Subtitled 'Secrets of Leadership', this book grew, I believe, out of a radio programme of the same title Roberts produced for the BBC. It's an excellent book: an easy yet compelling read, in just over 200 pages Roberts uses that old 'compare and contrast' m.o. to examine these two Titans of 20th C. history.
This is the first of Roberts' books I've read in which his Tory position is made quite so plain, as he refers very disparagingly to liberals and the left, and their ideas, in a manner bordering at times on glib. Interestingly, however, whilst he's still an ardent Tory, Roberts' views on some issues appear to have evolved since this was written (2003); if you'd only read this book, you might find his later book Napoleon the Great somewhat surprising.
However, if the above sound like the potential criticisms they indeed are, nevertheless, this book remains an excellent and by and large very balanced examination of its complex, fascinating and difficult subjects. And what compelling subjects they are! Having said this, there is a slight imbalance (some - inc. other reviewers here - would say extreme), and in more than one way, in that the book not only gives Churchill more column space, ending with a study on how he's been perceived since his passing, but also falls in step with the vast majority of post WWII literature on the two men, in its fulsome praise of Churchill and crowing dismissals of Hitler.
But when the case is argued as eloquently and convincingly as Roberts does here, it's hard to disagree. And, in broad brushstroke terms, I personally don't. Nor is this purely or simply Churchill hagiography vs Hitler as fall-guy punchbag. The failings of the former, and the strengths of the latter are examined. Roberts says very early in his book that he separates Hitler and Churchill by describing the former as a charismatic leader, and the latter as inspirational. To learn what what he means by that might require that you read this book. I'd highly recommend that you do.
A fascinating polemic which, despite not sharing the authors' politics, I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Andrew Roberts considers the careers of Churchill and Hitler, surveying the historiography surrounding both men, making mincemeat of revisionist and Marxist historians who have sought to re-write history in their own image. As Roberts suggests the conflict between Churchill and Hitler established the framework within which the world now works. Both believed they had been chosen by Fate or Providence for great things. History implies Churchill was right, Hitler was wrong but that under-estimates the role each man had in determining his own destiny. Churchill was born to privilege 'that so often presages mediocrity' while Hitler was beset by 'every disadvantage necessary for success in life'. Politics was in Churchill's blood, Hitler came to politics almost accidentally.
Hitler convinced himself of his own historical role Churchill merely assumed it. What they shared were visions of the future. Each had 'an almost superhuman tenacity of purpose that they held on to throughout their long years of adversity and failure'. Both succeeded because they had influential friends to sustain them when they were in dire financial straits. They used religious sentiment when it suited them and neither can be described as practicing Christians. Churchill admired Jesus's courage in the face of death, Hitler refashioned Christ as a true Aryan while denying any connection between Aryanism and Christianity. Both were united in their opposition to Bolshevism although Hitler analysed it as a Jewish plot while Churchill considered it primarily as a political and philosophical phenomena.
Hitler set out to convince the German people he was, 'the man who did not belong to any class, to any caste, who is above all that. I have nothing but a connection to the German people.' From that self-proclaimed lofty role he identified the Jews as the Germans' common enemy and garnered support for his irrational hatred from the populace. Using his natural rabble rousing style, refined by hours of practicing in front of a mirror and the use of well rehearsed pauses, Hitler worked himself into a rant. By way of contrast Churchill did not need to practice but he learned his lines before delivering speeches. Churchill was identified, even in the pre-war deferential world, as a member of the upper class. He identified Hitler and the Nazis as the enemy rather than the German people. He did not ask the people to identify with him, he identified with them even though in the early part of the war he had no idea how Germany could be defeated. Whereas Hitler gave the Germans confidence of glorious victories, Churchill offered the British nothing 'but blood, toil, tears and sweat'. As the American journalist Ed Murrow wrote of Churchill in 1940, 'He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle'.
The personalities of Hitler and Churchill are insufficient of themselves to explain their different impacts. Hitler surrounded himself with sycophants and practiced a detachment from governmental business that enabled him to make his minions (including the Nazi and Army leadership) dependent on his approval. He overruled his generals and eventually took charge of the military campaign. Churchill surrounded himself with people who were not intimidated by his personality. The opposition parties were brought into government. He 'never once overruled his Chiefs of Staff, however much he might have disagreed with them at times'. Field Marshal Alanbrooke, mindful of Churchill's failed Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, was determined not to allow a repetition by quashing Churchill's plans for attacking the Balkans in 1943 and Sumatra in 1944. What saved Churchill from potentially disastrous military blunders, 'was that he respected people who stood up to him and did not mince their words'. The contrast with Hitler could hardly have been greater.
