Winston Churchill, in a relatively well-known bad patch during the 1930s, began to write this history of his famous and much maligned ancestor. The first volume contains the first two books of the original four book set. The life of John Churchill, Duke of Malborough, is both a fascinating look at an historical era as well as a personal portrait of a great military general. Book One consists of a large chunk of history, spanning the downfall of Charles I through Cromwell, to the Restoration of Charles II, through the overthrowing of his brother, the Catholic James II by William of Orange married to James II's daughter, Mary, to the crowning of Queen Anne. The second Book of Volume one concentrates on a mere 3 years of Anne's rule.
I will not reiterate what other reviewers have already said. However, I would add that in the writing of this book, Winston Churchill prepared himself to become even greater than his general ancestor. It can hardly be surprising that as this history was being written, events were conspiring to lead Winston Churchill into the biggest world confrontation ever. After studying the campaigns in Europe of Lord Malborough, it can hardly be surprising that Churchill fully suspected the coming of the war long before his fellow MPs.
This is a scholarly work and shouldn't be undertaken without serious patience. Each of the two volumes are in themselves close to 1,000 pages long. The history is written from the point of view of a defender, though Winston Churchill is careful not to gloss over details that might cast an unfavorable opinion of his ancestor. Well worth the effort.
BOOK TWO -
Since I reviewed Book One, I felt it was important to follow up with a review of Book Two of this work. My initial comment is that sticking with something this huge is a task in itself, but often the reward is hard to describe. For me, I feel each time I finish a huge work like this (or Hegel, or Kant, or ... well, anything "Big") I sense my own mind has been exercised a bit. It's a reward in and of itself.
Firstly, like Book One, this is really Volume Three and Volume Four of the a Four Book series bound together in Two mammoth volumes. Reading these 2000 plus pages is like running a marathon: the beginning is difficult, then you break the pain barrier and coast for quite a long while until the last staggering climb to the finish. In Book Three we continue with the war of Spanish Succession. These 500 pages are essentially concerned with the gigantic battles Marlborough fought. It was a time in which his glory was highly esteemed. As we get into Book Four, much like Book One, the narrative returns to the over all political scene which dominated and brought down the Great Duke. It is also the point where the reader might become overwhelmed again by both the multifaceted political machinations as well as the constantly revolving names (John Churchill becomes the Duke of Marlborough, etc.)
However, for all these difficulties, the overall sense from both volumes is as thorough and detailed and enthralling as history can be written. There can be no doubt that Winston Churchill, as he surveyed the ever-mounting rearmament of the Germanic states and looking over the ancient maps of Europe imagining both the current and past, felt an immense burden of responsibility. By undertaking the task of "reforming" The Duke of Marlborough's image, he delved deep in to the vaults of history and warfare. It was not surprising that at the same moment he should be the first to recognize (at least in Britain) the significance of Hitler's intensions.
One other thing struck me as fascinating about this era. The whole course of European politics, war, peace, and financial stability were tied up in the lives of three bickering women: Sarah (Marlborough's wife), Abigail (cousin to Sarah), and Queen Anne (whom both served and guided with gossip and whisperings.) Out of this small time period bore the seeds of Napoleon, the American discontent with England, and Slavery. Big stuff.
I recommend these Four volumes (two books). The paperbacks are perhaps overstuffed, though. Book One split right down the middle. I was more careful with Book Two, though my hands suffered from it. Perhaps spending the money for the hardback editions in this case is worth it?