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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 December 2009
"The Gathering Storm" is the initial volume of Winston Churchill's epic history of World War II. Beginning with the end of World War I, which planted the seeds of World War II, the Unnecessary War, Churchill tells the martial story through the end of the Twilight War in May 1940. He covers the story from all perspectives, military, political and personal.

Churchill brings to light many easily overlooked contributors to the great conflagration. He points out that the Versailles Treaty was the first negotiated by elected politicians who had to satisfy their publics, rather than by princes who only needed to satisfy themselves. He reveals that Germany's ability to pay war reparations was for years made possible only by large American loans. He takes the reader through the attempts to ensure safety through balance of power agreements such as the Locarno Pact and the deterioration of the League of Nations through national withdrawals. The progressive German violations of the Versailles Treaty, unchallenged by the West, paved the way for more serious breaches. German expansion is recorded step by step as the West let each opportunity to cheaply halt its march pass by. All the while the balance of power on land and in the air tilted more and more toward the developing Axis.

Germany growth through the militarization of the Rhineland, and the annexation of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia and Austria set the stage for the invasion of Poland. After allowing other lands to be swallowed up the West, with the balance of power solidly swung against it, took its stand against German aggression. This led to the Twilight War in which Germany took out Poland before turning its attention to France and Britain. Northern actions included the Soviet attack on Finland and the futile British attempt to prevent Swedish iron ore from reaching Germany by the British invasion of Norway.

One service which did take action during the early phase of the war was the Royal Navy, under the direction of the author as First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Stunned by the sinking of the Oak Royal and Rawalpindi, the Navy hunted down the surface raider, Graf Spee, until it was irreparably damaged and scuttled in Uruguay.

This book, along with the others in the series, centers on Churchill and concentrates on British involvement in the war. It definitely presents his views on developments. Although lacking the objective qualities of works by uninvolved historians, it is a highly valuable first person observation of the lead up to and early months of World War II. I first read this series while a college student, not as part of a class, but at my father's suggestion. It was very good advice. "The Gathering Storm", along with the other volumes in the series, is a classic with which every student of World War II must be familiar.
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This is the greatest story ever told by one of the greatest story tellers ever. Churchill was a magnificent writer, fully deserving of his Nobel Prize for literature. His account of the war is positively Tolkienesque, sounding at times almost like the very best of epic science fiction. One gets insights into the grand strategy and global logistics of the war at an extraordinary level of detail, from naval dispositions across the globe down to problems of boot manufacture. We see the war not just as it was fought, but alternative ways it might have been fought, and the tensions that determined the hard decisions that were taken between the alternatives.

Churchill had about as full a life as it is possible to live, and craved risk and adventure even in his years as a war leader, which would have been considered old age for most. In volume IV of this vast 6 volume work we hear of Churchill's epic fortnight journey in August of 1942, that included his first meeting with Stalin in Moscow. The first leg was down to Cairo to sort out the British generals whom Rommel had fought to a standstill in the desert. Auchinleck was sidelined in favour of Alexander, and Gott was to become the new head of the 8th Army. Gott was shot down and killed whilst on his way to Cairo, and Montgomery was the natural choice to succeed him. Thus the stage was set for El Alamein and the first real British victory of the war. The next stop was at Tehran for lunch with the Shah and for meeting up with Roosevelt's envoy to the mission to Moscow, Averell Harriman. Then there was the flight over the Ebruz mountains and the Caspian Sea to Moscow, for three days of very frank talking with Stalin and Molotov. The final night of this visit included a heavy drinking bout with Stalin at his private dacha till 2:30 a.m. before starting the return flight at 5:30, three hours later. All the flying was in unheated bombers that would have been the death of many men his age, much of it too close for comfort to enemy airspace. Churchill, when awake, preferred to travel in the co-pilot's seat, and his descriptions of his dawn arrival at the Nile, and the flight across the Caspian are highly memorable. An ordinary bloke like me can only wonder; what a life?

