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on 20 October 2016
Sparking prose and a wonderful overview of the good and bad of the greatest Briton ever
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"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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on 20 November 2012
Paul Reid has done it! He has produced a worthy successor and final volume to the series started by William Manchester. It has been a long wait, but readers will not be disappointed by the result. Manchester published the first volume in 1983 and the second volume five years later. After completing research for the third book and starting in on the text, his health failed. Before he died, Manchester asked Reid to finish the project.

This volume begins just after Churchill took over as Prime Minister in the spring of 1940. At 1053 pages of closely printed text, it takes some time to read, but not one minute is wasted. The style closely follows the tone set by Manchester, and the scope of research, understanding of subject matter and presentation will impress ordinary readers and historians alike. Reid admires his subject but doesn't try to cover up Churchill's faults or mistakes.

In some ways this is a history of the war disguised as a Churchill biography. About 90% of the text covers the war while the last hundred pages or so takes the reader to the end of Churchill's life in 1965. But the approach serves to place Churchill's actions in their proper context.

I don't believe that there has ever been a Churchill biography that so underscores how desperate the situation was for both Britain and Churchill during the early years of the Second World War and how decisions taken during that time could not forsee how events would eventually unfold or that Britain would even survive. Millions of people truly believed and still do that Churchill was the last bulwark standing between them and a Nazi-dominated future. This book vividly makes clear why their adulation was justified.
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on 11 April 1999
William Manchester has no peer now living for writing history and biography. He shows it again here. At just the right times, he interjects himself into the narrative to call the reader's attention to points that might be missed by someone not familiar with British politics or with the times. He also essentially "solves" the riddle, to the extent it can be solved, of why Churchill was ignored when he was so right. Churchill occupied such a leading position in British public life for so long that he was able to commit several big mistakes. Unfortunately for Britain, two big ones - his emotional commitment to the British raj in India, and his emotional commitment to Edward VIII - and particularly the second, came at times that compromised his otherwise clear understanding and vision. Churchill was not a conventional politician, and, in many respects, not a politician at all. That is one reason why he was so misunderstood by contemporary professional politicians. Churchill was a visionary who well understood that, under the guise of merely reflecting the sentiments of his listeners, he could actually cause his listeners to rise to the level of his sentiments. This he did for the British, to their eternal distinction. Churchill is remembered for his erudition because of his voluminous writing, but he is really a monument to character, and, most of all, to courage. The great man of the century, brilliantly presented here in the context of his times and with all his faults.
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Manchester is one of those writers who appears unable to disappoint. This is a book to be read and savored. For years, it sat on my shelf - I saw as a large undertaking that I wanted to do right.

The book has a very interesting structure. First, it begins with a kind of interpretive introduction to the man, vividly characterizing him while also evaluating his strengths as a man of history and his glaring weaknesses. You see him, worts and all, and it is both funny and enlightening. The psychological depth is virtually unprecedented in any other bio I have read. Second, you get a view both into his milieu - as an aristocrat of talent and privilege in Victorian Britain - and a biography of both of his parents. This is crucially important, as we come to see Churchill as an anachronism, but also as a boy neglected by narcissistic parents. (Interestingly, the absence of one or both parents is a common trait in extraordinary achievers.) Third, you get his life story, more from the events he was involved in than as an intimate portrait, though much of his personal life is covered. Indeed, he used action as the most effective tonic against depression.

The man that emerges is flawed and complex, but evidently a political genius. In my view, the key to his character is that he remained a Victorian gentleman, who viewed martial valor as the greatest source of meaning and glory in life. This suited him to titanic struggles, such as the one he faced with Hitler that places him in the ranks of the greatest historical figures. As an egotist, he always wanted to place himself at the center of events and yet did so with courage and tenacity in spite of his physical weaknesses. When out of power, he exercised other gifts, such as writing, with equal talent and energy.

Nonetheless, Manchester proves that Churchill was not a politician deeply in touch with his constituency: he never developed a typical base of power and often his views did not synch with the mainstream. Without Hitler, his hour might never have arrived: this duality is a theme that runs through the entire book.

If there is any flaw here, it is that Manchester includes a plethora of detail, not only about world events but in Churchill's political maneuverings. Normally, I delight in these details, if I know there is a purpose to all of it, which I did not always sense in this book. (Here a comparison with Robert Caro is instructive: you always know where he is going and why.) Others may see it differently, of course. Also, many of the historical details I already knew, so did not need Manchester's wordy introductions, but they were useful in the many cases of which I was ignorant.

