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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine work worthy of a fine man.
Perhaps it takes a politician of Roy Jenkins' stature to write a work worthy of a man who was once described as "The greatest living Englishman." Whilst not an uncommon surname, the very word "Churchill" conjures up an image of one man and one man only. That man was Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill - soldier, journalist, painter, Nobel laureate, politician and leader of...
Published on 21 April 2009 by Ned Middleton

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars flawed but useful
If you know nothing about Churchill other than what you read in tub-thumping tabloids, then this book is a very good introduction, if patchy, but if you know something of historiography, you'll find plenty to criticise.

Jenkins, as another reviewer writes, is fond of public school French and Latin and can come across as pretentious, but he is even positively...
Published 4 months ago by Fuficius Fango

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine work worthy of a fine man., 21 April 2009
Ned Middleton (British professional underwater photo-journalist & author) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Perhaps it takes a politician of Roy Jenkins' stature to write a work worthy of a man who was once described as "The greatest living Englishman." Whilst not an uncommon surname, the very word "Churchill" conjures up an image of one man and one man only. That man was Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill - soldier, journalist, painter, Nobel laureate, politician and leader of nations. I am not given to defacing books but I well remember being 15 years old when this great man died and going to the school library to read a short biography of his life. Directly after his name were brackets inside which was printed the year of his birth followed by a dash and a blank space reserved for the year of death. Having read the item, I carefully wrote "1965" into that blank space and closed the book.

For those who may not be unaware, Roy Jenkins was a leading British politician who, in post-war years was a fellow Member of Parliament alongside Churchill - although of a different political persuasion. In his preface, Jenkins describes having met Churchill as a boy and observing him at work in later years - although he is very careful to admit he did not know the man. With an honest and intuitive comment, he also declares his belief that a biography does not necessarily demand or even profit from such personal knowledge and that such familiarity can "distort as much as it illuminates."

Any biography should be a dispassionate account of whoever is under the microscope and should include those good, bad and even ugly aspects which combine to comprise the very qualities which made that subject exactly who and what they were. As biographies go, this is a first-class work. As a life story on Churchill, this will very probably stand the test of time to become recognised as the best ever. It really is all here; From an opening Chapter entitled; "The Brash Young Man (1874-1908)," through two world wars (Churchill was one of only two people holding ministerial office at the outbreak of both WW1 and WW2 (he was First Lord of the Admiralty on both occasions although he did hold other posts in between) and, of course the post-war years right up to 1965. In a word, this book is complete.

I always begin reading such factual works by studying the illustrations in order to get a feel for the product. In this instance, I spent almost 30 minutes just reading the captions and comparing them to the relevant image. There are 84 historic photographs arranged together in 2 areas and another selection of 12 pictures which are works of art reproduced in colour. Whilst some of these are portraits of Churchill, others reveal his own skills with a paintbrush.

This is a comprehensive work on one of the greatest statesmen of all time. Consequently, I would suggest would-be students of Churchill ensure this work is elevated to the top of their list as far as their own studies are concerned.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Man in the World, 27 Jun. 2013
John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Roy Jenkins gives us an exhaustively-researched biography of Winston Churchill. It is a complete treatment which deals with Churchill's early years, family life, writing projects, and political machinations as well as his high-profile WWII and post-war leadership. Reading it (or listening to the audio book) is a significant time commitment.

I won't try to summarize Churchill's life briefly, accepting the author's implied judgment that this is not possible. Instead, I will share two impressions of him that came from reading this book. The first is that Winston is, with all due respect, a bit of a pompous ass. He was certainly courageous, brilliant, resilient, charming, and loyal. But he also insisted on his comforts, indulged in petty jealousies, exaggerated his accomplishments, and loved the sound of his own thundering voice. These qualities are manifest throughout his life--and account for some of his public successes. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed his company. I hope I would have seen the value of enduring it.

Churchill is revered as a wartime leader, responsible for thwarting Hitler's designs on Great Britain and pushing the German armies back from conquered Europe. This book highlights Churchill's political and interpersonal skills. His military background contributed to Britain's early French and Norwegian operations--which were largely unsuccessful. His greater contribution was fostering relationships among the maneuvering politicians, exiled monarchs, competing general officers, and demoralized refugees that were necessary to Allied victory. He spent much of the war meeting and organizing summits between key players. And he continued to facilitate relationships between American and Russian leaders even as their countries' increasing roles in the war edged Churchill and Great Britain to the sidelines.

