Dicky's Doodles &Scribbles

Cartoons,editorials and comment about current events and more.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Churchill, A Biography

I have been under the weather lately and
haven't been able to keep up on my blog. In the meantime I thought I would post some book reviews I did in the now defunct local monthly, The Observer.
These are not current titles but they were interesting for history buffs. I hope you find them useful.
Roy Jenkins passed away year before last. His life is worthy of a book as he was a contemporary of Winston Churchill and a longtime member of Parliament.

Churchill, A Biography
By Roy Jenkins
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux ,

Churchill, by Roy Jenkins, is the latest book about a much written about subject, Winston Churchill. There is little doubt that Churchill deserves such attention. He could be considered as the Man of the Twentieth Century. It was due to Churchill’s leadership in World War II, especially the early years, that the Nazis were checked in Western Europe, paving the way to ultimate victory by the Allies, Great Britain, The Soviet Union and the United States.
Author Roy Jenkins has produced eighteen books covering many great figures and historical subjects. He is currently President of the Royal Society of Literature. He served as Chancellor of Oxford University and a member of Parliament. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1948 as a member of the Labour Party. He held several seats in the government, Minister of Aviation, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1987 He was seated in the House of Lords as Lord Jenkins of Hillhead.
At 912 pages, plus 89 pages of references and an index, this is a formidable volume. Jenkins has thoroughly indexed his obviously pains taking research. This book is for serious history buffs and Churchill historians. The casual reader may get lost in the unfolding lexicon of Twentieth Century British politics with which most American readers will be likely unfamiliar.
Churchill, his wife, daughter, son and just about all of their associates, left voluminous letters, journals and writings. From these, the many books on Churchill and countless interviews Jenkins had much material to draw from. Sometimes the book seems to bog down with possibly a bit too much minutiae, but the reader will get a comprehensive look at a very complex individual. A plus for the book is the fact that author Jenkins held government positions and served in Parliament, as a member of the opposition, with Churchill in the post war years.
Churchill was born into privilege. His family was aristocratic but always struggling to maintain the proper lifestyle expected of a family in their class in a highly stratified English culture. It was natural that he followed into a political career in the footsteps of his famous but not highly regarded father, Lord Randolph Churchill. His mother, Jennie, was an American from a wealthy New York family, the Jeromes. There was also a younger brother, Jack. The two didn’t have a close relationship but there was affection between the two. Churchill lived at some distance from his father but formed a bond, if a somewhat tenuous one, with his mother. Jennie, with her movie star good looks, was a darling of the social world and center of many rumors. Her life was filled with entertaining, dinner parties, theater, trips to the continent and other places. Churchill was sent to boarding schools, college at Harrow and then the military academy at Sandhurst, very much like other youths of his social standing.
Lord Randolph died on January 24, 1895 and in February Churchill began his career path with a second lieutenant’s commission in the 4th Hussars. He saw his first unfriendly fire in Cuba, as an observer of a revolution there. Next he was sent to India to serve the empire. He saw action in the putting down of a native uprising in Malakind. This led to his first dispatches to the Daily Telegraph for which he received a small stipend. The modest pay was welcome to the financially strapped young officer. Upon his return he published his first book, The Story of the Malakind Field Force. With help from his mother the book was published and was rather well received. He was paid a good sum of money for the book and his path in the literary world was set. For the rest of his life Churchill would be a prolific writer and as he settled into his political life he became a talented painter as well.
The four volume A History of the English Speaking Peoples, Marlborough: His Life and Times, also four volumes, and his The Second World War, at six volumes, are perhaps his best known works. Churchill’s writings would eventually make him a wealthy man and leave an estate for his heirs. He was a masterful writer who was nearly constantly attended by a staff of secretaries, researchers and dictation takers as he worked on his projects.
Churchill first gained national notoriety during the Boer War in South Africa, near the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century. During the war Churchill was captured by the Boers, along with several other officers. Though he was well treated by his captors Churchill managed to escape and completed a long trek from inside Boer territory to the east coat of South Africa and safety. His story became a big story at the time and even a bit controversial as some officers claimed he struck out on his own contrary to their escape plans. But overall he was hailed as a hero.
Jenkins goes on to describe Churchill’s early political life, with its many ebbs and flows, World War One saw Churchill go from the Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of the Navy, to a field command leading troops in the trenches late in the war. Churchill was removed from his cabinet position following the debacle of the Dardanelles campaign.
There was a period between the wars when Churchill was out of office and out of the government, much to his dismay. He liked being in the thick of things, he liked making decisions and influencing others. That he continued to do with a series of articles and speeches warning strongly against communism and the rise of German militarism. His was like a voice in the wilderness as he railed against military weakness and appeasement with Germany.
Churchill finally rose to the top political job in the land as World War broke out and Prime Minister Chamberlain’s policies concerning Germany were shown to be hollow and weak.
From here most are familiar with Churchill’s wartime leadership and his inspiring speeches, which kept England resisting the onslaught even while alone on the continent and with no help from the United States. The story of Churchill and Roosevelt and their meetings, including those with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, make fascinating reading.
Following the war Churchill’s story, with a couple of exceptions, was anticlimactic, with Churchill being thrown out of office, regaining power and spending his last years completing his literary works and traveling until his death on January 24, 1965.
Churchill was a giant figure of the twentieth century. Perhaps the greatest of the century. He was a complex person, full of vigor and action with a tremendous intellect and a will to match. He could see clearly the state of world affairs as they pertained to not just Britain but the entire globe. He was far from perfect, he could be vain, arrogant and pretentious as well as kind, jocular and caring. He was not right on everything but his staunch stand against the dark powers of fascism and communism and his inspired leadership during Britain’s, and indeed the world’s darkest hours, will never be forgotten.


At 12:24 AM , Blogger Stephen McArthur said...

I so clearly remeber reading Churchill's History of the Englsih-Speaking Peoples, and his multi-volume history of WWII. I loved his language and discovered what my dad always tried to teach me about writing.

At 12:24 AM , Blogger Stephen McArthur said...

My dad also always told me to proofread and watch out for typos!!!!

At 1:34 PM , Blogger Dicky Neely said...

I hope to read that one day. I have read Churchills WWII Memoirs(the abridged version, still 900+ pages) and I realy enjoyed it. He was a great writer.
As for typos, oh man, I was taught to proofread also but the little devils slip right on in there often, especially as you tire or attention wanes or fingers go spastic!


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