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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical revisionist history that demolishes official myths
Nigel Knight has written a radical revisionist analysis of Winston Churchill that stands in stark contrast to the man Churchill biographer Roy Jenkins described as, "...the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street." It is, of course, for the reader to decide whose judgement is closer to the facts. What seems apparent, however, is that the reverential status...
Published on 15 Sep 2010 by Mr. Tristan Martin

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2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks balance
For those readers who who imply there has been no significant criticism of Churchill before, they should try Robert Rhodes James 'Churchill: A Study in Failure 1900-1939,' or John Charmley 'Churchill: The End of Glory.' The problem with Mr Knight's work is that it lacks any balance or objectivity, consequently its value is reduced.
Published 6 months ago by Simon


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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical revisionist history that demolishes official myths, 15 Sep 2010
By 
Mr. Tristan Martin (Hertfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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Nigel Knight has written a radical revisionist analysis of Winston Churchill that stands in stark contrast to the man Churchill biographer Roy Jenkins described as, "...the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street." It is, of course, for the reader to decide whose judgement is closer to the facts. What seems apparent, however, is that the reverential status that Churchill is accorded in contemporary society is at odds with how Churchill's peers actually viewed the man. Perhaps, therefore, we should interpret Knight's version of history more as an attempt to set the record straight, to deconstruct the myths surrounding the most aristocratic Prime Minister of the twentieth century.

Knight's premise is essentially that, in essence, Churchill had a negative net impact on Great Briton. Churchill masterminded the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War that was a bloody waste of lives which achieved nothing of substance. In the interwar period, Churchill actually argued for cuts in Britain's defence spending, despite the obvious rise of Nazism in Europe and fascism in the far east. That during the Second World War, Churchill promoted a dispersionary strategy that drew forces away from where they could do most damage to Hitler's war machine and instead focused on peripheral areas of the conflict that had no consequence on whether Hitler would be defeated (Norway, North Africa, the Balkans, Dieppe, Italy).

These chapters and many more besides, are supported by plentiful documentary evidence, as well as contemporaneous accounts of Generals' frustrated by Churchill's unhelpful interfering, politicians' descriptions of his blinkered obstinacy on futile pet obsessions, diplomats' aghast at both his boisterousness and also his lack of detailed knowledge.

This might all seem like radical muckraking nonsense to the modern audience, programmed as we are to accept the mantra that it was Churchill that won the Second World War, his voice a lone beacon of adversity when faced with the monstrous spectre of European tyranny. However, Knight, lecturer in British Government at the University of Cambridge, demolishes the myths surrounding Winston Churchill with calm, sober arguments, all substantiated with logical progression.

In writing Churchill: The Greatest Briton Unmasked, Nigel Knight risks positioning himself to be one of the least popular historians in the UK. If his book is honestly read, however, one cannot help but be forced to reappraise the legacy of "the greatest Briton" and find that what remains is a politician who had great powers of oratory and rhetoric and deployed them to great effect, a politician who (re)wrote history to absolve himself of numerous errors of judgement and whose version of history has now passed into official legend.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks balance, 5 Feb 2014
By 
Simon (Cambridge UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill. The Greatest Briton Unmasked (Paperback)
For those readers who who imply there has been no significant criticism of Churchill before, they should try Robert Rhodes James 'Churchill: A Study in Failure 1900-1939,' or John Charmley 'Churchill: The End of Glory.' The problem with Mr Knight's work is that it lacks any balance or objectivity, consequently its value is reduced.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shattering myths of Churchill the hero, 13 Dec 2008
SUNDAY EXPRESS November 23, 2008
Shattering myths of Churchill the hero

MOST HISTORIANS writing today would rather be caught dead than be associated with the "Great Men in History" school and yet, as the current crisis is reminding us, leadership does matter.

No person better symbolises leadership qualities than Winston Churchill. In his sharply provocative new book, Nigel Knight seeks to pull down Churchill from his pedestal as the greatest Briton of the 20th century. From Gallipoli in 1915 to the end of his premiership in 1955, Churchill's career is exposed here as a study in failure. Whether it is military matters, diplomacy or the economy, Churchill invariably has "poor judgment", is stubborn, self-indulgent and "irrational".

Worse, according to Knight, he lacked strategic vision. He found it difficult to see the war as a single theatre of action where operations at one front inevitably impinged elsewhere. Here the book follows closely General Alan Brooke, the chief of the imperial general staff, whose war diaries, published in 2001, are quoted at great length. Churchill has long been known as a master at rewriting history, putting himself in a good light and shifting blame to others. What is new is the book's comprehensive demolition of Churchill. This may be good debating strategy but for a book it is not without problems. The argument is drummed home with such vehemence that the reader almost develops a sense of sympathy for the flailing hero.

The lack of balance especially shows in the pages on Munich and the origins of the Second World War. As Knight realises, Churchill's greatness in the popular mind hinges on his prophetic warnings about Hitler's aggression and the failure of Chamberlain's appeasement policy. Trying to debunk Churchill, Knight rushes to Chamberlain's defence. Appeasement almost appears as a success story: Chamberlain ensured that Hitler would solely be held responsible for the war.