Any historical source documents, which these are, have to be treated with great caution and circumspection, and the factuality of all claims reviewed in the light of alternative perspectives. Indeed it's on my reading list to follow up on Roosevelt, as one does not have to read too far between the lines to guess that the two leaders were not quite of the unified outlook that Churchill liked to paint. Nonetheless, questions of historical accuracy and bias aside, this is extraordinary literature and as good a place as any to start acquiring a deeper insight into the historical unfolding of the war.

There are many reasons to argue that Churchill was a flawed, possibly deeply flawed character. He was an aristocrat and an imperialist through and through, thus he was representative of attitudes that most of us are glad to have put behind us in our era. But he had a great warrior spirit, chocked with contradictions, and was also a truly marvellous writer. He lived an extraordinary life and was able to write to us very clearly about the huge events in which he participated.
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on 12 May 2012
The Gathering Storm is the first book in Churchill's six volume history of WW2.

For a while this was the definitive history of WW2: no longer. Churchill had to keep some things secret (such as Ultra and Bletchley Park) when he wrote this, so there are gaps. But it is the only personal account by any of the 'Big Five' leaders in that war and as such it's still a very important source for anyone reading up on this area of history.

In this first volume, Churchill covers the Interwar years from his own viewpoint. He became convinced very early on that Germany was set on a path that could end in another World War. While it's common to portray him as 'a voice crying in the wilderness', his access to high level government information (shown in this volume) makes it obvious that many of the political leaders and civil servants had a much higher regard for him and his views than they could afford to publicly express.

The second part covers the early war months, where Churchill was in charge of the Admiralty and the sea war - the most active theatre of operations in the 'Phoney War' period. The volume ends when Chamberlain's government falls and Churchill becomes Prime Minister.

As well as being an M.P., Churchill was in the 1920's and 1930's a well-regarded writer and popular historian. While his style is of his time, the book is both logically presented and very well written. It also contains a large amount of Churchill's own letters and memoranda, so it's full of primary source material.

I do have one minor niggle with the Kindle edition: the proof reading wasn't very good. There are more than a few typographic errors - which at times became a bit irritating.
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on 13 June 2016
Churchill is meeting sailors & thinking to himself not many around in WWI like me & I think to myself - who else was? Keynes? The Baldwin-Coolidge debt settlement was supposed to be for 62 years but it seemed Winston paid it off in 3 instalments with German reparations? (Baldwin suspended some payments). It's not clear but since Keynes arranged the Lend-Lease for the next war - John Maynard Keynes, Fighting for Freedom, Vol III 1937-46 by Robert Jacob Skidelsky & Life in Squares with James Norton dvd review - see elsewhere on my Profile page. (I did bump into Nicholas Soames coming out of Austin Reed at the top of Beaufort Gardens in 1992 but didn't think anything of it because I'd half-met him before when he came to see Emma Soames who was also a tenant & he took my sister out to dinner).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 10 October 2010
"Their Finest Hour" is Volume II of Winston Churchill's magnus opus on World War II. Beginning with Churchill's ascension to the office of Prime Minister, it continues to the end of 1940. It covers a time of the events of legend. On these pages we read of the end of the Phony War with the Blitzkrieg on France, the evacuation from Dunkirk, the fall of France, the emergence of DeGaulle, and the titanic Battle of Britain that may have been a turning point of the war.

The sudden and shocking collapse of France is told by one who struggled mightily to hold things together as the situation disintegrated around him. Churchill's repeated trips to France to assess conditions and to try to rally the French makes for fascinating reading. Churchill's exhortations to continue the struggle, the French demands for more British commitment, the frantic pleas for an American declaration of war and the incredible offer of a perpetual union between Great Britain and France make for a rapid sequence of unique events that are stranger than any novelist's fiction. As the battle lines dissolved the incredible rescue of the BEF and other forces from Dunkirk saved the troops that were to form the nucleus of the band that would return to France four years later. The fall of France would place the French fleet in jeopardy which led to intense negotiations and the unfortunate British attack at the fleet at Oran.