The book is rich with revealing anecdotes. For example, the author describes a high-level summit in Washington, DC. The war was ending and the Allied leaders were discussing how to manage post-war Europe. Josef Stalin said, "The Germans won't be a problem. We'll just take fifty thousand of their top politicians and officers and shoot them." Aghast, Churchill made an impassioned speech about preferring to be taken outside and shot himself rather than to allow his country's honor to be stained by such an act. Churchill roared to a conclusion and there was an awkward silence. Franklin Roosevelt tried to lighten the mood with, "I propose a compromise figure of forty-nine thousand." Churchill stormed from the room. Nobody believed Stalin's subsequent claim that he had just been kidding.

One more anecdote: Late in Churchill's life, after he had retired from public view, he was working alone one day in his daughter's study, protected by a detail of British soldiers. A determined grandson worked his way through these defenses and interrupted the great man's writing. "Grandpapa," the boy demanded. "Are you really the most important man in the world?" "Yes," he responded, without hesitation. "Now bugger off!"

Hardworking, irascible, and proud to the end, Winston Churchill was also admirable and worth knowing. It is worth your while to spend time with him in this book.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING ONE VOLUME BIOGRAPHY, 1 Sept. 2003
Luciano Lupini (Caracas Venezuela) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
A review by Luciano Lupini:This book by Roy Jenkins, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the Oxford University, member of the House of the Lords and President of the Royal Society of literature is a very readable biography of Sir Winston Churchill. Very well written, outstanding in the breadth of material researched and deliciously witty, this one of the best single volume approach to the life of one of the human milestones of the 20th Century.
Unless you have the time and purpose to go through the 8 volumes of the official biography started by Randolph Churchill but really attributable to Sir Martin Gilbert (ed. from 1966 to 1988), you will not be able to get a better factual assessment of the life and deeds of THE PRIME MINISTER par excellence. It covers every important aspect of Churchill's life, and then some. From birth to schooling, his first exposures to war and politics, then early triumphs, despair, resurrection and demise, we get a clear picture of one of the principal players in English politics for almost 60 years.
The book has a very well organized index, for reference purposes. For instance, under Churchill, Sir Winston Spencer, we have subtitles that address topics such as Characteristics and qualities (memory, self-confidence, personal bravery, argumentativeness, etc.) Education, Health, Honors, Military Career, etc. that much facilitate a cross reading of important topics. We derive the impression that in such a difficult task ( a portrait of a man so complex and about whom so many have written) Jenkins has succeeded.
WHY READ THIS BOOK ? This work might be even superior to Jenkins biography about another giant of English politics: Gladstone. This may be just a coincidence, but a double one if we recall the final assessment that Jenkins provides about Churchill:
.."When I started writing this book I thought that Gladstone was, by a narrow margin, the greater man, certainly the more remarkable specimen of humanity. In the course of writing it I have changed my mind. I now put Churchill, with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life, as the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street........"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars flawed but useful, 17 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
If you know nothing about Churchill other than what you read in tub-thumping tabloids, then this book is a very good introduction, if patchy, but if you know something of historiography, you'll find plenty to criticise.

Jenkins, as another reviewer writes, is fond of public school French and Latin and can come across as pretentious, but he is even positively risible in some places: - I can stomach his preference for 'nepotic' over the more common 'nepotistic', but to describe a woman as 'uxorious' towards her husband is downright stupid. The Canadian prime-minister is described as a 'tertium quid'. This can have various possible meanings, especially in the context of American political history (see Wiki), and it's not clear which Jenkins intends. If he meant a third wheel (or gooseberry, if you prefer), he should have said so; and if he meant something cleverer than that, he should have said it in English. He uses the verb "resile" at least half a dozen times. I wonder if he ever used it in conversation.

