such an act. Churchill roared to a conclusion and there was an awkward silence. Franklin Roosevelt tried to lighten the mood with, "I propose a compromise figure of forty-nine thousand." Churchill stormed from the room. Nobody believed Stalin's subsequent claim that he had just been kidding.
One more anecdote: Late in Churchill's life, after he had retired from public view, he was working alone one day in his daughter's study, protected by a detail of British soldiers. A determined grandson worked his way through these defenses and interrupted the great man's writing. "Grandpapa," the boy demanded. "Are you really the most important man in the world?" "Yes," he responded, without hesitation. "Now bugger off!"
Hardworking, irascible, and proud to the end, Winston Churchill was also admirable and worth knowing. It is worth your while to spend time with him in this book.
- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 38 hours and 18 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
- Audible.com.au Release Date: 12 July 2002
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B00OC3TZ3O
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,951 in Audible (See Top 100 in Audible)