Books by William Manchester

Released: Nov. 6, 2012

"Essential for Manchester collectors, WWII buffs and Churchill completists."
A (very) posthumous study of the late, great British leader by the late, great popular historian, aided by journalist Reid. Read full book review >
Released: May 10, 1992

Manchester, temporarily putting aside his rousing Churchill series (The Last Lion), offers a disappointing retread of past histories about the explosive dawn of the modern age. For Manchester, the Middle Ages were a period of unrelieved superstition, corruption, violence, anti-intellectualism, and intolerance. The worst offenders were the Popes, particularly those ruling on the brink of the Protestant Reformation, whose catalogue of sins included assassination plots, simony, and nepotism. Their indulgence in fornication is described here with almost lip-smacking salaciousness (Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope, is pictured as making love with one woman when he suddenly spies her naked daughter, whose "rhythmic rotation of the intrigued [him] that he switched partners in midstroke"). Manchester's heroes include Leonardo da Vinci, Luther, and Erasmus; still, in attempting to paint the twilight of an old order in bold colors, he has lost all sense of nuance, acknowledging only in a sentence the Church's role in stabilizing Europe after the Roman Empire collapsed, and picturing the Middle Ages—which produced Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Dante, Chaucer, and the builders of Chartres—as altogether bad. Manchester has not forgotten the skills that, with invective, eloquence, and anecdote, make him a master storyteller. Yet, by his own admission, he did not master any recent scholarship on the early 16th century, which dooms him to retelling the same old stories recounted countless times before. The book Manchester could have written is glimpsed briefly only in the last quarter here, when he transforms Ferdinand Magellan into a paradigm of the tragic hero he celebrated in his works on JFK, Douglas MacArthur, and Churchill. Disheartening: a "portrait" painted in simplified strokes and with no perspective. Read full book review >
THE LAST LION by William Manchester
Released: Oct. 28, 1988

The second volume in Manchester's masterly three-part biography (Visions of Glory, 1874-1932; 1983) of Winston Churchill, which now limns as well as lionizes the aging Tory during his political exile. Sympathetically portrayed here as "the last of England's great Victorian statesmen" for his staunch defense of the empire and its values, Churchill did not beweep his outcast state. Though a parliamentary backbencher without ministerial portfolio, the sometime insider managed to stay remarkably well informed on Germany's secret rearmament and its territorial ambitions throughout the 1930's. Churchill spoke out forcefully in the House of Commons and wrote scores of articles against Hitler and the Nazi threat. Until the eleventh hour, though, he was a prophet largely without honor in his own country—and party. With anguished memories of the nation's WW I losses, the ruling Conservatives made appeasement a keystone of British foreign policy. But, while devoting detailed attention to where and how Churchill's contemporaries went wrong, Manchester does not overlook his subject's faults. For instance, Churchill's preparedness campaign suffered a serious setback when —with more loyalty than judgment—he espoused the cause of Edward VIII during the abdication crisis. Nor can Churchill's relationships with his children—notably, Randolph and Sarah—be deemed much of a success. On balance, of course, there were decidedly more credits than debits to his account during the gathering storm, and he became the moral equivalent of a consensus choice for Prime Minister after the onset of WW II. Manchester closes on a triumphant note: the May 19, 1940, radio address in which Churchill enjoined the British to brace for battle and "their finest hour." An eloquent and evenhanded appreciation. The text includes photographs (not seen). Read full book review >
ONE BRIEF SHINING MOMENT by William Manchester
Released: Nov. 4, 1983