This book contains a lot of material you can use for a critical appraisal (although it ignores a huge amount too), but you have to read between the lines. Jenkins is sometimes fair in admitting when Churchill's writings contain lies or misrememberings or hindsight, but Jenkins does come across mainly as an apologist - "Churchill was not a war-monger" he declares within a few pages of his description of Churchill's 1919 failed 'pilot' invasion of Russia which cost the tax-payer an estimated 73 million (3 billion or so in modern money). This, according to Roy, was not war-mongering, it was merely 'military adventurism'! Jenkins at least gives more weight to this affair than AJP Taylor does in his volume of the Oxford History of England.

In the same vein, a common trick of Jenkins is to dispute a commonly-held derogatory claim against Churchill, then glibly take for granted a few pages later that the claim was true all along. I've spotted this tendency on 3 or 4 occasions. For example, pp.655-8 contain some apologetics about Greece which employ inverted timelines in a way that could be accused of being dishonest, not to mention confusing when repeated often, then there's some stuff about efficiently sacking Wavell for complacency, all capped off with "[for Wavell] a poor reward for obeying over-demanding political orders" (this being the pov of 'many others' with no analysis by Jenkins of whether their pov was accurate or not, but implying, thus baldly expressed, that it was also Jenkins' pov). There's too much of this kind of thing.

Hindsight has turned Churchill into a man who "could do no wrong" for many, but looked at contextually, Newport to Narvik is a history of buccaneering blunder (Narvik was in some ways a carbon copy of the Dardanelles, so we have to assume Churchill learnt nothing between 1915 and 1940). Why on earth would anyone assume Churchill suddenly experienced an apotheosis in 1940? Part of Jenkins' problem is the balancing act required between unbiased sources and biased ones. Since the core of your research, in what must be one of the biggest bodies of literature about any man, must be Churchill's own writing, which never admits to any error, not even in the Dardanelles, then your work is cut out for you. For example Jenkins doesn't mention Dowding. Is that because Churchill preferred not to credit Dowding with anything? Judgement in selectivity is probably Jenkins' weakest suit. Singapore is glossed over. One view is that it was lost because Churchill thought the Japanese were "mere yellow midgets" and so put the inadequate Arthur Percival in charge. Jenkins mentions none of this. The biggest piece of white-washing (rather than mere omission) in the whole book is probably Churchill's disastrous stint as Chancellor of the Exchequer (the poor man was misled, is basically Jenkins' view). Churchill's possible alcoholism gets joked about often, but never seriously analysed. Perhaps if Roy had been less fond of his claret,...? The non-response to Auschwitz intelligence is one of the big questions today. Some comment on this would have been interesting. However, I wonder how many wartime documents are still under a 100-year secrecy rule, a discussion of which wouldn't have been out of place in this book (topically, June 2015, documents concerning Christopher Lee's activities are still classified).

In spite of the bribes of unrationed caviar and champagne and cigars and 1865 cognac, Churchill never managed to get America to declare war against Hitler - Churchill's luck was that Hitler declared war on America in retaliation for America's declaring war on Japan. And luck is the keyword. Churchill gambled so much (literally and figuratively) that he got lucky in the end. 1942 was the culmination of many disasters and a ludicrously mismanaged vote of no-confidence against him. Then finally came the success of El Alamein, but by then Churchill's importance was already declining, and bitterness was growing hand in hand with the expectation of victory. Churchill didn't attend Roosevelt's funeral.

So, in spite of the apologetics, it's sort of a warts and all book, and, rather than deify Churchill, it should make us want to spend more time condemning the vast majority of politicians who are nothing better than waste matter on the make. Churchill left the army (the first time) as a lieutenant, indicating that he perhaps wasn't very talented at military matters, and politics were for him pretty much a backdoor to military preferment (Jenkins notes how awkward he can look in photos that show him in fancy dress uniform when other politicians are wearing suits), and he interfered too much with the real military men when he was just a politician. It's almost as though we won the war in spite of him, rather than because of him: when he spent 6 months out of the country in 1943, it was Attlee, the deputy PM who ran the shop. By 1944 Churchill was neglecting political briefs and in his 2nd premiership seems to have spent much of his time reading novels and leaving government to govern itself. I've heard Jenkins (in 1996) claim that Edward Heath was the greatest living Englishman (the bizarrest claim I have ever heard, although in the strictly political context of 1996 it could have been taken as irony), so I had a double expectation from this book - that Jenkins believes that Churchill was the greatest Englishman ever and that the book would justify that claim (why not prefer Elizabeth I, for example?). We get neither - we get a picture of a flawed man and the final summary: "Churchill was the greatest person ever to inhabit 10 Downing Street", which is so strangely limitative that it seems like bathos.

