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5.0 out of 5 stars Defender of the Realm, 4 Jan 2013
This review is from: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (Hardcover)
"Defender of the Realm, 1940 -- 1965" is the final volume of William Manchester's massive three-volume biography, "The Last Lion", of Winston Churchill (1874 -- 1965). The first volume, published in 1983, titled "Visions of Glory", covered Churchill's life from 1874 -- 1932, while the second volume, published in 1988, titled simply "Alone, covered the years 1932 -- 1940. This new sweeping third volume covers Churchill's life beginning with his ascension to the office of Prime Minister in 1940. It focuses upon the WW II years, follows Churchill during the years between 1945 and his second period as Prime Minister from 1951 -- 1955, and concludes with Churchill's years of comparative retirement up to his death. The biography was a near lifetime project for Manchester (1922 -- 2004). Manchester had researched the third volume of the trilogy, prepared well-organized and voluminous notes, and done some of the writing. Near the end of his life, however, Manchester realized he would be unable to complete the third volume. He selected journalist Paul Reid to complete the work.

The result of Manchester's and Reid's efforts is a detailed, dense study of 1200 pages. The book offers a thorough, multi-faceted look at the complex statesman that was Winston Churchill, in his determination, devotion to Great Britain and to civilization, brilliance, and frequent pettiness. Because Churchill's personal life was inextricably intertwined with his public life, this book goes far beyond biography. It is a masterful political and military history of the WW II years and, to a lesser extent, of the years following.

Churchill the man is most in focus in the 50-page "Preamble" to the book. Manchester and Reid offer a summation of Churchill's personality, leadership style, political, religious, and social beliefs, family and more. The Preamble offers an excellent overview to the momentous events described in the lengthy remainder of the volume.

The volume consists of eight large parts, the first of which begins in May 1940 and follows Churchill and WW II through December, 1940. Part two covers 1941, culminating in the United States' entry into the war and on Churchill's extensive efforts to get the United States involved. Part three covers military action in 1942, focusing on the alliance between Churchill and Roosevelt. Part four covers the period November 1942 -- December 1943, as plans for the invasion of France are discussed at length and ultimately agreed to. The readers sees a great deal of Churchill, Roosevelt and his aides, and Stalin. There is extended description of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Part five covers the period between December, 1943 and the Normandy invasion in June 1944. Part six takes the narrative from Normandy to the German and Japanese surrenders. Part seven, less detailed than the earlier parts, covers the years between 1945- 1955, including Churchill's famed "iron curtain" speech in March,1946, in Fulton, Missouri, and his election as Prime Minister. The final brief part of the book covers the final ten years, 1955 -- 1965, of Churchill's long life.

There is a great deal to be learned about Churchill, about leadership, and heroism from this book. The most eloquent, moving sections of the work are sections covering early 1940 --1941, following the evacuation at Dunkirk. Great Britain truly stood alone for more than one year and was widely expected to fall to Hitler. That it did not was due in large measure to Churchill's fortitude and strength and to the respect in which he was held by the subjects of Great Britain. The reader sees different aspects of Churchill as the war proceeds and the political and military situation develops. Manchester and Reid spend much time on the land, sea, and air wars, the different fronts in the Soviet Union, France, the Balkans, and Italy, and in the War with Japan. The book offers both a political and a military education about the events of the war years. The authors develop well the tension between the British, Churchillian view of the aims of the war and the views of President Roosevelt and the United States. The authors emphasize Churchillian's devotion to the British Empire as contrasted with the American commitment to end colonialism. Hence to overall title of the Trilogy and characterization of Churchill as "The Last Lion".

The book is lucidly written although in its length it flags in places. In its history, it taught me much about the world in which I have lived. I also learned a great deal about the dauntless figure of Winston Churchill. The authors portray him, and properly so, as the seminal figure of the 20th Century. This lengthy, thoughtful book will be worth the attention of readers who wish to understand the 20th Century and one of the few true 20th Century heroes.

Robin Friedman
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Robin Friedman
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Location: Washington, D.C. United States

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