Twenty years and countless upheavals later, Manchester has set out unblinkingly to revive Camelot: from the initial invocation of Malory to the photos captioned "The Perfect Couple" to the concluding thoughts on the historical Arthur and the heroic Jack Kennedy. This is a book, moreover, that people will either love or hate—written in the elegiac, buddy-buddy mode of Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye and, as regards Manchester himself, in the second person. For Jack and Jackie's wedding, for instance, "you were billeted with Wilmarth 'Lefty' Lewis, the Waipole scholar who, having married an Auchincloss, was Jackie's step-uncle." Apropos of Jackie's Francophile influence on Jack's wardrobe: "Probably Jackie was also responsible for those presidential harangues about your shirts, which, he insisted, were not only unstylish but appeared to be soiled; didn't you change them at least four times daily?" Anecdotes also feature the likes of Red Fay, a.k.a. The Redhead and Grand Old Lovable (as in "Grand Old Lovable watched his friend give himself an injection"). On the personality, the family, politics, the presidency, you've read it all before—back when. (With time have come some jabs at the "liberal intellectual community.") In the large, there's both plain truth ("His greatest triumph. . . was his resolution of the Cuban missile crisis") and sheer glorification ("his most appealing legacy lies in his compassion"). But all the old photos are here, along with a few new ones, in a capacious album that does indeed make the Kennedy days look glamorous again. Read full book review >
Released: May 2, 1983

Together, Churchill and Manchester—the lion and the lionizer, the quotable and the quoter, the anecdoted and the anecdotist—can hardly miss in the marketplace. Even those who know better may find 900 pp. of juicy Churchilliana hard to pass up. This is extravagance, however, with a motive. When Manchester writes that Churchill, after Dunkirk, "spoke. . . to the English people as no one had before or ever would again," he has in mind the end of Empire, and the romantic, bellicose, paternalistic Churchill as its last great embodiment. It's a splendid theme, at any rate, for a spectacle—with flares shooting off in all directions. Churchill, to Manchester, is a 19th-century man—but also the inventor of the tank and an early champion of air power (on both of which M. has fine, fresh material). He's a consummate politician, a hopeless politician. (Similarly, Stanley Baldwin is "a shrewder politician than Churchill" on p. 784; "in his long career"—on p. 799—"Baldwin did few clever things.") "As a youth [Churchill] decided that the great issues of his time would be decided on the battlefield." As a child, he suppressed his rage against his parents, turning his hostility inward, becoming a depressive; in war, he found an outlet for his aggression and, in bolshevism and Hitler, worthy enemies, The book is erratic, inconsistent, undiscriminating in other respects too. To absolve Churchill of blame for Gallipoli (a major stress), Manchester cites Rhodes James and Liddell Hart—the best of sources; to fill out his murderous portraits of mother Jennie and especially father Randolph, he leans on Frank Harris (and can't understand why people don't credit Harris' tale of how RC contracted syphilis). He writes sniggeringly of Jennie's lovers (and other sexual matters—referring repeatedly, for instance, to "the expensive Dutch cup" and other contraceptive curiosa)—but he also provides a sparkling account of young Winston's Kaiser Wilhelm/Crystal Palace weekend with Count Kinsky. Periodically, he catalogues what's-going-on-in-Britain: a paragraph on the theater, sheer writerly legerdemain ("At his Majesty's Theatre you could see . . ."), climaxes in a crackling bit of WC/GBS badinage. The book has no proportion; but except as political history, it does have the virtues of its excesses. In a curious way, however, Manchester's massively detailed glorification of Churchill has the same effect as Robert Caro's recent, massively detailed damnation of Lyndon Johnson: it sets up counter-currents. We are reminded of Churchill's dogged intervention in the Russian civil war and, subsequently, of "his visceral reaction against socialism—he was always mistaking pink for red." We're reminded, apropos of his fight against Indian self-government (which Manchester tries hard to justify), of his lifelong racial prejudice. The book ends, in 1932, with Lady Astor's assurance to Hitler: "Churchill? . . . Oh, he's finished." As a curtain-line, terrific (if unsubtle). But Manchester may also have demonstrated, by this omnium-gatherum, why Churchill's greatness lay in wartime leadership. Read full book review >
GOODBYE, DARKNESS by William Manchester
Released: Sept. 17, 1980