I initially gave this book 2 stars, but it is foolish to expect the author to pre-digest everything for you, and since it contains quite a lot of material open to constructive criticism, I've upgraded it to 3 stars. It has too many gaps to deserve more. Jenkins' war coverage seems to get better all the time, although for us, 1940 is the traditional hinge year and should receive the best treatment, but Jenkins' knowledge of it seems too hazy and ambiguous. What people like Douglas Tidy have said about it needs to be taken into consideration. This review now contains a number of scattered references to 1940. I ought to collect them and make that year a more cogent focus, but anyone who doesn't like this review won't change their mind on that account (or if, as some think, e.g. Douglas Tidy, the Battle of Britain was a myth, then perhaps the problem is there is too little to focus on?).

It's the only biography of Churchill I have read, so I have no idea how the others compare.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A statesman on a statesman, 7 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Jenkins is famous principally as a Labour cabinet minister and European President of some repute. His biography of Churchill now adds another field in which he deserves to be remembered: biographer.
The release of the biography has been timely becasue of Churchill's sucess in being named the "greatest Britain" in a recent BBC poll. The boom therefore allows a timely re-evaluation of his life, and perhaps in the wake of Jenkin's death, a chance to study the qualities of the author as well.
Jenkins writing style is slightly pompous. He obviously has a vast knowledge of parliament and its' members, and he was particularly adept at realting Churchill's experiences not only to his own, but also to more recent events, providing a useful yard staick for younger readers. However, he can occasionally deviate: do we really need to know in a book on Churchill that Clement Attlee deliverd a speech at Jenkins' wedding. Also, his constant use of French phrases tends to irritate, expecially when one cannot find a French-English dictionnary in the house.
Despite these problems of accessibility, the book is a triumph. Churchill packed so much into his life that one might a single-volume biography ambitious, especially considering his decisive role in WWII. He deals in depth with every phase of his life, summarising effectively and being scrupulously fair in his evaluation. He also succeeds in capturing his personality, and the many humorous anecdotes make the book a real pleasure to read.
I would agree with the criticisms levelled at Jenkins about the lack of detail on his post-45 political career. The running of the Conservative party between 1945 - 51 was mostly left to RA Butler, but some insight here would have been useful, as would an axplanation as to why he was the best PM ever. An evaluation of Churchill's reputation and a look at the way politicians have repeatedly sought to evoke his memory would also have made interesting reading, and I am sure would not have been beyond the formidable talents of Lord Jenkins.
These small points aside, Churchill is a classic political biography, and is a major piece of work for which Jenkins deserves to be remembered alongside his pioneering time as Home Secretary.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN, 13 Feb. 2007
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Roy Jenkins was the son of a Welsh miner, both father and son becoming Labour MP's. He excelled academically, and from an early age assumed a famously grand manner of speaking. The Marquis of Salisbury said that Jenkins made him feel common, and Aneurin Bevan, on being told that the young Jenkins was brilliant but lazy, replied `Brilliant he may be, but a boy from Abersychan who talks like that? You can't tell me he's lazy.' Jenkins failed narrowly to become British prime minister, but he held the same two of the `three great offices of state' - Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer - as Churchill himself did, and there is something about the languid assurance of his narrative that suggests that he feels at home in such company. In particular, when I read his rather bald ex cathedra final assessment that Churchill rather than Gladstone was the greatest of prime ministers I almost sensed an unspoken `and I would know about that.'

President Kennedy said to Gore Vidal `But for the Civil War nobody would have heard of Lincoln.' Similarly, if Churchill had not become wartime prime minister, it is perfectly arguable that Jenkins might have had the more distinguished career. Churchill was not an outstanding Home Secretary, whereas Jenkins deserves immortality as the Home Secretary who put the weight of the government behind the abolition of the death penalty in Britain. As Chancellor Jenkins (Labour, remember) was named by none other than Mrs Thatcher as the best since the war, whereas Churchill's time at the Treasury is mainly notable for the disastrous adoption of the gold standard, albeit against his own better judgment.

