By noted author and historian, William Manchester, and finished, upon his death, by Paul Reid, this is the third book in the Churchill trilogy and covers the period beginning with World War II and finishes with Churchill’s death in 1965. It’s an exhaustive work, filling...
By noted author and historian, William Manchester, and finished, upon his death, by Paul Reid, this is the third book in the Churchill trilogy and covers the period beginning with World War II and finishes with Churchill’s death in 1965. It’s an exhaustive work, filling 1200 pages in the paperback version, with more detail about the war than you can possibly digest, much less remember.
As it is a book about the man, however, Churchill is described and analyzed in the context of each event. But how much can anyone say about one man, even one as complex and bigger than life as Winston Churchill? As a result, the character analysis, as such, does tend to become redundant over so many events. We get it: He was a cantankerous man with boundless energy who loved his country, his drink, and his cigars, and who, at times, displayed true love and wit and who always spoke with a flourish that few politicians before or since could duplicate. He was, in a few words, a truly brilliant eccentric brimming with emotion of every stripe who had incredible vision and unwavering persistence.
Regarding the war, a friend who had fought in the jungles of Vietnam in the mid-60s once told me that no author or director had ever captured the one defining attribute of every battlefield – chaos. The same is apparently true in the map rooms, offices, and bunkers where war is strategized and planned. The reader gets the sense that we didn’t so much fight the war as we stumbled through it. I mean no disrespect in that observation. Such is the nature of the beast. But it is quite amazing, distressing, perhaps, how the war could have come out so differently at a thousand points along the way.
And that, I suppose, is the one undeniable reason to avoid war at all costs. You never really know how it’s going to turn out. Hitler had to be stopped. Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, the latter once having once been Hitler’s ally, all understood that. Violence was unavoidable. The exception, however, never fully negates the rule.
And perhaps it was unavoidable, given the authors’ desire to draw sharp edges around the focus of their efforts (i.e. Churchill) that Roosevelt is defined in far less favorable shades than he is in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s outstanding book, “No Ordinary Time,” a biography of the Roosevelts. In the end, however, I didn’t feel they quite made their case regarding Roosevelt, nor, perhaps, did they want to, given that this was a book about Churchill, so I’m sticking with DKG’s more flattering portrayal.
In the end, Churchill, largely through soaring rhetoric, brave example, and inexhaustible energy, kept his “small island”, as he refered to it, in the war. It was Russia, however, which paid the biggest price, having lost up to 30 million soldiers and civilians in the end, and the US industrial machine that actually made winning possible. American factories, and the ingenious lend-lease program, outfitted the US, British, and Russian armies almost single-handedly, all while fighting battles of survival in both Europe and the Pacific.
The book is well written, but unless you are a history buff, you are bound to find it a bit long in length and on detail. In the end I was glad I read it but whenever I read a book about war I am left with the same question: Why are we still fighting them? They are savage affairs that bring out the worst in everyone. People on all sides end up doing things they would never condone in peacetime (the good guys included). There are no real winners and none of the characters emerges truly heroic or morally pristine. (Such honesty is a credit to the authors, to be sure.)
Nonetheless, Churchill came along at a time when his country and the world truly needed him. He is an unparalleled historic figure who left nothing on the field of play. He was truly an extraordinary figure I am not sure could ever be duplicated.
The world would be a very different place if he hadn’t been a part of it all.