Churchill: A Life Paperback – 15 Oct 1992
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It is impossible to understand the Second World War without understanding Winston Churchill, the bold British Prime Minister who showed himself to be one of the greatest statesmen any nation has ever known. This lengthy biography is a single-volume abridgment of a massive, eight-volume work that took a quarter-century to write. It covers Churchill's entire life, highlighting not only his exploits during the Second World War, but also his early belief in technology and how it would revolutionize warfare in the 20th century. Churchill learned how to fly a plane before the First World War, and was also involved in the development of both the tank and anti-aircraft defense. But he truly showed his unmatched mettle during his country's darkest moments: "His finest hour was the leadership of Britain when it was most isolated, most threatened, and most weak; when his own courage, determination, and belief in democracy became at one with the nation," writes Gilbert. There are several wonderful books available on Churchill, but this is probably the best place to start.
“Mr. Gilbert's job was to bring alive before his readers a man of extraordinary genius and scarcely less extraordinary destiny. He has done so triumphantly.” ―Hugh Brogan, The New York Times Book Review
“A richly textured and deeply moving portrait of greatness.” ―The Los Angeles Times
“By far the most lucid, comprehensive, and authoritative account of Churchill that has been offered in a single volume. It furnishes a crown to Gilbert's already prodigious labors.” ―Philip Ziegler, The Telegraph (London)
“It would seem impossible to distill the eight volumes of Churchill's authorized biography into a single volume, even one of a thousand pages. But that is what Martin Gilbert has done, and the result does not seem pinched at all. It is of course a grand story.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“The most scholarly study of Churchill in war and peace ever written . . . essential diplomatic history and enlightening personal history.” ―Herbert Mitgang, The New York TimesSee all Product description
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Martin Gilbert does such a wonderful job of weaving the narrative of, not only Churchill's life, but the multitude of events in the 20th century that he played a role, that even though I knew the outcome, I couldn't put the book down. In the end, I came away with not just a deeper admiration for WSC, but a greater understanding of the history of his era. Churchill is one of the heroes of history, and Gilbert does an admirable job of proving that point. Highly recommended.
However, I was disappointed and I fully recognize that my rating and my opinion runs counter to the vast majority of other reviews posted here. My concerns are as follows:
- I thought way too much trivial detail was spent on Churchill's youth. While I understand how important youthful experiences are in shaping and defining later attitudes and motivations, I came away with little insight into young Churchill's soul. I was disappointed that not more effort was spent on sharpening the focus of his relationships with his parents and family. Less space taken up with Churchill's report cards and more attention to the "inner" youth would have been, I believe, more profitable for the reader.
- My major issue with the book is that it is in no way objective. Churchill's every move, every phrase, every political position, every forecast is treated as outright success or draped in positive connotations. Failures that are attached to Churchill's name are actually the fault of others or unavoidable circumstances. There was no "what if"analysis. No discussion of alternatives. Everything Churchill thought or did was presented with such certainty and free from doubt. Frankly, half way into the book I really got sick and tired of reading about the multiple unbroken successes that an larger than life portrait that the author presented.
- I didn't feel that I get to know Churchill "The Person" His fears, doubts, motivations, feelings, themes and emotions were presented, but not fully developed. Churchill is depicted in almost mythic proportions I didn't get to know Churchill as a real living creature, beset by doubts and emotions. It was like looking at a coloring book....images are presented in outline, you get a reasonable idea of the subject, but it is still an outline, not fully developed by color and shading.
I greatly enjoy non-fiction that is balanced, objective with sufficient discussion to provide the reader with perspective, insight and thought provoking scenarios. After I finished this book, I learned what Churchill did, what he accomplished but not who he was.
This book eloquently conjures who Churchill really was, often in his own words and frequently those of his famous contemporaries over 9 decades and more.The timeline alone is amazing, but what this man really did with one life through peace, war and preparation for both, including well-known triumphs and even crushing and enduring defeats, is explained in clear terms and handled with fairness.
Martin Gilbert's writing, balanced and informative, yet reveling in many "little" details of Churchill's own balance between the great and small things of life, reminds me that we have but one life - made up of moments - and that those moments, whether spent with family, with friends, in traveling, conversation, painting, in writing, in enjoying music, the arts, food, libations or companionship - are ours to make the most of. And Winston Churchill surely did - a long and fascinating life dedicated to the tremendous service of us all - through several generations during his time on earth as well as those still to come.