The main focus of the narrative is political, in my opinion rightly. Asquith complained that Churchill not only talked too much but that it was all about politics. However politics is largely a matter of personalities, and Jenkins builds up a coherent picture of the aspects of his subject's character that led him to become what he became. Churchill's physical courage was apparent from his time in the Boer War, and his relentless driving energy strikes me as downright phenomenal - I am daunted even by the amount he ate, let alone by how much he drank, let alone how much he managed to do in spite of all that. He was undistracted by affairs or infidelities certainly, but he always had time for his family as well as his painting and bricklaying, to say nothing of his phenomenal literary output, something to which Jenkins, as another author, devotes considerable space.

This book is biography, not history, but while the two are inseparable Jenkins doesn't force his own judgements on us. I started by regretting this, but gradually I came to prefer it. Jenkins is thorough, and we are taken methodically through who did what and said what. Churchill's more spectacular clangers -the Dardanelles in WWI, the Gold Standard, the Abdication, his ludicrous views on Indian independence - are set in context without preaching. Whatever made Churchill great, it wasn't consistency of judgment. What should make this book mandatory reading for those who take a simplistic view of the lead-up to WWII is Jenkins's flat account of the matter. I started by wanting him to take a view on what constituted `appeasement' (a slogan if there was ever one) but I prefer Jenkins's way. The trick with Churchill was to harness that volcano of energy to the right cause, and I guess we were lucky. Chamberlain, not Churchill, declared war on Germany. Munich was not very dignified, but Britain was rearming under Chamberlain and needed to play for time. Going to war when we did was none too overdue, and I wonder whether Churchill might not have blown it by bulldog-at-a-gate reaction.

What makes a politician `great'? Luck and PR for the most part, I'd say. Churchill was an outsize personality. He had a terrific gift of phrase, he could dominate, but above all he could talk everyone into acquiescence. That kind of acquiescence doesn't last long, and Jenkins's nicely-judged assessments of this or that speech are probably more significant to Jenkins as another speech-maker than to most of us. A lot of so-called `leadership' is really just a holding operation - don't fall flat on your face even once. Churchill had a job to do, it was a job he wanted, he had the energy for it, and could he ever talk. The British public were not overawed with his oratory, they just felt it was up to what the occasion called for. He didn't fight the war, they did. They felt they owed him nothing, and they owed him nothing.

The book is a bit of a marathon, I'm sorry to say. Jenkins was no mean talker, in particular he was a devastating parliamentary debater. He is an excellent biographer if this is anything to go by, he is probably a good historian, but he is a downright bad writer. I would not have expected occasional bad grammar, bad syntax and misuse of words from such an aesthete, but they're here. He has a tin ear for English, particularly adverbs - `possibly excessively' `friendlily' and (dear God) `deadenly'. Such adverbs read to me uglily and ungainlily. Would `an united...' or `an horrendous...' pass in an English exam? If I were the examiner, not, er, an hope. Use of nouns and names as adjectives is an Americanism that doesn't suit him, but he uses it ad nauseam, and when it comes to the like of `an appealing (to Churchill) Texan companion' or `the then only seven-year-old redbrick and brown terracotta Midland Hotel' the entire English-speaking community should rise up in revolt.

At Fulton MO Churchill proposed an English-speaking alliance to outweigh his so-called Iron Curtain that he had negotiated in the first place. Stalin's response was obvious, and mine would have been the same in Stalin's place. Even dictators can talk sense, and Churchill got inebriated with his own verbosity, yet this is one sort of thing that he is supposed to be `great' for. Jenkins was a liberal-minded social democrat and his calm view of what caused so much excitement and worse should be a corrective to much that we are seeing today. If only he had said it better.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Awful Book, 8 Jun. 2015
M. J. Adams "michael adams" (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Others have already commented on Jenkins' tortuous sentence construction,
and his deliberate choice of obscure words and phrases. All of which criticisms
are wholly justified, in my opinion.

