27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Not just for the military history buffs,
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This review is from: Marlborough: England's Fragile Genius (Hardcover)
It's always nice to see another talented historian breaking into the mainstream with a first-class biography for the general reader. Although Holmes is a military historian--and it shows--this isn't a book for anoraks. The earlier sections of the book explain a lot about the financial and political minefields trodden by men and women of property. This is a great help in understanding how Churchill--whose father was on the wrong side in the civil war, and emerged almost destitute--schemed, fought and slept his way to a Dukedom (and even a German Principality). The portrait that emerges is, on the whole, quite sympathetic. The comments of his subordinates weigh very heavily on the positive side, and if his loyalty to James, William and Anne was less than absolute, he never deserted his allies Godolphin, Cadogan or Prince Eugene. He was clearly besotted with his appalling wife, who was finally more of a hindrance than a help to him, and his behaviour towards her was entirely honourable.
Holmes does a very skillful job of weaving narrative, comment and well-chosen contemporary quotations. Churchill/Marlborough was unquestionably a genius, combining the political skills to keep his disparate alliance together, and military skills that were more than equal to the finest that France had to offer. We should never forget that the French were, at the time, the unquestioned masters in all things military, and that their population was about three times that of Britain's.
As a biography, this book can perhaps be excused for its very sketchy coverage of the Spanish theatre of war; after all, the war was fought to keep a Bourbon off the Spanish throne. Nor is there any comment to help us understand how Britain managed to finance its wars--the key issue which relatively few historians seem to understand. Nonetheless, Holmes is to be congratulated for a spendid achievement; like all good historians, he has read deeply enough from original documents to have an instinctive understanding of how people thought and why they acted as they did, and to interpret these in a generous, but by no means credulous, spirit.