Churchill’s last chap­ter

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - Re­viewed by Claude R. Marx

For nearly 24 years, his­tory afi­ciona­dos have been look­ing for­ward to the fi­nal vol­ume of Wil­liam Manch­ester’s bi­og­ra­phy of Win­ston Churchill. The wait was worth it.

Manch­ester’s two pre­vi­ous vol­umes, “The Last Lion: Win­ston Spencer Churchill: Vi­sions of Glory, 1874-1932” and “The Last Lion: Win­ston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940,” were thor­ough, well-writ­ten and rea­son­ably bal­anced.

Hap­pily, “The Last Lion: Win­ston Spencer Churchill: De­fender of the Realm, 1940-1965” mostly fol­lows that pat­tern.

Though the book tends to get bogged down in minu­tia, jour­nal­ist Paul Reid has done an ad­mirable job of fin­ish­ing the epic work started by Manch­ester, who died in 2004.

Those who want a de­tailed ac­count of Churchill’s two terms as prime min­is­ter and lead­er­ship dur­ing World War II will find this book a lit­er­ary feast.

The authors break some new ground and also do an im­pres­sive job of syn­the­siz­ing in­for­ma­tion from dis­parate pri­mary and sec­ondary sources.

Mr. Reid, a for­mer re­porter for The Palm Beach Post, has done ex­ten­sive new re­search that leads him to dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions than Manch­ester had about key as­pects of Churchill’s life and ca­reer.

In the ear­lier vol­umes, Manch­ester con­cluded that his sub­ject was a mod­er­ate drinker who al­most never let his al­co­hol in­ter­fere with his work.

How­ever, based on his re­view of med­i­cal records and di­aries, Mr. Reid con­cludes that Churchill was “blessed with a re­mark­able con­sti­tu­tion, one which dis­posed of al­co­hol with ex­cep­tional ef­fi­ciency.’’

He adds that “slides into out­right drunk­en­ness were ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare for Churchill, though they oc­curred.”

Manch­ester, a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning au­thor, also thought his sub­ject suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness.

Mr. Reid con­tends that Churchill suf­fered from the nor­mal stress that comes from run­ning a coun­try dur­ing wartime and his mood swings were no dif­fer­ent from those most peo­ple suf­fer.

He sug­gests that the for­mer prime min­is­ter “at­tained what the Amer­i­can hu­man­ist psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow called ‘self ac­tu­al­iza­tion,’ the con­di­tion at the top of Maslow’s ‘hi­er­ar­chy of needs,’ where he found cre­ativ­ity, moral­ity, spon­tane­ity, and the abil­ity to parse prob­lems, ac­cept facts, and re­fute prej­u­dices.’’

Churchill is justly praised for his early warn­ings about the dan­gers of Adolf Hitler and for his moral lead­er­ship dur­ing World War II. How­ever, the por­trait that emerges in “The Last Lion: De­fender of the Realm, 1940-1965” is also some­what nu­anced.

The authors note (in a sec­tion no doubt writ­ten by Mr. Reid) that “de­spite the fact that Churchill was prone to sen­ti­men­tal­ity, was mer­cu­rial, and at times lacked strate­gic mil­i­tary sense, he had through in­tu­itive leaps and care­ful anal­y­sis dur­ing the 1930s, ar­rived at an as­ton­ish­ingly ac­cu­rate fore­cast of the calamity that had since be­fallen Europe and Eng­land.

The events of Septem­ber 1939 had proved him Eng­land’s

Read­ers seek­ing a more gen­eral as­sess­ment of Churchill will find much to sa­vor in “The Last Lion: De­fender of the Realm, 1940-1965.” It’s a wor­thy fi­nale to an ex­haus­tive

por­trait of one of the last cen­tury’s true ti­tans.

most sober states­man as well as its most prophetic.”

Be­cause of these traits, Churchill has long been ad­mired on both the left and right sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide, al­beit more of­ten on the lat­ter.

Dur­ing the af­ter­math of Sept. 11, 2001, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush praised Churchill and tried to in­voke his spirit when dis­cussing the re­sponse to the ter­ror­ist at­tacks, and he kept a bust of Churchill in the Oval Of­fice.

While the authors do an ad­mirable job of cap­tur­ing their sub­ject’s lead­er­ship style, they are stronger when as­sess­ing mil­i­tary strat­egy and re­count­ing the de­tails of key bat­tles. His­tory buffs look­ing for a more com­plete as­sess­ment of Churchill’s lead­er­ship prow­ess (and a more con­cise look at his life) would do well to read Roy Jenk­ins’ 2001 work, “Churchill: A Bi­og­ra­phy.”

Mr. Jenk­ins, a for­mer mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and Cab­i­net mem­ber who held some of the same po­si­tions as his sub­ject, in­clud­ing chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer, un­der­stands and as­sesses the chal­lenges Churchill faced as only some­one who has walked in his shoes can.

He also is ex­traor­di­nar­ily adept at plac­ing his sub­ject in the broader con­text of British his­tory.

Nev­er­the­less, read­ers seek­ing a more gen­eral as­sess­ment of Churchill will find much to sa­vor in “The Last Lion: De­fender of the Realm, 1940-1965.”

It’s a wor­thy fi­nale to an ex­haus­tive por­trait of one of the last cen­tury’s true ti­tans. Claude R. Marx reg­u­larly re­views books for pub­li­ca­tions such as the Bos­ton Globe and the Weekly Stan­dard. He is writ­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of Wil­liam Howard Taft.

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