Churchill, by contrast, is berated for trying to cut defence spending when Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1927 and for not anticipating the "continued threat" from Germany. This is bizarre reasoning. Weimar Germany at the time was relatively stable. In 1928 the Nazi party barely managed to win two per cent of the vote.

The Thirties were Churchill's "wilderness years", the result of his dogmatic refusal to accept self-government for India. When it came to Hitler, however, Churchill knew that here was a dictator bent on expansion. Chamberlain, on the other hand, believed it might be possible to strike a deal.

It is true, as Knight reminds us, that public opinion and the economic climate worked against military spending and that Chamberlain and Baldwin deserve some credit for rearmament. Still, it is also a question of leadership. Leaders should lead public opinion, not follow it. With Hitler in power, war was inevitable but this is not the same as to argue that it did not make a difference whether or not Britain had pursued appeasement. Hitler's aggression and the early stages of the war would probably have looked different if a strategically vital part of Czechoslovakia had not been served to him on a silver platter.

ONE NEEDS to admire Nigel Knight for his debating skill and persistence. He clearly shows how Churchill's character traits of arrogance, flippancy and self-indulgence often stood in the path of strategic judgment.

While lacking in Churchillian style, the chapters on the Second World War will be fascinating for readers with a taste for military operations. What is missing is a sense that leadership involves more than strategy. In modern societies, especially those at war, it also requires "charisma". For all his strategic errors, Churchill did have that quality, carefully massaged it and knew how to exploit it.

FRANK TRENTMANN
Professor at Birkbeck College and the
author of Free Trade Nation (OUP).
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent re-appraisal of 'The Greatest Briton', 28 Oct 2008
By 
Joy Inboden (London) - See all my reviews
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At last, after the countless rose-tinted versions of Churchill's political career, Nigel Knight has given us a unbiased appraisal of his record. The inconvenient truth of his mis-judgements and the damage he did to Britain is finally exposed in this excellent new book. I found it not only well-written but consistently illuminating - and an essential read for anyone interested in 'The Greatest Briton'. Congratulations, Mr Knight, on your brave and fascinating book.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And never did a wise one?, 6 April 2009
By 
M. Harper "Opsimath" (England.) - See all my reviews
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This is a useful work of reference for anyone who is compiling any sort of work on the career of the great Winston and wishes to avoid the hagiographical approach which is the bane of so many other accounts. Churchill made his mistakes and they are ruthlessly exposed here. To gain balance, I would extend my bibliography beyond this volume but this deals with Churchill's career in a useful chronological form and so individual incidents are easy to find. A very worthwhile addition to the collection of anyone interested in this topic.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Churchill without the spin, 26 Aug 2009
By 
Mrs. Judith M. Baker (UK) - See all my reviews
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As one of the generation who grew up with the image of Churchill as the great man who had single-handedly saved our country from invasion, I started reading this book with a degree of scepticism. How dare Nigel Knight presume to pick holes in our nation's favourite hero? But I quickly discovered the in-depth research that Knight has put into this book has unearthed a wealth of evidence that shows Churchill to have been incompetent and arrogant at best, and at worst a potential danger to our country. The publicity that has made him an adored national treasure seems to have been ill-founded. As an historical work Knight's book is faultless in its detail and references, but it is also highly readable book for anyone who has an interest in the personalities that have shaped our history. I would recommend it highly to both historians and non-academic readers.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man of the Century? Really?, 22 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Churchill. The Greatest Briton Unmasked (Paperback)
I have often wondered why my grandparents didn't have anything good to say about Churchill. They were both born in 1900 and lived through the Churchill years. They were both working class Yorkshire people, grandad a miner, grandma a tailoress. I saw this book, bought it and read it. I wanted to see if it would answer some questions about their perspective on this so-called man of the century.
I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks this man deserves the praise that has been heaped upon him since his death.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Churchill book but this one's thoroughly researched ..., 19 Oct 2008
Not another book about Churchill!!! But this one takes an entirely different slant and is very well researched. Nigel Knight, is a Cambridge economist and argues cogently that Churchill's economic policies, both before and after the First World War, weakened the British economy, causing unemployment and so deepened the effects of the Depression of the 1930s. Great for those economics essays!
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The PM's new clothes, 15 Jun 2009
By 
Thomas Dunskus (Faleyras, France) - See all my reviews
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A Chinese proverb states: "The great man is a misfortune for the people". Once you have finished Nigel Knight's book on the Greatest Briton, you understand why this also applies in Europe.

Winston Churchill was active in British politics for half a century, his heyday was the middle of the 20th century when he helped to widen a local European conflict into a world war. A few months after its outbreak, Churchill became Prime Minister. Over the years to come, he would lead his country into a total war, directed, as British policy had always prescribed, against the strongest power on the continent of Europe. Before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, it was initially Spain and later France that had been the target, now the newly founded second German Reich found itself in the gunsights of the British Empire.

