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on 26 May 2017
Very detailed and informative. Roy Jenkins has written a biography that shows his enormous knowledge of his subject, Winston Churchill, and the intricacies of British society and British politics. A great read
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on 27 May 2017
A brilliant account of the life of WSC, his good points and his weaknesses. Very clear, compelling reading.
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on 18 March 2016
A very poor biography, concentrates on the war years and we learn so little of this complex man and his family.
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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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on 14 March 2017
Jenkin's long service as a Parlimentarian gives this biography unique insight into Churchill's Parliamentary career that is not found in other excellent biographies.
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on 1 September 2003
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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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2014
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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on 19 February 2015
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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on 5 September 2016
The life of Winston Churchill is an immense topic, and requires a book of the same scale to do justice to it, so it's not surprising that this weighs in at 900+ pages - even before you count the notes, the bibliography and the index. At times, however, this book is exhausting rather than exhaustive.

Churchill's life is also a topic that has been dealt with by many authors prior to Jenkins, so the first thing to ask is "Does he provide anything new?" By his own account, he does by virtue of the fact that he - Jenkins - has had more parliamentary and government experience (30+ years an MP, seven years a cabinet minister) than any previous biographer, which gives him more of an insight into any political career. This may be true - but I found that a by-product of this was Jenkins' tendency to "Break the fourth wall" too often, by making comparisons with his own experience in certain situations. I found this less than helpful.

Jenkins also seems to have caught Churchill's habit of writing long and convoluted sentences. Where, however, Churchill's genius was to do so in such a way that enhanced the memorability of his speeches without detracting from their understandability, Jenkins sometimes comes across as a wind-bag, who wants to show off his vocabulary. Nevertheless, the book is engaging and readable - for about the first two thirds at least. Towards the end, however, it becomes something of a struggle, and errors (minor for the most part - but the sort that ought to have been picked up) creep in. One doesn't like to be too critical here, but Jenkins says in his introduction that he suffered from ill-health whilst writing the last eight chapters - and indeed he died less than two years after publication - and it's difficult not to conclude that he ran out of steam. This may also explain why each chapter seems self-contained, leading to odd repetitions - where something that has been explained in a previous chapter is explained again - and even odder omissions.

This biggest omission of the book, however, is Churchill himself. We get a lot about Churchill the soldier, Churchill the politician, Churchill the statesman - even Churchill the writer - but all too little about Churchill the man. We are told almost nothing, for example, about his bouts of depression (his Black Dog, as he called it); and if you are curious about Churchill the husband or Churchill the father, you need to look elsewhere. This is a significant omission - it's sometimes useful to know that our heroes were people, just like us.
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on 7 February 2003
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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