on 14 July 2000
This book is extremely thorough and ,as it is written in a punchy syle, very readable considering its length. The main thrust of Churchill's life was without doubt his involvement in politics and conflict. Although many of the chapters deal with the 2nd World War it is perhaps surprising to note the vast array of conflicts he was involved in before this. Other areas play minor roles, as I presume they did in Churchill's life, although the early chapters prior to his political career are especially intiguing. I would commend this book as an excellent read if you are looking for a comprehensive study on Churchill.
on 7 February 2003
Interested in Churchill ? Then read this book. Possibly the greatest works on someone's life I have ever read. From page one I was gripped. How refreshing it was to have a biography that does not linger on the lives of parents and forefathers as so many books do. The book moves quickly into the fantastic,industrious and full life of Winston.
Gilbert writes in a straightforward manner allowing you to access not only the life of Winston , but of the historical and sometimes frightening events of the first half of the 20th century.
Well done Mr Gilbert , a life's work and what a work.
on 17 November 2005
Known for his excellently researched and painstakingly detailed books I picked this up with some trepidation. It took me a while to plough through it. I feel that there is a little too much detail for the general reader especially in the 1920s and early thirties. The sections on the two wars, and his exciting early life are much more readable. The book is also very much from the Churchillian point of view and does not devote much space to opposing points of view. This is a good book for seeing the world through Churchill's eyes.
Where does one begin to review a book which so marvelously relates such a momentous life? We are allowed 1,000 words in a review, so I can do 11 words for each year of Churchill's life or 1 word for every page in the book. I might as well give it a try.
I find the breadth of Churchill's life to be mind boggling. The grandson of a Duke, he was raised at the family's Blenheim Palace. His father was a prominent Conservative politician whose political career hit its pinnacle when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he got into a squabble over the budget. Winston had the benefit of not being limited by a college education. He was a graduate of Sandhurst, which provided a military education but not a college degree. After graduation he served as a reporter covering the Cuban Insurrection, with the Army in India, where he fought tribesmen, and in Sudan, where he participated in a cavalry charge. Covering the South African War as a journalist, he was captured and this highly valued prisoner and made a daring and much publicized escape. After this he successfully ran for parliament, beginning his career as a Conservative. Four years later, in a break over Free Trade, he switched to the Liberal Party, where he served as a prominent minister. During this time his advocacy of the disastrous Dardenelles campaign forces him to leave the Cabinet and serve as an officer on the Western Front, before returning to other cabinet posts.
In 1922 he was defeated for reelection, but was reelected in 1924, this time as a Conservative. As he put it, "Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat." Partly because of his prior changes of party, he remained distrusted by the Conservatives, which kept him largely out of influence, although respect for him did gradually build, only to be dashed due to his support of his friend, King Edward VIII, in the abdication crisis. It was Churchill who was with Edward when he announced his abdication to the people. Although often viewed as a boorish advocate of rearmament, the demands of war summoned Churchill back to the admiralty, where he had served during World War I. In 1940, over the opposition of his King and his party, he was summoned to form a government at the insistence of his Labour opponents. During the War he held up the morale of the British people, while coaxing the reluctant New World to step "forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." During the war he prepared for the post war conflict with the Soviet Union, which, like the 1930s German threat, he foresaw. After the war he was voted out, but did return to head a second government, during which he fought a failing body and the diminishing confidence of his party.
In addition to all this, Churchill was a prolific author, penning biographies of the First Duke of Marlboro and his father, his memoirs of the River War, World War I, World War II and the "History of the English Speaking Peoples." This statesman won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.
I think that many of us have the impression of Churchill as a right wing reactionary, but he held some very progressive positions, such as votes for women, universal health care and a strong social safety net. An admirer of the New Deal, he was more liberal than many would imagine him to be today.
