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My Early Life: A Roving Commission Paperback – 1 Jun 1996
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Churchill discusses his childhood, his schooling, his experiences as a war correspondent during the Boer War, and his early life in politics.
From the Back Cover
Here, in his own words, are the fascinating first thirty years in the life of one of the most provocative and compelling leaders of the twentieth century - Winston Churchill. As a visionary, statesman, and historian, and the most eloquent spokesman against the Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill was one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century. In this autobiography, Churchill recalls his childhood, his schooling, his years as a war correspondent in South Africa during the Boer War, and his first forays into politics as a member of Parliament. My Early Life not only gives readers insights into the shaping of a great leader but, as Churchill himself wrote, "a picture of a vanished age".See all Product description
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The words used to describe that world sparkle, coming,as they do from one of the greatest players on the stage at that time and, furthermore, from one who thoroughly understood the art of writing.
Two things I have taken from this book: Firstly, Churchill was no saint, I would imagine that were I a nineteenth century General I would find this self confident young aristocrat`s unsolicited opinions and his seeming lack of comprehension of how the twin roles of war journalist and junior officer can conflict, to be infuriating. Secondly, and more importantly, without his self confidence, self belief, call it what you will, the second world war, when it happened, could have had a very different outcome.
His time in the army after attending Sandhurst took him to Cuba, India and Egypt. It is here and later in the many chapters of the book dealing with the Boer War that his attitudes are most jarring to the modern reader, though of course Churchill was naturally a man of his own time, with the generally held attitudes of his time and class: the oft mentioned view that going to war was a jolly jape that all young men should undertake and thoroughly enjoy; an unquestioning acceptance of the morally civilising mission of British imperial power - "We certainly felt as we dropped off to sleep the keenest realisation of the great work which England was doing in India and of her high mission to rule these primitive but agreeable races for their welfare and our own"; and, when speaking of the settlements of hostile tribes euphemistically that "These could all be destroyed and the tribesmen together with their women and children driven up to the higher mountains in the depth of winter, where they would certainly be very uncomfortable". His hindsight leads to him draw comparisons between these comparatively minor wars and the worldwide conflagration to strike little over a decade after the end of this book's narrative: "It was not like the Great War. Nobody expected to be killed. Here and there in every regiment or battalion, half a dozen, a score, at the worst thirty or forty, would pay the forfeit; but to the great mass of those who took part in the little wars of Britain in those vanished light-hearted days, this was only a sporting element in a splendid game". His capture and heroic escape from captivity by the Boers are thrillingly described (though much of the details of military manoeuvres left me cold). His early attempt and success in entering Parliament as a member for Oldham are also well described, and in his very early appearances in the House as a Conservative MP he was already out of step with his party in a number of respects and "I drifted towards the left", moving towards the Liberal Party.
This is a beautifully written memoir - Churchill was certainly a superb writer, in addition to his other virtues and faults.
If you've seen the film "Young Winston", based on this book, you will be familiar with some of the events. Other programmes and books have adequately explained his war leadership and his contribution to many serious political issues. However, the films and documentaries I have seen fail to capture the mischievous spirit communicated through this book.
This a fascinating study of a bygone age, when Britain maintained a great empire, when most politicians took the title Lord, and when politics and army officership were sports for those of independent means. Interestingly despite his aristocratic bloodline Churchill's family was not particularly wealthy and some of the most poignant lessons stem from this.
Sometimes the sentiments in the book appear bloodthirsty or imperialistic, but you have to realise that at least part of the time Churchill is writing satirically, reflecting common values which you suspect he did not always share himself. When he is sincerely expressing his own serious ideals it is usually easy to detect.
These beliefs link both his skilful analysis of historical events, and Churchill's account of his own development. For example he explains the British government's failure to be magnanimous after the early victories of the Boer war as the reason that a relatively fast-moving and honourable conflict descended into "shocking evils" on both sides. The same failing is shown as a prime force in the leftward drift of Churchill's own politics.
Churchill was a great writer, but it's instructive to learn that his facility with English developed largely because he was judged early on to be too dim to cope with Latin and Greek. The classics loss was our gain, the legacy including both Churchill's great deeds and great writing.
The last chapter is slightly disappointing, with Churchill's early parliamentary career an anticlimax, and the story stops rather than ending on a major event. That apart, the pace, interest and humour are consistent throughout.
This book was written in 1930, when Churchill was already 56, but in the "wilderness years" before he regained high office and led Britain through the Second World War. It is interesting to speculate whether the book would have been very different if it were written either much earlier or later.
If you want adventure, read this book. If you want to understand a great man, read this book. If you want to do both and have a good laugh, read this book.
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