on 11 March 2010
I've been meaning to read a biography of Churchill for several years now, but been a little daunted by the 1000+ page single-volume options, let alone the multiple-volume ones. Then I came across this, thanks to a recommendation via an @albertmohler tweet, and thought I'd give it a go. I'm thrilled I did.
I found Johnson's style immensely readable, unputdownable even, but his subject matter obviously helps. More than simply retelling the mere facts of Churchill's life, Johnson joined up the dots by explaining the great themes in his life and how these fit into the broader flow of history. Even though under 200 pages, Johnson managed to give a real flavour of who Churchill really was, including many wonderful anecdotes, so you feel you actually get to know him.
I was fascinated at all Churchill managed to achieve with his life and, despite his flaws and failures, just how significant, influential, wise and essentially likeable he was. It was quite amazing to see how his former years seemed a perfect preparation for his successful leadership role during the war, how providential it was that such a man came to such a position at such a time. It seems very unlikely that the allies would have won the war without Churchill's many remarkable abilities at the core of the war effort. How different the world would be were it not for this solitary life.
So, to conclude, I heartily recommend this book as a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read.
In this biography of less than 200 pages, Paul Johnson has somehow managed to provide a remarkably comprehensive discussion of one of the most complicated, active, and productive public figures who ever lived. It is incredible to me what Winston Churchill accomplished, even taking into full account the fact that he lived for 90 years (30 November 1874 - 24 January 1965). He spent 55 of them as a member of Parliament, 31 as a minister, and nearly nine as prime minister. He was present at or fought in 15 battles, and was awarded 14 campaign medals for bravery, some with multiple clasps. He had been a prominent figure in the First World War and a dominant one in the Second. He eventually published more than ten million words and painted more than five hundred canvasses of significant quality. He was a member of the Royal Society, a Royal Academician, a university chancellor, a Nobel laureate (literature), a Knight of the Garter, and a member of the Order of Merit.
What can be learned from a life such as this? Johnson suggests these five lessons:
"The first lesson is: always aim high...He did not always meet his elevated targets, but by aiming high he always achieved something worthwhile. Lesson number two: there is no substitute for hard work...The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative and restorative leisure is well worth study by anyone holding a top position. But he never evaded hard work itself: taking important and dangerous decisions, the hardest form of work there is, in the course of a sixteen-hour day...
"Third and in its way most important, Churchill never allowed mistakes, disaster - personal or national - accidents, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticism to get him down. His powers of recuperation, both in physical illness and in psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding...
"Fourth, Churchill wasted extraordinarily small amounts of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame into others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, hr washed his hands and went on to the next contest."
"Finally, the absence of hatred left plenty of room for joy in Churchill's life. His face could light up in the most extraordinarily attractive way as it became suffused with pleasure at an unexpected and welcome event...He was emotional, and wept easily. But his tears soon dried, as joy came flooding back. He drew his strength from people, and imparted it to them in full measure. Everyone who values freedom under law, and government by, for, and from the people, can find comfort and reassurance in his life story."
Having read and reviewed most of Johnson's other books, I was not surprised by his eloquence, nor by the quality and number of his insights, nor by his circumspection as he balances personal opinions (always acknowledged) with objective analysis. As I concluded reading this book, I was reminded of Albert Einstein's admonition, "Make it as simple as possible but no simpler." That is among Johnson's several achievements when producing this biography. Bravo!
on 25 February 2010
Paul Johnson surely can write good prose, old(ish) fashioned maybe, but he nevers lacks passion--though sometimes misplaced.
To cover WSC's 90 years'of life in <200 pages is in itself a formidable task, Johnson handles well by taking the predictable route of sacrificing details with broadbrushing the major happenings. However he did use selected anecdotes to make his points, though readers of Johnson would recall that quite a few of these anecdotes have been used in his essay on Churchill in his earlier book, "Heroes".
What slightly annoys me is that he seems to claim that he knew Churchill, which is an exaggeration, to say the least. (He cast a similar impression of "knowing" Bertrand Russell in his book "Intellectuals".) I assume Mr. Johnson is famous enough in his own right (as a acclaimed historian as well as a Catholic with some personal characters) that he doesn't need to enhance his fame by trying hard to display his acquaintance of other dignitaries. This will be all the more obvious if compared with Roy Jenkins, who sat in the Commons with Churchill for nearly 20 years yet still admitted that he didn't know the man. Johnson, however, is graceful enough to commend Jenkins' biography of Churchill as the best life story of the great man.