We couldn't, thinks ex-Marine Sergeant Manchester, take Tarawa again (or Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima or Okinawa): today's young wouldn't plod "patiently on and on"—chest-deep in water, weapons over their heads, keeping formation"—while their comrades were keeling over on all sides." That isn't the only message of Manchester's return, in memory and in person, to Pacific battlegrounds, but it's the one that forces a yea or nay from the reader—while one can easily remain indifferent to (even skeptical of) Manchester's personal quest for the reason he left a hospital bed, before Okinawa, to rejoin his men: it was—climax-of-book—"an act of love." The entire reconnaissance, he says, was touched off by the appearance in his dreams of his young, tough, uncompromising self reproaching his present "portly, Brooks-Brothered" mid-fifties self: "what had happened in the third of a century since he had laid down his arms?" We then back up to the distinguished Manchester lineage; his (wounded) Marine veteran father and Old-Southern mother; his timid, picked-on childhood; his auspicious start at Amherst; his early enlistment in the Marines, love of rugged Parris Island, hatred of competitive Quantico OCS (he wittingly washed out); his hookup with the "military misfits"—most of them "liberal arts majors from old eastern colleges"—whose sergeant he was slated to be; and his two pre-embarkation attempts to lose his virginity (both aborted—one in party by "my outsize genitalia"—and neither quite credible). Also worked into the foregoing are the attack on Pearl Harbor, the loss of the Philippines, and the Herculean securing of New Guinea—which brings the Pacific War, and Manchester's unit, to Guadalcanal. And whatever one thinks of both stories-so-far (or of the coupling—a kind of personalized pop history), the subsequent chronicle of debilitating jungle warfare on one after another "dumb island" (as a fed-up Marine put it) has an undeniable impact—not because the botched landing at Tarawa, for instance, is news, but because time has diminished neither the horror nor Manchester's outrage. At first, too, his reference to the Japanese as "Japs" or "Nips" rankles; and one recoils when he writes, early on, "thank God for the atomic bomb." But his description of Japanese tactics—first the suicide attacks, then the suicidal last stands—demonstrates why he's still appalled at the prospect of storming mainland Japan. Similarly, what he finds on these islands now is of varying interest or noteworthiness (the native culture corrupted; Japanese tourists and/or businessmen) until he reaches Saipan, where Allied forces first encountered Japanese civilians; at the island's fall, all 18,000 hurled themselves off two cliffs . . . and their bodies are still being recovered and cremated, so the ashes can be returned to Japan. The eventual death of most of Manchester's men on Okinawa's Sugar Loaf is more immediate but not more unnerving. And his farewell to his Sergeant-self—atop today's built-over Sugar-Loaf—seems if anything a cheapening artifice. As for the upright, moral, industrious pre-WW II America that he deems responsible for his generation's sacrifice, it will not be recognized by many of his contemporaries ("Mothers were beloved, fathers obeyed"; "To accept unemployment compensation, had it existed, would have been considered humiliating"); and to Americans of any age, it might appear a misguided ideal. But one can dissent from much of this and still be shaken. Read full book review >
AMERICAN CAESAR by William Manchester
Released: Sept. 30, 1978

American Caesar, no less: from the title onward, Manchester has produced a biography of MacArthur so grandiose and so singleminded as to satisfy even the giant ego of its subject. But this "great thundering paradox," "the best of men and the worst of men," is not without his manifold, if more life-size, fascinations. He was, ineluctably, his father's son: at 18, Arthur MacArthur dashed up Missionary Ridge to plant the Union flag and win the battle—and later, his insubordination as military governor of the Philippines cost him his pest and his career. Young MacArthur learned everything from his father, it appears ("It's the orders you disobey that make you famous," he said in World War I), except what his paranoia perhaps did not permit him to learn; how to escape his father's fate. But then Manchester, constantly tolling the knell of doom, would not have his tragic Greek hero to range alongside his Napoleon (the favorite comparison) or, more aptly, his Winfield Scott. He has, however, assembled massive evidence of how the MacArthur legend grew, cannily nurtured by its subject and persistently mocked to his detriment. Splashing ashore at Leyte, he was caught by a photographer scowling—not in "steely determination," as the public thought, but in outrage at the naval officer who hadn't directed his landing craft to a dock. Thereafter he deliberately waded ashore for cameramen, and incurred the scorn of troops who had already pegged him—with only a little justification—as "Dugout Doug." Also manifest throughout is the political streak that led him to mix inappropriately in civilian affairs—as contrasted with the more politically astute Eisenhower and so well understood by FDR, who alone emerges as more than MacArthur's match. What Manchester does not pursue are the personal threads (an infatuated first marriage to a "flapper," the escape to anonymity of over-cherished son Arthur); what he does not amplify is the history (the Japanese occupation is particularly oversimplified and blurred). And all his elaboration of the circumstances leading up to MacArthur's dismissal, however extenuating in some particulars, does not alter the standard textbook interpretation of that event. He has documented the legend, filled in the image; what is still wanted is a considered portrayal of the good/bad soldier as only the author sees him. Read full book review >
Released: May 16, 1976

