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on 31 January 2003
Geoffrey Best has produced an excellent biography of Churchill - a single volume of manageable length unlikely to be bettered. The writing is elegant, Churchill's life and work comprehensively covered and Best's judgments are soundly based. The strength of this biography lies in Best's ability to paint a vivid picture of Churchill's character, virtues as well as vices, family and public life, without loosing balance or feeling the need to stoop to sensationalism.
Churchill's life was an epic adventure from his birth at Blenheim Palace, that stately monument to his ancestor whose military victory opened the first chapter of Great Britain's rise as great power to his death and state funeral, a fitting final chapter to the same story. Given his background, his romantic attachment to Great Britain and her rightful place in the world, and his difficulty with accepting the constraints of political parties - he changed twice- Churchill was far from being a typical politician, although he never wavered from his belief in the yoke of democracy and the supremacy of the House of Commons. But the many apparent contradictions and political mistakes, none of which Best seeks to gloss over or excuse, were but facets of the complex character of the one man able to assume leadership of the nation at the time of its darkest hour in 1940 and guide it to victory. This achievement, above all else - and there was much more - justifies Churchill's claim to greatness.
Perhaps this book is best summed up in Best's own words: "I found the great man I had always supposed to be there; less great in some respects that were new to me, and with many more idiosyncracies than I could have thought possible, but with a title to a place in any pantheon not wholly reserved for stars of screen, song and stadium; and, besides all that, an extraordinary many-sided human being whom it has been exhilarating to study."
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on 10 February 2003
Geoffrey Best has produced an excellent biography of Churchill - a single volume of manageable length unlikely to be bettered. The writing is elegant, Churchill's life and work comprehensively covered and Best's judgments are soundly based. The strength of this biography lies in Best's ability to paint a vivid picture of Churchill's character, virtues as well as vices, family and public life, without loosing balance or feeling the need to stoop to sensationalism.
Churchill's life was an epic adventure from his birth at Blenheim Palace, that stately monument to his ancestor whose military victory opened the first chapter of Great Britain's rise as great power to his death and state funeral, the a fitting final chapter to the same story. Given his background, his romantic attachment to Great Britain and her rightful place in the world, and his difficulty with accepting the constraints of political parties - he changed twice- Churchill was far from being a typical politician, although he never wavered from his belief in the yoke of democracy and the supremacy of the House of Commons. But the many apparent contradictions and political mistakes, none of which Best seeks to gloss over or excuse, were but facets of the complex character of the one man able to assume leadership of the nation at the time of its darkest hour in 1940 and guide it to victory. This achievement, above all else - and there was much more - justifies Churchill's claim to greatness.
Perhaps this book is best summed up in Best's own words: " I found the great man I had always supposed to be there; less great in some respects that were new to me, and with many more idiosyncracies than I could have thought possible, but with a title to a place in any pantheon not wholly reserved for stars of screen, song and stadium; and, besides all that, an extraordinary many-sided human being whom it has been exhilarating to study."
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Geoffrey Best's excellent 336-page bio of Britain's greatest 20th century statesman is a fine whole-life portrait of admirable brevity. In 26 chronological chapters the way-points of Churchill's notable public life, and lesser-known private/family life, are revealed by Best's literate and absorbing prose which rarely fails to engage and entertain. 2 separate 8-page sections of monochrome photos punctuate the text.

The author is an intelligent and thoughtful biographer who does not lionise his subject, but places actions and decisions in a historical context of time and circumstance. Best does not neglect the influence on Churchill of people like Brendan Bracken, Frederick Lindemann and Lord Beaverbrook (especially in the important `Chartwell Years' of the 1930s), nor the ever-supportive Clementine. There are chapters on the relationships with `France and De Gaulle', `America and Roosevelt' and `Russia and Stalin', plus an illuminating analysis of Churchill's particularly energetic style of wartime government.

Best does not gloss over Churchill's numerous and often frustrating contradictions, such as his attitude to granting home rule/independence to different parts of the Empire. A champion of home rule for Ireland, he always referred to Michael Collins with whom he negotiated the settlement on behalf of the British Government as `General Collins' and confessed that were he in Collins' situation, he would be fighting for independence too. At the same time he opposed home rule for India right up to 1947, partly because of a somewhat old-fashioned patrician-attitude but also because he feared British withdrawal might lead to ethnic strife and political chaos in the subcontinent (a dismal prophecy proved correct by subsequent events) and famously pronounced "India is a geographical term...it is no more politically united than the Equator."

Although universally respected for his implacable opposition to Nazism and as head of Britain's wartime coalition government, Churchill's understanding of Soviet political/military ambitions as early as 1946 and his campaign for `détente' is less often appreciated. `The Iron Curtain' was a Churchillian phrase first used publicly in a speech at Fulton MO in 1946, later adopted throughout the world into everyday usage. Best brings this period to life with perceptive poignancy, revealing in detail Churchill's tireless campaigning for European Union beginning with the fostering of goodwill between post-war France and (West) Germany after 1945, determined that the fatal acrimony caused by the 1919 Versailles Treaty would not be repeated.

