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Winston Churchill: The Last Lion. Visions of Glory 1874-1932
A book review by L.L.Conners
Most of us are familiar with Winston Churchill's heroic and inspiring service to Great Britain during World War Two. In this immensely readable book by the late historian William Manchester, we discover the early trials and triumphs that helped form this most outstanding leader of the 20th century.
Manchester takes us through Winston's troubled childhood with an aloof father, Lord Randolph Spencer Churchill, and his mostly absent American mother,Lady Randolph, a beautiful and witty goldigger that fluttered in and out of British aristocracy, once having a two year sexual relationship with the Prince of Wales, the future King of England. Manchester makes no mention of her Iroquois heritage or the snake tattooed around her waist, which I think most interesting.
Raised by a loving governess, Mrs. Everest, Winston became self-sufficient early on in life. The book goes into great detail with the minutia of Winston's early proclivities for the written and spoken word and his fondness for miniature military battlefields, historically correct down to the units involved. Manchester's descriptions of this young and formidable Winston provides the reader with an understanding of Winston's incredible work ethic, personal drive, and self-confidence which eventually led to his being acknowledged as the greatest wartime leader of the 20th century..
The book transitions smoothly into Winston's escapades as a war correspondent during the Boer War...Here Winston inserts himself into the public's consciousness with superb and exciting reporting from the Boer front lines. His later daring escape from captivity is faithfully described in honest detail from several sources. This portion of Winston's life offered a great opportunity for the author to , shall we say, embellish the truth. Yet Manchester remains true to his historian roots and gives us a picture of a young, brash, and cocky Churchill, warts and all.
Leading up to WW1, we are given an insightful look at Churchill the master debater, his fitful political development, swinging from Liberal to Conservative with equal fervor, and flowery oratory in the House of Commons. Aided and abetted by his mother's stable of influential friends in the government, Winston becomes a force in British politics.
Manchester does a masterful job bringing together the true circumstances that created the Dardanelles disaster during WW1 which had been blamed on Winston. He describes with clarity the political atmosphere in Britain that resulted in Churchill's vilification and which hounded him for years after. But like so many other challenges in Winston's life, his perseverance and dogged pursuit of the truth vindicated him in the end.
The last chapters of the book show Churchill the father, the country squire tending to his beloved Chartwell, the talented painter of landscapes, and his enduring love for his dear " Pussy Cat ", Clemmy, and their four " kittens " . This was a time of prodigious literary output for Winston, which is critiqued scrupulously by Manchester.
For those that enjoy history, as I do, the book is full of interesting observations of that era and the people that lived it. One memorable scene described by Winston himself is the totally insane visage of British soldiers going over the top during the Somme offensive, kicking a soccer ball between the ranks as they were decimated by machine-gun fire. Totally insane, yet somehow, so British.
This first volume of the three volume set by Manchester is a delightfully entertaining biography of Winston Churchill's early and formative years. It is laced throughout with Winston's prodigious wit , intellect, and stamina. The book revealed a personal side of him that is lacking in most other Churchillian accounts.
The second volume, " Alone ", describes Winston's tumultous political struggles during 1932-1940 and the onset of World War Two.
Manchester died in 2004 while still at work on the final installment of his " Last Lion " trilogy, " Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 ". He entrusted the completion of this last volume to Paul Reid, a newspaper writer and close friend. Reid completed the final draft in 2010 and now awaits publication which is highly anticipated by readers around the world.