The lead article in this collection recounts—for those who still care—Manchester's side of the dispute over the Kennedy book, Death of a President. (Jackie had told him, "Anybody who is against me now will look like a rat unless I run off with Eddie Fisher.") The other pieces are essays in popular history. Valentines to the Marines, to the Pacific forces in WW II, and—in a long profile—to Walter Reuther are accompanied by a second category: the gentle debunking that amounts to an encomium. Here the beneficiaries are John D. Rockefeller I, Adlai Stevenson, and the New York Times. The strongest pieces—which recall Manchester's excellent Arms of Krupp (1968)—describe the Bank Holiday of 1933 and a resourceful slumlord. While the banks themselves get off the hook, we have a lively sense of financial mechanisms and historic periods. There is also an appreciation of H. L. Mencken, whom Manchester knew well. It becomes clear, indeed, why Manchester is so fond of a man who truly dared to mock the great, while sharing a fierce hatred of "the dull and delinquent"—a sentiment Manchester vents in a singular essay which turns from sound ridicule of inverted snobbery into a crotchety howl against "egalitarian. ism." The rest of the book, however, is good fun if not lasting journalism. Read full book review >
GLORY AND THE DREAM by William Manchester
Released: Nov. 15, 1974

A forty-year retrospective of American trivia, trends, pseudo-objective insights, quick portraits and strained paradoxes. The Depression is infused with the Roosevelt glamour and scorn for Republican troglodytes; Horton's dixie cups, Okies, 25-cent movies and six-cent-an-hour jobs give way to G.I. Joe with his Ernie Pylesque paraphernalia, then to the age of Robert Hall, Sputnik and the "dusky" Angela Davis. Often enough, as with the "sex-drenched" 1960's, Manchester foregoes explicit interpretation. His basic slant is an epiglottal liberalism of the sort which expresses some sympathy for Owen Lattimore but fails to question the guilt of the Rosenbergs, while assuming a patrician superiority to the McCarthyites. The Bomb — had to be used to save lives; the Bay of Pigs — too bad the CIA muffed it. Legal and moral turpitude such as Judge Hoffman's at the Chicago Seven trial is often covered by omission. The book's farinaceous view of the world is speckled with American violence (the Republic Steel massacre, postwar comic books) and with a certain synthetic journalistic competence (Truman's 1948 whistlestop buildup). Even after gorging on the author's conventional wisdom and patronizing glosses, the reader will know little of what it was really all about. A big comedown from Manchester's The Arms of Krupp (1968). Read full book review >
THE ARMS OF KRUPP 1587-1968 by William Manchester
Released: Nov. 25, 1968

Even the Germans who are antagonistic to Krupp are up in arms about Manchester's book which tells presumably all-from the first Krupp (circa 1500) "a shrewd chandler with a keen eye for the main chance," through the family's incarnation by the sixth generation as "Essen's uncrowned kings," to the powerful weapons empire that armed Germany for three major wars, and finally the dissolution of die Firma. Manchester slants his story; in this case, the Krupps are all malevolent. The "killing power" of the kruppsche wares (cannon, howitzers, batteries, finally, nuclear power) was unrivaled as early as 1880, and in Manchester's view their product suited the family's temperament. He does differentiate between the various Alfreds, Alfrieds, and Berthas—but shows every member with some unfortunate trait. Their way of life is "secretive," their huge empire "international," their tendency is toward cartels, and their appearance is "vulpine." The foxy family's most "phenomenal" habit, however, was that "of matching the Teuton mood" —i.e. they were nationalistic, Francophile, or severely militaristic when Germany adopted these stances. But Manchester doesn't quite make it clear whether he is charging them with fierce patriotism or whoring. The Book is the December Literary Guild selection, but one wonders how many readers will get through the nearly 1000 pages which alternate between pedantry and appropriately leaden prose. Read full book review >
DEATH OF A PRESIDENT by William Manchester
Released: April 1, 1967