All in all, this is one of the most engrossing and fascinating bios I have ever read. Warmly recommended.
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on 30 March 2017
A culturally rich biography showing a fairly balanced view of a great man. I felt he treated Churchill fairly and not through rose-coloured glasses, although one must always remember that biographies focusing upon a single person will always overemphasise their achievements in comparison to other great people of the age. I think Manchester realises this, and so reveals the negatives and positives of Churchill throughout his life. This book must have been a huge undertaking to write, but I'm glad he did. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich historical narrative and commentary on Churchill's life.
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on 24 September 2014
It has been a long wait for this final volume in the three volume biography of Churchill, but it has been well worth that wait. William Manchester died before completing his work and it was Paul Reid who gathered all the loose ends together to bring us this final volume. Many years ago, I acquired a copy of William Manchester's history of the Krupp company over 400 years. This was a massive single volume work but was very readable and memorable. I subsequently read Death of a President and finally the first two volumes of Churchill's life. I have read a number of biographies of Churchill but for the general reader William Manchester's is in many ways the best. Churchill is almost viewed as god by British writers; a status he achieved through his leadership in the Second World War. But he became Prime Minister when he was in his late sixties, having previously held high office in governments before and after the First World War. This last volume of William Manchester's work deals with Churchill's life from the time of his becoming PM in 1940 to his death and state funeral in 1965. Most of the book deals with Churchill and the War. But this is to be expected. He was thrown out of office in the general election of 1945 when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister. But this was an attack on the Tory Party of Stanley Baldwin and Neviile Chamberlain, appeasement and their management of the years of depression. The country wanted a change from that. In 1945 Churchill was exhausted and had suffered more than one stroke. He returned to office as Prime Minister in 1951 but he was an old man, in far from robust health. He finally resigned when he was over 80 and spent his last ten years in quiet retirement.
Paul Reid has done a good job finishing this book and it is to be thoroughly recommended.
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on 28 June 1999
The enthusiasm Manchester shows for his subject is refreshing after a spate of anti-heroic books knocking Churchill a lot more than he deserved. However, when Manchester moves outside Churchill's life to general British history and politics of the age, there are many mistakes. He even called King Alfred the Great "legendary" in the index! Unforgivable! Top hats in Victorian England were originally worn by the working-class and by policemen, not the aristocracy. His treatment of the Chamberlian front bench - Halifax, etc. and the Baldwin-Chamberlian governments' rearmament policy - is simplistic, as is his knowledge of imperial politics in general. He has been too influenced by the "Guilty Men" mythology (Read "British Re-armament and the Treasury" to see what Chamberlian etc. were up against). However, Manchester knows his Churchill, and it is pleasant that he repeats some good things about him, such as (to take one small example among many larger ones)his concern to exculpate the driver when he was run over and badly injured by a car in America, and his general zest for life. Shows the legends about his drinking capacity were much exaggerated. Churchill, though he made mistakes, had a true greatness which the American Manchester is much more ready to acknowledge than are many of the sour and nihilistic intelligensia in Blair's Britain.
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on 11 May 2015
I eagerly devoured Manchester's first two volumes, and was greatly saddened when I heard that his failing health meant that he would not complete the projected third. However, he passed his notes on to Paul Reid, who, to use a Churchillian turn of phrase, was given the tools and finished the job.

To capture a giant such as Churchill is a gigantic task, perhaps even an impossible one, given the innumerable, and often controversial, facets of Churchill's long, long stint in public life. In my opinion, Mr, Reid pulls it off admirably.

There will always be controversies, especially with regard to a man who, as Manchester pointed out in the first volume, was essentially a 19th century man, born as the British Empire reached its zenith and who never came to terms with its loss. Churchill comes across as a man of enormous achievements and enormous failings - as Clement Attlee, his political adversary and WW2 deputy prime minister, said, "50% genius, 50% bloody fool". To me, Mr. Reid is somewhat less hagiographic than Mr. Manchester, and this is a good thing. Churchill's failings, shortsightedness and occasional inability to accept the world that was taking shape are clearly on display. However, it seems clear that the balance is to his credit. The refusal to compromise with Hitler, even while so many British voices were clamouring for it, doomed his country to its present shrunken, querlous state - but it ensured that the greatest iniquity of all time would be beaten and European civilisation saved. For this we can be forever thankful.

In summary, a long but excellent read.
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on 15 January 1997
Manchester at his best, skillfully integrating the product of meticulous and exhaustive research with a literate and engaging portrait of one of the Twentieth Century's most important leaders. Had Churchill the ability to overcome his trademark philodoxia, he would admire and embrace the man who takes form under the masterful direction of Manchester. Flawed and quite human, Churchill's brilliance and impetuosity remind us of the special qualities of leadership which were England's secret weapons.

The difficulty of writing a biography of so daunting a character as Churchill is compounded by the status of the subject as an honored historian in his own right. While clearly admiring of Churchill, Manchester does not fall victim to the all too common tendency of modern biographers to apologia. Churchill's flaws, as well as his radiance, made him the invaluable model and beacon of hope which he became through his long and turbulent career. In this first volume of Manchester's planned multi-volume venture, the author follows his subject from birth through his extraordinary rise to the highest ranks of office, only to fall victim to the self-destructive behavior which led to the early demise of his father's career. Ending with his exile to the political wilderness, this first volume leaves the reader anxious to begin the second installment, a equally engaging account of Churchill's patient and vigilant efforts to rouse the conscience of the British people to the impending peril posed by Nazi Germany.

A must read for any serious student of history, and a compelling personal drama likely to capture the interest of anyone interested in the character of power.

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