But the real shock comes, when reading Jenkins' treatment of topics of which
this reader anyway, just so happens to have some prior knowledge.

Thus on page 875 is revealed this gem. Concerning a party political
exchange of 1954

"This [Churchill] proposed to do by showing that the Labour Government,
by allowing the abrogation of the Quebec Agreement (on the development
of nuclear weapons) which Churchill had negotiated with Roosevelt in 1944,
was responsible for the lack of British Control of the use of the H Bomb
of which the opposition was now complaining.

Which conveniently overlooks the fact that the US Atomic Energy Act, of 1946
popularly known as the McMahon Act specifically prevented the United States' allies
such as the UK and Canada from receiving any further information concerning
atomic research. And this despite their having contributed to the Manhatten Project.
This was a unilateral decision taken by the US Congress. Over which the
British Labour Government at the time had no influence whatsoever.

The Quebec Agreement on the other hand was an Executive Agreement made
between Churchill and Roosevelt personally, of which Clement Atlee need have had no
knowledge at all. And which in any case, wasn't regarded as binding on any future
US Administration.

Now while Winston Churchill may have chosen to bend the truth in order to score party
political points in the course of a bitter debate, there's no excuse for Jenkins to repeat
his claims parrot fashion without comment, and without properly researching the background.
More especially given his boasts of having been witness to much of Churchill's
later parliamentary career.

While on page 893, concerning a phrase used by Churchill in a speech of

"It was striking that a non-believer, in any conventional theological sense , should have
thought of such a divinely apocalyptic phrase...

Yes indeed. It's only on page 893 of his biography of Winston Churchill that you suddenly
realise that this is the first time Roy Jenkins has alluded in any way at all to Winston
Churchill's religious beliefs. If any.

One somehow suspects that the copious pains which Winston Churchill
clearly took over the writing of his own books, which are fully detailed here,
were rather more thorough than those taken by this particular biographer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An exhausting read, but a profitable one., 19 Feb. 2015
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I recently reviewed Boris Johnson's 'The Churchill Factor' and one person who left comment gently implied I should also read a weightier appraisal of Churchill. Suitable chastened, I immediately bought 'Churchill' by Roy Jenkins and some one third of a million words later, I now review that book.

My own memory of Roy Jenkins is that of a man of many talents, and I admired him greatly as a politician. It's quite remarkable in itself, that a miner's son from Abersychan in South Wales can through education rise above the level of what most of us can achieve and become a Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer and arguably have greater success than Churchill himself did in either of those posts.

But what of his book 'Churchill'? The first thing to say is that very many of those one third million words were long and many were relatively obscure and owing not a little to their classical origins. And they were frequently woven into convoluted sentences of such length and complexity that if read out aloud would leave the reader gasping for air. That having been said, I nevertheless found the book to be both illuminating and insightful. For me, it offered many perspectives of Churchill as a man which I had not previously considered. I particularly warmed to the account of Churchill's early years and am prompted to read Churchill's own book 'My Early Life', as a result. I also appreciated Jenkins' account of Churchill's post-war decline and gained further understanding of how such a great man in time of war could so sadly find peace time governance so problematic. I was also greatly intrigued by the glimpses of Clementine Churchill which the book reveals, and must read more.

Jenkins himself was a through and through politician. And I therefore suppose it inevitable that he should focus so much in this book on Churchill the politician. Personally, I found his emphasis on much of the political minutiae of Churchill's life, tended to mask more important and salient aspects. And given Jenkins' propensity not just to relate events but also to offer analysis I was a little surprised that on his last page he should offer his conclusion that Churchill was the 'greatest human being to occupy 10 Downing St, greater than Gladstone,' without attempting to explain why. More analysis at this point would have been most illuminating and have provided a climatic ending rather than what is in effect, a rather disappointing fizzling out.

Not yet having read Martin Gilbert, I have no idea how Jenkins matches up, but I guess Jenkins' own considerable experience of political life and of holding two great offices of state and also his time as a soldier in the 2WW must have leant a great deal to this account.

