This is the greatest story ever told by one of the greatest story tellers ever. Churchill was a magnificent writer, fully deserving of his Nobel Prize for literature. His account of the war is positively Tolkienesque, sounding at times almost like the very best of epic science fiction. One gets insights into the grand strategy and global logistics of the war at an extraordinary level of detail, from naval dispositions across the globe down to problems of boot manufacture. We see the war not just as it was fought, but alternative ways it might have been fought, and the tensions that determined the hard decisions that were taken between the alternatives.
Churchill had about as full a life as it is possible to live, and craved risk and adventure even in his years as a war leader, which would have been considered old age for most. In volume IV of this vast 6 volume work we hear of Churchill's epic fortnight journey in August of 1942, that included his first meeting with Stalin in Moscow. The first leg was down to Cairo to sort out the British generals whom Rommel had fought to a standstill in the desert. Auchinleck was sidelined in favour of Alexander, and Gott was to become the new head of the 8th Army. Gott was shot down and killed whilst on his way to Cairo, and Montgomery was the natural choice to succeed him. Thus the stage was set for El Alamein and the first real British victory of the war. The next stop was at Tehran for lunch with the Shah and for meeting up with Roosevelt's envoy to the mission to Moscow, Averell Harriman. Then there was the flight over the Ebruz mountains and the Caspian Sea to Moscow, for three days of very frank talking with Stalin and Molotov. The final night of this visit included a heavy drinking bout with Stalin at his private dacha till 2:30 a.m. before starting the return flight at 5:30, three hours later. All the flying was in unheated bombers that would have been the death of many men his age, much of it too close for comfort to enemy airspace. Churchill, when awake, preferred to travel in the co-pilot's seat, and his descriptions of his dawn arrival at the Nile, and the flight across the Caspian are highly memorable. An ordinary bloke like me can only wonder; what a life?
Any historical source documents, which these are, have to be treated with great caution and circumspection, and the factuality of all claims reviewed in the light of alternative perspectives. Indeed it's on my reading list to follow up on Roosevelt, as one does not have to read too far between the lines to guess that the two leaders were not quite of the unified outlook that Churchill liked to paint. Nonetheless, questions of historical accuracy and bias aside, this is extraordinary literature and as good a place as any to start acquiring a deeper insight into the historical unfolding of the war.
There are many reasons to argue that Churchill was a flawed, possibly deeply flawed character. He was an aristocrat and an imperialist through and through, thus he was representative of attitudes that most of us are glad to have put behind us in our era. But he had a great warrior spirit, chocked with contradictions, and was also a truly marvellous writer. He lived an extraordinary life and was able to write to us very clearly about the huge events in which he participated.