Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review: Churchill

Churchill by historian Paul Johnson is a biography of Winston Churchill that is a short, easy introduction to those wanting an overview of his life and accomplishments. It is far from an objective look, being high on praise and low on critique of the man. If you can look past the bias, it's an easy entertaining read.

I was familiar with the highlights of Churchill's time leading Britain during the second World War, but not of the rest of his career. Nor did I know much about his many accomplishments.

A few interesting bits:

  • Early in his career, Churchill seemed equal parts opportunist and bad-ass. Having only mediocre educational achievement, he sought to make a name for himself in the military. He sought out (through influence of his family) opportunities to throw himself into any fight in which the military was involved. As a result, he earned 8 medals while fighting in Cuba, India, Sudan, South Africa and then leading a battalion on the western front during WWI. By opportunist, I refer to the fact that he doubled as a correspondent through most of this time, earning money by writing columns and giving speeches about his military exploits.
  • He was a prolific writer, publishing over 15 million words in numerous books and articles. His work on the second world war won him the Nobel Prize in literature.
  • He showed some savvy as to the publishing business as well. e.g. Post WWII, he struck a deal with his successor as Prime Minister to give him exclusive access to all military documents and exclusive use of them under some set of conditions. This put him at a huge advantage over other historians, and given that  Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler were all dead, he was the only western leader left to publish his account.
A good short read, but best taken with a grain of salt, given the author's bias.

1 comment:

Andy said...

I've studied Churchill for 4 years now. While my initial fascination was for his profound ability to put words together into sentences and sentences into paragraphs of smashing intent, the more reading and analyzing of the events in his personal life, the more I'm critical of some of the actions.

Even though I'm a fan of his politics, I don't care for the over flowery slobbering of unbiased authors. Most of the works manage to rise above that.

Rent or buy:
The Gathering Storm
The Wilderness Years (multi disk)

I've recently dug into his greatest writing History of the English Peoples (the abridged one volume version). So far, the early parts are extremely interesting, especially in the context of recently brushing up on my Roman history where the Romans occupied England. (If you aren't up to speed on the brush strokes of that part of history it will read like the part of the Bible where everyone begat everyone who begat more who begat even more) So far it is a really good read IMO.

Also on my reading desk is Paul Revere's Ride, which Newt Gingrich called out in a recent speech. I'm not a fan of Newt "the man" but he's a very sharp pencil when it comes to academics and history so I'm eager to tear into this book.