So, I have convinced you that Churchill led an unimaginable, although eccentric, life, but what about the book you ask? The book is a match for the life! It is very readable. Although over 1,000 pages, it I one that you will not want to quit. Author Martin Gilbert has the knack of making you believe that you are reading a thorough biography, without ever becoming bogged down in details. Some books leave you with the feeling that subjects have been treated superficially and that you do not really understand them, but never here. For anyone wanting to acquire an understanding of the magnificent life of Winston Churchill, this book is the place to start.
on 5 February 2001
If you have an interest in Churchill than this is the book for you! From the first page you are instantly taken on the enthralling roller-coaster ride that was Churchill's life. From his early days as a soldier and war journalist, through his early rising political career and subsequent decade in the wilderness to his finest hour as wartime Prime Minister, this book will have you totally absorbed. At times you will roar with laughter, at times you will be brought to tears by the remarkable life of this true British hero. Quite simply the best biography I have ever read.
on 25 September 2011
And what a life! I really enjoyed this 960 page book about a titan who strode across British public life for over 60 years (and packed very much indeed into his pre-public life!). Martin Gilbert's book is a fantastic piece of research, synthesis and narrative about a truly spectacular life.
However, I was a little disappointed at times that this was just a narrative and not a more searching, analytical book about Churchill. To me it did smack occasionally of 'hero-worship', though undoubtedly Churchill was a hero several times during his life. I would have liked to have known more about Churchill's foibles - his depression, his heavy drinking - and whether some of the many criticisms about him made by contemporaries carried any weight. Mr Gilbert does rather ignore these in his obvious admiration of his subject. This is certainly the biography Churchill would have wanted written about him; perhaps a little more objectivity would have enhanced the value of this very enjoyable tome.
It has certainly opened my eyes to a great life lived to the full and one can have nothing but admiration for the scale, scope and detail of the work. I am awarding five stars on this basis alone, though next time I will look for something more searching, analytical and perhaps balanced about the great man. Something a little more 'warts and all', though I am glad I started with this very full and comprehensive biography. It is very enjoyable due to the epic nature of the life it chronicles.
on 23 May 2010
This compelling and comprehensive volume by the greatest living historian of the 20th century, is the definitive biography of Winston Churchill.
The book particularly stresses what a great humanitarian and opponent of all forms of tyranny, that Churchill was.
As a young Member of Parliament , Churchill voiced his anger at the massacre by the British expeditionary invasion force into Tibet of 600 unarmed Tibetan peasants by Colonel Younghusband : "Are there any people in the world so mean spirited not to resist under the circumstances which these poor Tibetans have been subjected. It has been their land for centuries and though they are only Asiatic liberty and home mean something to them".
He also denounced what he termed 'the disgusting butchery of the Natives' when a Zulu rebellion in Natal was brutally crushed by the British authorities in 1806, and the violent treatment of Chinese labourers in South Africa at the time.
He was an opponent of Socialism but, unlike Margaret Thatcher, did realize that there were times when government intervention to uplift the poorest sections of British society was necessary.
After World War II, Churchill stressed the constructive aspect and aims of Conservatism, and at his daughter Sarah's suggestion elaborated on the coalition governments Four Year Plan for social insurance, industrial industries insurance and a National Health Service. He announced that the conservatives would provide free milk for the 'very poor' and the under fives. Contrast this to Margaret Thatcher's cruel decision to abolish free milk for school-children aged seven to eleven, when she was Education Secretary int the early 1970s. He wanted a trong Britaiin but also wanted a social policy that will benefit the mass of the people and reduce the extremes of poverty and deprivation.
Under Thatcher no doubt Churchill would have been referred to as a "Wet"!
Churchill took a strong stand against the two great totalitarian evils of the 20th Century, Communism and Nazism. In 1919 when the Bolsheviks were committing massive atrocities across Russia and the Ukraine,Churchill said that he had no doubt that "of all the tyrannies in history the Bolshevik tyranny is the worst the most destructive and the most degrading".
The atrocities committed under Lenin and Trotsky were "incomparably more hideous, on a larger scale, and more numerous than any for which the Kaiser is responsible".
This was true.
not until the Nazi Holocaust did the world see anything comparable, and Churchill was clear that although Communism and Nazism were regarded as being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, their spirit and nature were identical.
As a testament to Churchill's great humanitarianism, he was always a staunch Zionist from the Balfour Declaration of 1917, knowing the justice of the cause of the long suffering and much persecuted Jewish people to a homeland of their own in the country where they originated.