Certainly no book has ever been published under quite these circumstances. The issues it involves (has history been served? was privacy invaded? were contractual obligations broken?) have already been widely debated. The disputed passages have in part been globally disseminated. And the contents of the book are well known to begin with. Or are they? How many people know that on November 21st Senator Humphrey gave a speech on mental health in Washington in which he said that the act of an unstable person could strike down a great leader? Or that the next morning in Fort Worth President Kennedy quipped that the night before would have been a hell of a night to kill a president? This aggregate of detail, some of it significant, some of it irrelevant (i.e., Eunice Shriver always wears black when pregnant because it is slimming) both intensifies and extends the immediate experience. Mr. Manchester's tremendous research collects and collates who did, said, thought, felt what and where during the November 20th to November 25th timespan. This has the inveterate appeal of private revelations about public people. Then too there's that Establishment word charisma which Kennedy apotheosized. Manchester, one of his acolytes, subdued none of that quality in his over-adulatory Portrait of a President (1962). Here he transfers it to Jacqueline Kennedy, a spotless profile in courage. By comparison, by indirection and sometimes by innuendo the Johnsons come off badly. Dallas and Governor Connally come off worse. Mr. Manchester obviously found the transition from Kennedy to Johnson as trying as did many others of the faithful. The controversial fanfaronade over this book will continue. Historians will question the limber speculations (Oswald was activated by the climate of violence in Dallas, or was it Marina's rejection at 9 P.M. the night before?). But no one should underestimate its impact, however much you may resent it, the unbearable scenes (driver Greer crying, on Mrs. Kennedy's shoulder in Parkland Hospital) right down through the last motorcade to Arlington. Somehow, with no more than reportorial skills at his command, Mr. Manchester matches the dislocation and identification which almost everyone experienced during the tragic events of that long weekend. Inescapably. Read full book review >
PORTRAIT OF A PRESIDENT by William Manchester
Released: Sept. 27, 1962

The election of John F. Kennedy to the Presidency has inspired a spate of biographies. Many have been written in haste to meet a deadline. Others bear the decided marks of journalism. Mr. Manchester's book differs from the others to the extent that he focuses all his attention on the President as a man. He recounts for the reader the President's wartime experiences, his academic training, his campaign and the changes a year in office have wrought. But there is not much to say about the book. No one can expect expert insight at this date. Any lucid analysis of the President and of his achievements must await a later time. However, the book is well written. And as it is the portrait of a man in whom the public is vitally Interested, it should find a receptive audience. Read full book review >
THE LONG GAINER by William Manchester
Released: Sept. 6, 1961

With several volumes of fiction and biography behind him, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in his pocket, Manchester has written a combination political and college novel, with traces of elements of the newspaper story and the athletic story thrown in for good measure. It tells of the career of Doc River, a farm boy who was a football hero at a New England state agricultural college, then its coach, and finally its president during its years of postwar expansion into a university of immense size and low academic standing. The story is told by a foreign correspondent, back for a short stint on the home beat, who was a former, football star under Doe's coaching and who reviews the past from the point of view of Doe's campaign for governor of the state. The story is very complicated without eing complex, and "big" without having much depth. It has dozens of characters (and a at the beginning so you can keep them straight), subplots within subplots to the point of irrelevancy, comments on scores of aspects of contemporary life, and quite a bit of sex. The targets of criticism in the college sections are such sitting ducks that potshots seem rather unsporting, but parts of the political background are . The athletic and newspaper stuff in fairly routine. The author has considerable narrative drive and can tell a story. What he has devoted his talent to- however- a big, intensely serious . Read full book review >
Released: June 8, 1959