An exhausting read, but a profitable one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb biography, 9 Oct. 2014
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This magnificent big biography of the great Prime Minister and war leader, written by the former Labour Cabinet member and Social Democratic Party founder Roy Jenkins, was the British Book Awards Best Biography of the Year in 2003. It is political and personal biography as its very best, beautifully written and covering all aspects of the colourful life of Churchill, which packed in more incident, especially on the political and literary fronts, then any other figure during the twentieth century. His magnificent leadership during the Second World War is of course rightly lauded, but there was so much more to him than this: his early military and journalistic experiences in the Boer War; his Cabinet career as quite a radical Liberal President of the Board of the Trade in the reforming 1906-10 Liberal Government; his dramatic changes of party from Conservative to Liberal in 1904 and back to Conservative in 1924, holding very high offices in Liberal and Conservative Cabinets, e.g. as a Liberal Home Secretary and a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer; and as a Liberal First Lord of the Admiralty in the First World War and a Conservative First Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the Second World War, before the crisis of confidence caused by Chamberlain's wretched appeasement policy led to Churchill's assuming the pinnacle of his power and influence on the world stage. His loss of office in the Labour landslide of the 1945 General Election was for him shockingly unexpected and, in hindsight it would no doubt have been better for him had he retired from front line politics at that point (he was already 70). But he was motivated to continue as Leader of the Opposition due to his fears of the encroaching influence of the Soviet Union in central and Eastern Europe and his belief that only a strong Anglo-American alliance could combat this; in fact this was also the policy of Attlee's Government. He was also very involved in founding and supporting some of the earliest European institutions that later became the embryonic EC (though most modern Conservatives would be reluctant to admit this!). Churchill's return to power in 1951 made him a Prime Minister at 77, something which is pretty much unthinkable now, but after a couple of reasonable years, when his main driving force was horror of the H Bomb and a desire to reach some kind of understanding with the Soviet Union, his health deteriorated when he had a major stroke in the summer on 1953. After this, the author's recounting of his clinging to power for another year and a half makes for unedifying reading and one feels sorry both for Churchill as a human being and for his Cabinet colleagues having to work with him in this state; only his enormous prestige made his continuation in office even plausible. After his retirement in April 1955, the remaining near decade of his life was dominated by lengthy stays in southern France and Italy and in Mediterranean cruises on Aristotle Onassis's yacht; yet despite these absences and detachment from life in Britain, he remained an MP, even after a fall in 1962 which incapacitated him, almost until his death, standing down at the dissolution of Parliament in summer 1964 before the General Election that saw Labour returned with a small majority, and dying in January 1965. The biography also extensively covers Churchill's prodigious and mostly high quality literary output over a period of some 60 years, and his love of and talent for painting, demonstrating what a genuine polymath he was. A remarkable biography of a remarkable statesman.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!, 9 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
An excellent and thoroughly researched biography that charts in great detail the life of a most remarkable man. Jenkins takes considerable pains to provide an objective account, presenting the opinions of many relevant contemporaries in response to Churchill's actions, decisions and speeches. He draws on a wide range of sources, indicating, with evidence, in each case their likely reliability.

By these means he shows us the complete man, warts and all, at all stages of his life. I have always been a great admirer of Churchill, recognising his energy, courage and ability to lead and inspire, especially at the most critical of times, but I now feel that I know him so much better. My admiration has not diminished in the slightest, but by seeing his weaknesses and faults, his sometimes poor judgements and decisions, to me he has become more human, and I feel that I can relate to him all the better for that. In particular Jenkins shows us the compassionate side of his nature. Churchill presented a hard front to adversaries and was always ready to fight when people wanted a fight, but in the face of a kind word or deed his hardness melted away completely. He also felt and responded to people's pain and suffering, tears quickly welled up in his eyes and when people saw that they loved him all the more. I was not aware of those characteristics and am very glad, thanks to this book, that I now am.

Biographies are usually enlightening, but often suffer from dryness, which I often regard as the price I have to pay for knowledge. This book was certainly enlightening but not at all dry, it was a pleasure to read. In fact I felt quite disappointed when I finished it, and to me that is the mark of a really good book.
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Churchill: A Biography
Churchill: A Biography by Roy Jenkins (Audio Cassette - 24 Jun. 2002)
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