In short, if you're not familiar with Churchill's life, you may learn a thing or two in a short time by going through this volume. If you're a keen reader of Churchill (his own words and those words about him), you won't miss too much by giving this book a pass.
on 5 November 2011
This is a wonderful starter biography on Churchill. At only 192 pages in length it still manages to provide a clear view of Churchill's life whilst whetting your appetite for more weighty tomes on the subject. Paul Johnson has written this book for the American market and, although he does not stint from criticising Churchill at times, it is very much a pro-Churchill work. That does not make it a poor read; it just means you know where the author stands on the subject. In fact, the biography is pretty remarakable in that it achieves so much in such little space. Johnson covers all stages of Winston Churchill's life, applying a broad brush approach at times but also focusing on key moments, including excerpts from Churchill's speeches or writings to provide illumination and depth where appropriate. The technique works very well and the result is a beautifully crafted short biography which I would recommend to anyone with even a remote interest in Churchill's life.
on 5 November 2013
Paul Johnson writes a masterful short biography of Churchill, one that should be read by all those who claim they have not enough time to read longer works. This book also contains some unusual features which make it very useful as a book about leadership, about living and how to live a life, about work and, above all, about getting things done.
The title of the book is not as described on this page, as can be seen clearly from the book's cover - the book is just plain Churchill by Paul Johnson. There are a number of other reviews on the page for the paperback edition of this excellent book.
Paul Johnson clearly likes his subject and he makes clear, too, that Winston Churchill was a rather likeable man. Soldier, parliamentarian, First Lord of the Admiralty, prime minister, orator, painter, writer, husband and leader - and a notable smoker and drinker, too!
Having read other, more detailed, certainly longer, accounts of WSC's life, Paul Johnson does the reader a real favour with his final chapter entitled 'Glorious Twilight' in which he covers the post-war world of Churchill, time he spent in Parliament and in a second term as Premier, but time in which he wrote and wrote and spoke and spoke while he could. It is good to learn from Paul Johnson how Churchill wrote his War Memoirs and makes one want to read them too.
His Epilogue is especially good and he writes "So Winston Churchill led a full life ... But all can learn from it, especially in five ways." First - aim high; second - there is no substitute for hard work; third - don't allow mistakes, criticism, disaster to get one down; fourth - don't waste time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life; fifth - this absence of hatred allowed plenty of time for joy.
Those who have read much of Churchill will still gain something from this enjoyable, well written, short work. The book is worth reading for the learning that one gains about living a good life and how not to harbour hatred - there really is something for everyone to learn from Churchill. How marvellous that this great man lived a good life, did his country and the world a great service and, after his death nearly fifty years ago, continues to be a figure of immense power and interest and one, moreover, who can inspire better things from those of us alive today.
on 5 April 2014
In only 181 pages (Viking hardcover edition c.2009) the conservative historian Paul Johnson reviews Winston Churchill's (1874- 1965) life and career with evaluative strokes on almost every page. At the core is Churchill's belief in freedom and democracy. Churchill was born to lead. From an early age he cultivated his considerable talents in writing and public speaking. The author has a rare facility for placing before the reader Churchill's view of the world and the priorities he established for solving the problems. Churchill's energy is evident throughout whether rising to success or rising to come crashing down. Churchill's dead ends and failures are noted.
The period of Churchill's life, which the world will always remember, are the war years from 1940- 1945 when he was Prime Minister of Britain. How he saved Britain and his hand in reshaping the postwar world is beautifully covered in 31 pages. And the other 6 chapters of Churchill's personal and public life are also lovingly written with short quotes that illustrate Churchill's personality, humor and humanity.
The book is wonderfully readable for those with some knowledge of British history. Nitpickers may complain that there are no footnotes or end notes. But this is still a solid work beneath the glow of the author's joy in writing the history. This book includes 9 photographs of Churchill, personal recommendations for further reading and index.