Churchill's birth practically coincided with the publication of a book, "The Battle of Dorking", which would give rise to a flood of similar stories, all aimed at making the British public sensitive to an invasion of their island. Until that time, British wars had always been fought away from home or somewhere on the high seas, but now the situation seemed to change. In many of these books, the attackers speak German. In this way, an atmosphere of anxiety took hold in the British population, and British policy, willy-nilly, had to take this state of mind into account.

Churchill grew up in this atmosphere and absorbed, no doubt, many of these ideas. They meshed well with the historical world-view underlying the curriculum of the great British schools that orientated itself on Roman history; such a view did not deal much with questions of a social or an economical nature. Quite naturally, this attitude assumed that other countries also considered history as nothing but a succession of collisions between national powers aiming to expand their possessions at the expense of other such forces - or at least preserve what they had conquered. Such a perspective would, in the 1920s and 30s, lead many English politicians and other public figures to the assumption that Hitler would attack Britain once he had the means to do so.

Such an attitude is borne out by the utterances of members of the British establishment who had undergone a similar education; in the years immediately preceding WW2, Robert Vansittart and Lord Beaverbrook - and certainly not only they - stated that either Germany or Britain had to be destroyed: they could simply not imagine anything else.

This, then, was the atmosphere obtaining in Britain when Winston Churchill came to power. Nigel Knight's book examines in detail the consequences of the decisions he took at various stages of his career: the Gallipoli adventure he had brought about, the restrictions he imposed on British armament in the 1920s (quite in keeping, by the way, with the Versailles paper which also imposed conditions on the victorious allies), his love for second, i.e. secondary, fronts which led him into Norway in 1940 or into the Balkans and Italy later on, his endearment with large battleships which were no longer decisive in naval warfare and the persistent postponement of a real second front in France, all of which had significant negative sonsequences for the Allies and prolonged the war by months if not years.

What is not dealt with much in this book are the events during Churchill's decade of internal exile in the 1930s, events which eventually resulted in his return to Whitehall. The author mentions briefly the machinations of the Focus network and Churchill's financial rescue by some generous members of this group, but does not shed much light on the forces involved. An interested reader will find a wealth of information on this critical aspect of Winston's life in Stefan Scheil's most recent book "Churchill, Hitler und der Antisemitismus".

The author takes pains to dismantle the traditional view that Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Hitler had been a mistake and makes it clear that a more aggressive policy would, at that point in time, not have been possible at all. It was the time gained by Chamberlain's tactics which allowed Britian to beef up its defensive airforce, thus winning the Battle of Britain and holding out until Roosevelt had obtained another mandate in late 1940. In this way, London was able to steer the newly reconfirmed president away from the isolationist position he had held during the election campaign and to obtain both his active material support and his political backing.

The reader is also informed in great detail how Churchill and Britain, through the war years, became weaker and weaker to an extent where they were barely able to feast with the victors but no longer had any real influence in the post-war world. The exclamation point behind this state of affairs is Churchill's loss of the elections in July of 1945 at the very moment of his participation in the Potsdam conference which defined the world for the next half century.

While he is allowed back into power in the 1950s, all he can now do is preside over the final dissolution of the Empire and have the end of the British role as a world power officially certified by the outcome of the Suez adventure. For Britain, the 19th century finally ended in 1956.

Like a tragic hero in a Shakespearean drama, Churchill, at the end of WW2, acknowledges that his personal policy as well as Britain's in general, had failed to recognize the true adversary, the Soviet Union. The bolshevik empire and its philosophy had constituted a power that did not have a place in the curricula of Britain's schools. Instead, one had concentrated on an enemy who corresponded to the textbook examples and, in doing so, taken the Western world to the edge of a dark valley into which, but for the grace of God, it almost disappeared.

The books ends with the cryptic statement that Churchill is remembered, above all else, for Hitler's defeat having written his own history of the events, whereas Hitler is remembered for himself.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very fine critique, 23 Aug 2009
By 
F. Pirie - See all my reviews
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In his meticulously researched yet eminently readable presentation, Nigel Knight debunks many of the myths on which we post-war 'baby boomers' were raised by our eternally grateful parents - grateful to Churchill that is for almost single-handedly leading us to victory, or so it seemed to many populists. Yet 'Britain won the war but behaved afterwards as if it had lost it'. Churchill was no great intellectual - at least most of us know that much about his failings at school - but he made numerous disastrous decisions and tactical errors, preferring at times his own pet projects and ignoring his advisors, acting emotionally and irrationally. While few would question the propaganda value of his oratory during the last war, his military strategy was highly defective, and yet he is remembered above all for the defeat of Hitler. His lacklustre government of the early 1950s marked his demise from active political power. This new appraisal of Churchill is a highly accessible and entertaining volume for the historian and lay reader alike.
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Churchill. The Greatest Briton Unmasked
Churchill. The Greatest Briton Unmasked by Knight Nigel (Paperback - 30 Oct 2009)
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