Three members of the Rockefeller family steal the show in this breezy volume: John D., founder of the Rockefeller fortune who, by penny-pinching, luck, financial brilliance, ruthlessness and Standard Oil, made himself in his prime, in 1913, worth nine hundred million dollars; his son John D. II, at 84 still known as "Junior," inheritor with his brothers of vast riches, part founder and chief administrator of the vast Rockefeller philanthropies, a shy, humorous man who has won the admiration of labor; his son Nelson, politician, philanthropist, sportsman, Governor of the State of New York and potential presidential candidate. Of other Rockefellers there are many in the book, all overshadowed by John D.: Big Bill, his father, a raffish cancer-doctor, his pious mother and his equally pious wife, his sons, daughter, grandsons and their wives and families. A remarkable clan, unimpressed by their wealth, they collect art, endow institutions, dislike blatant show, farm and hunt in many countries and through the Rockefeller Foundation send help to the ends of the earth; through Nelson they are dissolving the family sedateness and forgetting the family dislike of publicity. Sometimes repetitious but always readable, this study of one of America's great families is peculiarly timely in view of Nelson's political importance; the book should have a nation-wide appeal and find readers political and non-political, intelligent readers interested in good biography and the social applications of wealth. Read full book review >
BEARD THE LION by William Manchester
Released: July 23, 1958

A harum-scarum adventure tale involves Ben Sparks, a mild man and a pharmaceutical representative, in more than one Arabian nightmare when he is sent to the middle East- to be a foot in the Egyptian door. Attacked in New York, he is shot at, once he boards ship, and is victimized by some motley internationals:-Amen- no longer young but still an attractive woman; a cunning Egyptian, Hussain; a ruthless Englishman, Post, and the indeterminate Razzak. There is a scramble in the luggage bay; a murder (Hussein's) in his cabin; and Post and Sparks spend a long night sealed off in the Turkish baths- before Ben jumps ship, and is tagged with a murder charge. Ames, a Cypriote patriot, proves her complicity with Razzak- and Ben is still the man in the middle as he finally makes his way to Jerusalem... Some preposterous characters and improbable circumstances combine- in a burlesqued intrigue adventure. Read full book review >
SHADOW OF THE MONSOON by William Manchester
Released: April 5, 1956

The setting of Delhi and a Himalayan hill town makes a turgid background for the maturing in love of two Americans who meet in India. Spike Wiley, an American biologist, with a phobia about gore and death after his war experiences, meets Katie and her English husband, Peter Becker. Katie too is living out illusions in an unreal marriage, and Peter, a kerosene salesman, in desperation sabotage Spike's inoculation program in order to win the regard of the Rajani and sell the district. Katie, remorseful because she has slept with Spike, goes along with Peter on the invitation of the Rajani to a leopard hunt. When the leopard is wounded unwillingly by Katie, he turns on Peter and kills him, then goes on a maddened trail of blood. Spike assumes Katie's determination to kill the wounded animal, and releases himself from his old fears. As in its predecessor, The City of Anger, Manchester is interested in the local political scene and in counterpoint to the love story plays the battle for power in the hill town- the big play, as the sadhu is stymied by the death of the Rajani after the sadhu has promised the restoration of his health. Repetitive and static in characterization, this still has its moments of drama, its elements of personal and public danger, its large cast of characters and the exotic background to appeal to readers demanding these ingredients. A man's book, perhaps, rather than a woman's, and for some a good choice. Read full book review >
DISTURBER OF THE PEACE by William Manchester
Released: Jan. 31, 1950

The life, and lifelong battles with the dragons of complacency and cave level thinking, as they were conducted by the wise, witty and caustic sage of Baltimore who as a newspaperman, magazine editor and philologist became one of the most important forces in the last half century of American literature. Here are the early restive days in the family cigar business; the break into newspaper work which Mencken recorded in his trilogy. Later, with the American literary renaissance, the wild days of editorship on The Smart Set with George Jean Nathan when hilarity often hid H.L.'s real contributions to the breaking down of Pollyanna-ism in American letters, and his early drumbeating for Dreiser, Cabell, Shaw, Conrad and Ibsen. The '20's brought the original American Mercury, Mencken's test case with Boston's Watch and Warders, and his brilliant reportage of the Scopes Trial in Tennessee. The depression saw Mencken's temporary eclipse when he found himself out of touch and sympathy with a whole new generation, to be followed by his resurgence into favor with his trilogy and his monumental The American Language, etc. Written by a staff writer of the Baltimore Sun, this biography is never dull or blindly laudatory, records an exceptional figure in exceptionally readable terms. A must for Menckenites. Read full book review >