Winston's love of painting (a more-than-competent impressionist style full of bright colour) is not neglected, nor his enormous literary output the more remarkable because so much time was taken up with parliamentary work and government. Winston's never-easy relationship with only son Randall was characterized by frequent rows, and only one of his children - Mary - had what might be described as a happy life & successful marriage.

Churchill continued to hold his Woodford seat in the Commons until July 1964, when (unbelievably) he was almost 90. Six months after he was finally persuaded to stand down and retire - following a major stroke and several minor ones - he died in January 1965 and was accorded the rare honour of a state funeral.

This is not a hefty and comprehensive biography, but an ideal starting point for anyone interested in Winston Churchill who might possess only an outline of the great man's life and be seeking more detail. Geoffrey Best's book is intelligent, balanced, thoughtful and literate. The writing style gravitates towards the highbrow and is occasionally (but not always) hard-going, so may not be entirely to your taste if you warm only to a racy, populist writing style.

Each chapter is preceded by one of Churchill's more quotable utterances, a typical later-life witticism chosen for the final chapter:

"I am prepared to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter".
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on 5 March 2009
I enjoyed this book. It is brief. I read it shortly after Roy Jenkins Life of Churchill.

Geoffrey Best wrote this book to satisfy his curiosity about Churchill's greatness, and the conclusion he draws (that Churchill was very great indeed) is persuasive. Best seems well-informed, and his judgement so far as it goes reliable.

But, I describe the book as "partial" because, being brief, it doesn't attempt to cover every detail. For example there is little detail about Churchill's government activity in the 1920s, little about his parliamentary campaigning, no mention of his holidays in Madeira, no mention of the delight he took in holidays near the Atlas Mountains. I think the quality, energy, and wide ranging contribution in government in the 1910s and 1920s was not only important in its own right, but an augury of the magnificent contribution he made in later years, ... and Best understates the inherent quality of these auguries. Just as Churchill said, it was as if all his former life was a preparation for the trials of the Second World War.

I found Bests Epilogue interesting. It discusses eg whether the values and worldview of Churchill (eg roughly nationalistic and pro-Anglo-Saxon management) can be understood and sympathised with these days. Best mentions Isaiah Berlin and Clement Attlee as two people who wrote penetrating essays about Churchill. I shall try to read both of them.
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on 24 April 2011
I had been searching for a concise account of Churchill's life and this book provided a very high quality one. I found that the short chapter lengths suited me, and provided brilliant overviews of pretty much all the events/stages that made up the great man's life.

Admittedly, this style may not provide quite enough detail of key events as certain people may require (there are other books that focus on his role in particular events such as WW2). Nonetheless, it did provide many interesting insights, such as those revealed in Churchill's correspondence with his wife, and explanation of how the society he grew up in affected him. (These were just some of many examples).

In addition, I found that the author's summary of why he wrote the book and his appraisal of it in the epilogue to be a genuinely interesting and honest way of rounding off the book.

Definitely worth the money.
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on 17 July 2015
I was keen to expand my knowledge of British politics. Please see my review of Charles Kennedy's book. So it seemed logical to turn my studies towards Winston Churchill, whose political career spanned both World Wars, and who wrote extensively. There were various reasons I picked this particular book. I wanted a book that was readable, not too academic and did not contain too many footnotes. I also avoided Boris Johnson's biography of Winston because I didn't want to read about how amazing Winston was; I wanted to find out why he left the Liberals; why he was blamed for the Dardanelles; and how practical it is to aspire to greatness. I think this book for me achieves most of that. I did find a few of the sentences a bit confusing; so much so that even on a second reading, I wasn't quite sure what the author was meaning. But as the text sets out to be judgmental, care has to be taken when adopting this technique, and indeed at one point at least in this book, the author actually speaks to the reader saying that he or she should make his or her own mind up. I like that. This book made me think. Recommended.
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on 16 November 2005
One of my favourite books, not just about the war, but on any subject.
Captures the brilliance of Churchill and helps illustrate his role in modern times for us too young to have lived through it first hand.
Best's book should be read by all who hold Englishness dear.
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on 7 September 2008
There is probably no other individual, who has more biografies, than Mr Churchill, so you have to look serously for the excellent ones.

Best is the best, if you want a brief - but at the same time in depth - portrait of Churchill, and it is very well written.

Do not think twice.
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on 10 February 2016
A great book about a great man. He totally shows up the pocket stuffing empty suits and skirts that today in Parliament purport to be our leaders. What would he make of these traitors and useless spineless career politicians. This book showed some very caring side to Churchills character. A delightful book to read and a lesson to the fakes we have in Parliament.
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on 19 July 2009
A good account of Churchill's life, my only concern was that some events were only given a brief account, but as the author states there are so many other sources to look through if you want details of events. This biography had to be concise and succinct to remain in one volume. If the reader wants details then the book lists other books to refer to. All in all an enjoyable read with some surprises for me, I thought I knew a lot about Churchill but found I knew very little at all.
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