After reading 197pp (c. a third) of Christopher Lee's 1998 abridgement of HESP, I concluded that as a history it was simply too glutinous to proceed with further. Having then read a matching chapter `York & Lancaster' (p365) of the unabridged `Chartwell' edition, where some of the more literary elements excised by Lee add a pleasant roundness to the narrative, I didn't change my opinion.
Lee's abridgment, by the way, also strips out all maps, illustrations and the American colonial impact on British history, which Churchill probably added more with an eye to the potential US sales than anything else. Overall, the complete text is reduced by about 40%.
HESP was a tremendous work of effort. However, I don't sense that Churchill communicates our complex history in a particularly informative, enlightening or exciting way. This is a great pity because such works of his as `My Early Life' and `Thoughts and Adventures' are cracking reads - though of a completely different genre. Similarly, T E Lawrence, one of Churchill's near-contempories, uses very rich, even obscure English in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, yet his narrative is masterly in its clarity and illustration, and whilst it may be a demanding read, it's not heavy going.
So why does HESP stumble? Perhaps because to a considerable extent Churchill needed to rely on a wide group of academic historians to form foundations of the work and, despite his most careful editing and control, and with an eye on publishing deadlines, his inimitable style was somewhat dimmed. Clearly it is no primer and is perhaps of interest to those already well versed in English history and looking for another perspective. If you want to revisit your school-days' history, HESP is probably not the place to start. (02/2013)