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The Roar of the Lion: The Untold Story of Churchill's World War II Speeches [Hardcover]

Richard Toye
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Aug 2013
''My aunt, listening to the Prime Minister's speech, remarked of <"our greatest orator>", <"He's no speaker, is he?>"' -diary of teacher M.A. Pratt, 11 Nov. 1942.

The popular story of Churchill's war-time rhetoric is a simple one: the British people were energized and inspired by his speeches, which were almost universally admired and played an important role in the ultimate victory over Nazi Germany. Richard Toye now re-examines this accepted national story - and gives it a radical new spin.

Using survey evidence and the diaries of ordinary people, he shows how reactions to Churchill's speeches at the time were often very different from what we have always been led to expect. His first speeches as Prime Minister in the dark days of 1940 were by no means universally acclaimed - indeed, many people thought that he was drunk during his famous 'finest hour' broadcast - and there is little evidence that they made a decisive difference to the British people's will to fight on.

In actual fact, as Toye shows, mass enthusiasm sat side-by-side with considerable criticism and dissent from ordinary people. Yes, there were speeches that stimulated, invigorated, and excited many. But there were also speeches which caused depression and disappointment in many others, and which sometimes led to workplace or family arguments. Yet this more complex reality has been consistently obscured from the historical record by the overwhelming power of a treasured national myth.

The first systematic, archive based examination of Churchill's World War II rhetoric as a whole, The Roar of the Lion considers his oratory not merely as a series of 'great speeches', but as calculated political interventions which had diplomatic repercussions far beyond the effect on the morale of listeners in Britain. Considering his failures as well as his successes, the book moves beyond the purely celebratory tone of much of the existing literature. It offers new insight into how the speeches were written and delivered - and shows how Churchill's words were received at home, amongst allies and neutrals, and within enemy and occupied countries.

This is the essential book on Churchill's war-time speeches. It presents us with a dramatically new take on the politics of the 1940s - one that will change the way we think about Churchill's oratory forever.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (22 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199642524
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199642526
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Richard Toye is Professor of Modern History at the University of Exeter. He previously worked at the University of Cambridge. He has written widely on modern British and international political and economic history. His critically acclaimed book Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness won him the 2007 Times Higher Young Academic Author of the Year Award. He lives in Exeter with his wife and two sons.

Product Description


Thoroughly researched, readable and fascinating. (David Reynolds, The Guardian)

[Richard Toye] provides a nuanced and discriminating account of the pivotal episode in Churchill's career. (Peter Clarke, Financial Times)

is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. (Richard Overy, Times Literary Supplement)

Toye writes lucidly, and there is no sense of repetition in the book, which forensically examines one speech after another... [There] are still a lot of new aspects of Churchill's life to be explored. Toye has found one with this first ever, comprehensive, archival based study of WSC's splendid wartime speeches. (History Today)

The book explores enemy and neutral responses, as well as how the speeches were written. In doing so, it offers a nuanced portrait of a key facet of Churchill's war leadership. (Gary Sheffield, BBC History Magazine Books of the Year 2013)

The main strength of (Literary Review)

lies in its patiently researched microhistories of the speeches. Toye pinpoints the contexts in which they were written, the calculations that lay behind them, and their reception not just at home but also overseas.

[Toye is] one of Britain's leading historians and a man sympathetic to, but not subsumed by, the Churchill of lore and yore. (Boston Globe)

Thought-provoking ... a useful corrective to the legend. Not only was there a larger variety of responses to Churchill's oratory than usually imagined, but sometimes Churchill's speeches actually depressed, rather than exhilarated. Nor did praise for his wartime oratory mean that people thought Churchill would be the best person to lead the nation after victory, as the 1945 election showed. Good military news, as Toye's evidence makes clear, was always a more invigorating tonic than the most inspirational rhetoric. (David Stafford, BBC History magazine)

Toye's analysis of audience figures and personal diaries provides a fascinating insight into how the British public received Churchill's now much revered wartime speeches. (Discover Your History magazine)

The details make this book a joy to read for speakers and speechwriters alike. (Denise Graveline, Eloquent Woman)