Each of the protagonists frequently made reference to the other although most of Hitler's comments were in private while Churchill's were very public. Hitler characterised Churchill as acting on behalf of 'his Jewish paymasters'. He thought Churchill was so unpopular that any setback would see him driven from office for betraying the interests of the Empire, a theme he returned to several times with the fall of Singapore and the success of Rommel's army in North Africa. He never understood that opposition to Churchill was not based on opposition to the war. Whereas Hitler tended to see Churchill from his own perspective, Churchill often tried to put himself in Hitler's position. Using this method he correctly worked out that Hitler was not a master strategist who had planned the defeat of France followed by an invasion of Britain but someone for whom the invasion of Britain was not considered until France had fallen. Churchill did not underestimate the power of Hitler's hold over the Nazi regime and expected him to fight to the end.
Roberts spends time discussing revisionist historiography. He dismisses Daniel Goldhagen's claim that Antisemitism was ingrained into German culture making the Holocaust inevitable, arguing that Jews were better integrated into Germany than most parts of Europe. He supports Christopher Browning's conclusion that the notorious Reserve Police Battalion 101, which was responsible for thousands of deaths in Poland, were driven to mass murder by peer pressure and a natural propensity for obedience and comradeship rather than Antisemitism or Nazi fervour. He accuses ideologues from the Left (Clive Ponting) and the Right (David Irving) of using Churchill to make political points of their own. Others who receive short shrift are Robert Raaico and John Charmley.
Churchill did not win the war but by making less mistakes than Hitler emerged the victor. In particular, he benefited from three poor decisions by Hitler. The first was the order to halt the panzers outside Dunkirk in 1940. The second was the invasion of Russia in 1941 and the third the declaration of war against the United States in the same year. Hitler abandoned the Germans by killing himself, Churchill found himself abandoned by the electorate. His legacy lives on, Hitler's returned to the sewers. Five stars.
An intruguing review of two of the world's most fascinating war leaders. Roberts makes valid points about the leaders and comes to a profound conclusion. The book is littered with evidence that's used to back up his argument, which he successfully puts forward, implying thorough research has gone into the book. I particularly liked this book due to the relevant and sometimes startling revelations that it makes. Roberts succeeds in making the book readable as well as not too simple. What the author has managed to do best is bring up very relevant points that have not been recognized to a great extent yet. The whole works is backed by hard evidence. Overall a very revealing and thought-provoking book. Definitely a brilliant bit of work.
My title says is all. I very much enjoyed the introduction to this book, but it was clear after reading several pages of the first chapter exactly what I was in for. It's now becoming plain to me that if I want to read any objective synopsis of any aspect of WW2 I have to look for publications printed either before, during (caution needed due to propaganda), or immediately after the conflict.
I could not disagree more with some of the reviewers here, this book is Pro-Churchillian in the extreme.
A slightly odd book, not based on massive original research, and not even that strong on the modern literature of leadership. Also it is Churchill-biased. But taken as a series of essays and interpretations, it is thoroughly interesting and entertaining. He is good on the revisionism which tries to de-bunk Churchill, on Churchill as a historian and his use of history in his rhetoric. There is one really powerful insight, into why people commit atrocities; not fear, not propaganda, not fanaticism, just the peer pressure of those around you. Exactly also why soldiers risk their lives; not for their commanders, or the nation, but for their mates and colleagues. This is an important insight, not just for historians; comradeship creates both heroes and devils. He is also excellent on the many reasons why Hitler's leadership deteriorated and Churchill's improved. This goes beyond his main verdict, that Hitler's charismatic leadership was inherently inferior to Churchill's inspirational leadership.
Particularly excellent is how Churchill in 1940 was the master of spin, controlling the narrative Alaistar Campbell-style, curiously inspiring the British people by telling them in masterly language how appalling it was going to be, what huge failures they would have to endure, and what a bloody awful, dire struggle we were in for. Curiously, it worked. Apparently, then, it's relentlessly positive spin we can't take.
His rather petulant paragraph decrying (the Marxist) Hobsawm's claim as our greatest living historian by listing other great (Tory) ones is amusing. And Kershaw's insight of "working towards the Fuhrer" has moved things along at bit since this was published. But this is a very good read. He has a good eye for the telling but less familiar Churchill quote; none better than this one on the Second World War: if we win, noone will care; if we lose, there'll be noone left to care. Wow.