Of all the Britons of last century, Sir Winston Churchill’s star may have burned the brightest.
As Paul Johnson notes in his new book, Churchill, the man’s career as a politician spanned more than half a century, but was only one part of his varied activities and contributions to public life.
Churchill also won a Nobel Prize for literature, an honor that recognized the volume and quality of his writings about history, and did thousands of paintings.
In the end, though, it is his leadership and oratory during the dark days of World War II for which he will be most remembered.
Johnson, who clearly considers it an honor to have met Churchill, has written an admiring introduction to the man for those like me who had not previously read much about him.
The book covers his early years and struggles at school, his service in the Boer War in South Africa, his being blamed for the failure in the Dardanelles and the other posts he filled before assuming the helm of government after Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy had failed so miserably.
Churchill had sensed early Hitler’s menacing aspirations and sounded a signal that initially was not heeded. The early part of the war, when Britain was under siege and the only non-occupied part of Western Europe, provided the backdrop for some of his most stirring speeches and signs of national resistance.
Johnson shows effectively that the man’s life was filled with highs and lows, yet, in a final chapter about the lessons that can be learned from Churchill’s life, points out that he did not hold grudges and generally maintained an upbeat and positive stance toward life.
An often cranky conservative, Johnson appears in this work to have let his admiration for his subject override his temperament to deliver a succinct and informative introduction. If Martin Gilbert’s multi-volume series that describes in full Churchill’s life is a five-course meal, then this book is an appetizer, and a tasty one at that.