He opposed the Attlee/Bevin post-war Labour government's hostility to the Jews of the Palestine Mandate and their cruel treatment of Jewish refugees wanting to retun to their homeland. He urged Britain in 1949 to recognize the newly re-established Jewish homeland of Israel.
In May, 1940, Churchill who had held almost every office of state, became Prime Minister at the age of Sixty Five. For the next five years, through a period of unparalleled disasters to achievement of final victory he rose to every occasion with unfaltering courage and matchless oratory. Thanks to the radio he was bale to speak directly to the people. and he gave Britain leadership such as she had never perhaps had in all her history.
As the war drew to an end he realized more clearly than Roosevelt , the nature of Stalin's interest in the countries of Eastern Europe, and it could be said he did what he could to contain Communist aggression.
This is the best biography of Churchill out there and highly recommended for those who want to gain a very real understanding of Churchill's careers and what he stood for.
Above all Churchill loved his country and served it all his life.
on 25 May 2011
I have just finished reading Dr Martin Gilbert's biography of Sir Winston Churchill and I am happy to say that it is a wonderful work. It is beautifully written, excellently researched and thoroughly engaging. Dr Gilbert uses a lot of excerpts from letters Churchill wrote and received, as well as excerpts from diaries of those close to him. He also uses a lot of material from Churchill's speeches and Parliamentary debates. The book does an excellent job of revealing the man behind the legend - and even for a big fan of Churchill's like me, it was a huge eye-opener.
This book definitely falls into the catergory of hefty tome, but please do not let the length or weight of this book dissuade you from reading it. It is beautifully constructed, informative, engaging and passionate. The author maintains an even-handed approach, although this does sometimes waver, and has produced a readable account of a great man. I would encourage everyone to read this book and hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
The title of this review was Sir. Winston Spencer Churchill responding when asked how he thought History would remember him. He had no concerns, because as he explained he would be his own biographer.
Mr. Churchill did author many books most of which are still readily available in print today, and as far as his ability to use a pen, The Nobel Prize he received for his writings answers that question.
As mentioned elsewhere Martin Gilbert (now Sir Martin Gilbert) finished the 8th volume of the official Churchill Biography in 1988. It is also true that he dedicated decades of his life to the work. What is not as well known is that the work is not yet complete. There are 8 volumes and there are also 15 additional volumes of correspondence, personal letters, etc., that are also equally important to this body of work. Finally, there are more volumes yet to come, so this work not only has stretched decades, its creation has spanned 2 Centuries like the great man himself. It is also important to note that Sir Winston's Son Randolph Churchill published the first volume. Sir Gilbert joined Randolph in 1962, Volume 1 was published in 1966, and Sir Gilbert officially accepted the monumental task in 1968.
This one volume work is brilliant. I have read the 8-volume version, and some of the companion volumes, and to think it could be distilled into one book, however thick, would have seemed an insurmountable task. Sir Gilbert is the authority on the man who many argue was the man of the 20th Century, and one of the great Statesman of History.
Sir Winston certainly was a brilliant leader; to stop there is to not know the man at all. He was an accomplished writer, he was a painter, he was a mason (the type that build walls), a trowel not a secret handshake was used, and he was an orator without peer, who today is still quoted on a regular basis.
If you read one book, then please make it this one.
My introduction to Churchill was through the as yet uncompleted 3-volume work of Mr. William Manchester, which is also excellent. Once introduced to this giant of history, one book will not do, he was too large, larger than life, as large as the events he guided, and the Western Democracy that he saved until others came to his aid. How different the world would have been had his party not been voted from office in the midst of the final peace negotiations. The only consistent player was Stalin, and he won hands down.
A man that must be a part of any library, as our present is due in part to this individual. And remember he was 50% American. But then perhaps we can take a bit of pride and say, no surprise at all!
on 11 October 2000
For anyone interested in Sir Winston's most eventful life this is the right book. No episode of his life seems to be overlooked, but at times the reader may want to have what are the author's opinions about the events that he narrates. In any case Sir Winston emerges from these pages as a champion of democracy and freedom, an unconquerable spirit and a boundless reservoir of energy and love of life. In times to come Churchill may reach the olympus of classical heros and very few doubt that Martin Gilbert will be considered his Homer.