The Roar of the Lion is a valuable addition to the study of Churchills wartime premiership and demonstrates that there is still much to say about the man and his work. (Kevin Matthews, Reviews in History, 14/04/2014)

About the Author

Toye weaves all this skillfully together to provide the most nuanced assessment yet of the impact of Churchill's rethoric.[...] Highly recommended. (R. A. Callahan,Choice,)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Kindle Edition
As a young man, Churchill had educated himself in the power of language. (He had, famously, done poorly at Harrow.) At the turn of the century, in his early twenties, he had drafted The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, an article designed to get him noticed by the heavyweight periodicals. Unpublished during his lifetime, it’s very much a young man’s piece: overwrought, passionate, recklessly revealing.

Throughout his political career, as he defected from the Tories to the Liberals and back, as he railed equally against the dangers of Nazism and against reform in India, Churchill used his speeches, not only to influence, but also to survive – politically and, perhaps, psychologically. By the 1930s, as Toye points out, the effect was wearing thin. “To MPs who had, as it were, heard it all before, his speaking style seemed not majestically impressive but overblown and hackneyed.”

But his constant interventions in the Commons over India seem to have jolted his rhetoric into a new register. In a letter to his wife, he writes that he is now speaking “with garrulous unpremeditated flow. They seem delighted.”

Churchill carries this new rhetoric into the war with him. He has reinvigorated his Victorian Ciceronianism by injecting the plain English championed during the 1930s by Greene, Hemingway, Orwell, and others. The synthesis will allow him to speak, more or less successfully, both in the Commons and over the airwaves. (One of Toye’s most intriguing discussions is about Churchill’s discomfort with radio.)

The book’s central thesis, in fact, concerns how Churchill’s speeches were judged by his many audiences. Toye uses material both from the Ministry of Information and from Mass-Observation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is human to err. 6 Sep 2013
By GPrice
Fear not, this book does nothing to dissuade us from holding true the old adage 'cometh the hour, cometh the man', but it is a timely reminder that history tends to be written by those whom come out of a struggle uppermost. In Professor Toye's very readable study, Churchill is painted in human terms: some of his natural failings are bared for us to see. If anything, this makes the account all the more sympathetic.

Reading this book in current times, we are reminded of how, when a person struggles to pursue a course they believe to be right, even among those who are broadly willing to provide their consent to the cause, there will forever be dissent. Along the way, there is also likely to be the occasional banana peel and also the odd enticing blind alley which history may be slow to forgive or at best understand.

The idea that we cannot disturb the acquired collective memory of our erstwhile wartime leader is, of course, nonsense. For our nation and many besides, his position in the Pantheon is secure, though for his character we now have a few more warts and who among us can claim to have none of those?
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roar of a Bulldog 21 Aug 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The view that Churchill won the war is widespread even among some historians. It is pure myth. This country, let alone its Prime Minister, did not win the war, it was won by the USA and the Soviet Union with, of course, an invaluable contribution by Great Britain and the Commonwealth. To this day many people find this very hard to accept despite the overwhelming evidence that it is true.

This excellent book by Professor Toye of Exeter University provides at last a welcome and new interpretation of Winston Spencer Churchill's contribution to the war effort by examining in detail his many famous war-time speeches in which he described our 'finest hour' and promised 'to fight on the beaches'.
Toye shows how many people thought, when hearing his speeches, that at times he was the worse for drink. Far more reveal they were not motivated to fight by his rhetoric. Because thousands hudddled round the wireless to hear the gravelly voice is not necessarily an indication that by so doing they were stirred to action. One group of Londoners said after the war that they and their friends listened because:'there was little else to do and it took your mind off the bombs'.

The myth that his rousing speeches kept us going during the darkest days was due to an excellent PR system plus Churchill's own somewhat boastful manner. His speeches were aimed at three groups: the domestic audience, our allies and the Germans- hopefully one day Professor Toye may be able to tell us how the Germans reacted to Churchill's speeches.

A major reason why those speeches have been given so much acclaim is because they are a brilliant example of literature at its best. Few have ever matched Winston's use of extended metaphors and proverbs, or his superb and elegant style.
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