When the Battle of France was over, the Battle of Britain began. The Battle of Britain was the battle in the skies over Britain in which the RAF and the Luftwaffe fought for the air supremacy that was crucial to any German plans to invade England. When Germany recoiled from the battle the invasion tide receded and the British were forced to seek out other theatres if combat in which to engage the foe, this time in the Middle East.

A gifted writer, Churchill tells the story that only he knew, as only he could write. This book, along with the others in the series, are the indispensable foundations of any in depth study of World War II.
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on 21 October 2010
Volume Two of the World War series is fascinating reading, not only for the details on British strategy and approach during the difficult years 1940 and 1941, but also for the issues that Churchill (writing these volumes, of course, after the war) identified as particularly controversial and which might have called his management of the British war effort into question. Wonderful insights into the details of taking on the new face of war in the skies above England and in London itself. This is also something of a lesson plan -- at the highest level -- of organizational management.
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on 2 January 2016
A detailed, personal and beautifully written account of the events running up to the outbreak of WW2. Anyone with an interest in history, whether professional, academic and amateur, will enjoy this book. Because of the way it is written some parts of it also read like a "boy's own" adventure story, particularly the accounts of the naval battles.

Winston Churchill wrote this whilst events were still fresh, around the end of the 1940's and he outlines through a combination of narrative, extracts from speeches, military report and letters, the various strategies, successes, failures and diplomatic manoeuvring. There are some marvellous humorous moments, how Churchill's habit of taking a nap was adopted by one of his colleagues - "even in cabinet meetings" or an episode that starts "I went to have a cup of tea with Stalin...."

The English is beautiful (if a little old-fashioned now) and I enjoyed reading something written with such precision and care. Churchill was a great orator and many people will have heard recordings of his speeches. Some of the tones and phrases from the book ring in your ears and you can almost hear him saying them.

Some aspects of Churchill's account seemed to me to be self justification. Accounts start with phrases such as 'just as I predicted in 1932..." making this book at root a personal account. I found it easy to excuse this though, as events did often prove Churchill to be correct.

My main reason for giving 3 stars (for the Kindle version) is what seems to be a failure of proofing. Spelling, hyphenation, names mis-spelt whole phrases are garbled and make no sense, interrupting the flow of your reading and the beauty of Churchill's English. Some chapters have errors on each page, page after page - this isn't an isolated mistake or oversight, spoiling my enjoyment. What a shame as this is just laziness on behalf of the publisher (Rosetta Books).
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on 28 December 2010
Reading this series is like reading a series of thriller novels which reveal bit by bit in great detail, without boring the reader, the history of the greatest war in history and by a man who was right in the thick of it the whole time. An absolutely amazing read. This isn't just the best history of the war I have read so far, it is also the best history written in contemporary times. I wish we could give it 10 stars. It would deserve every one of those ten.
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on 3 August 2012
This is a classic, a great book by a great man and essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in modern European history. Getting a copy for the Kindle should have been a delight but sadly my enjoyment is being spoiled by appalling proof reading. It is not enough to just scan the book in, someone has to go through it and apply a bit of common sense. I am averaging about one glaring error every couple of pages and it is getting very irritating.

And don't get me started about the quality of the maps. Not at all sure about this Kindle thing......

Please don't let this review stop you from reading the book, just be aware that you are probably going to enjoy it much more in hard copy.

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on 13 June 2013
I really enjoyed this as an intro into the remaining books. Lots of things I thought I knew turn out to be ‘not quite right’ and the decisions which now seem ridiculous are more understandable when seen from Churchill and his contemporaries view at the time.
I saw one review saying that it was so distorted that he couldn’t recommend student of the period to read it. I disagree as long as it’s seen as one source of information and not gospel (true for anything you’re ever told by anyone).
I found the language used, of the time, was fascinating as it some of the viewpoints (prejudices) which we don’t tolerate now.
I now have the second in the series and look forward to the PMs view of the Battle of Britain. See what else I thought I knew……
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