Sprawling life of the great British leader, drawing on previously unavailable documents, including notes of wartime counsels kept by King George VI.
No stranger to big biographies or larger-than-life subjects, historian and commentator Roberts (Napoleon: A Life, 2014, etc.) faces a special challenge with Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who closely documented himself and still has managed to inspire a roomful of books. Roberts adds materially to the library by consulting troves of documents unknown or not open to other researchers. He also has a sense of both drama and character as well as the context of Churchill’s time. As the author writes early on, Churchill “was born into a caste that held immense political and economic power in the largest empire in world history, and that had not yet become plagued by insecurity and self-doubt.” Sometimes Churchill’s overconfidence led to disaster, as at Gallipoli; other times it helped his nation steel itself for war, as with his “fight them on the beaches” speech at the dawn of World War II. Roberts turns up fascinating fragments, including solid evidence that Churchill was not always the pro-American some biographers have claimed him to be: “You have to try and understand and master America and make her like you,” counseled his wife, Clementine. Better still, the narrative underscores Churchill’s attention to the smallest details while seeing the big picture of global strategy in matters such as handling an always-fraught alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler and laying the groundwork for a postwar world with plenty of tensions of its own, including the question of a Jewish state in Palestine. Roberts’ portrait comes warts and all, allowing, for instance, that the leader who decried Nazi air attacks on London would order the leveling by bombing of whole German cities. The author delivers a clear, well-limned view of a complex figure who, in no danger of being forgotten, continues to inspire.
The most comprehensive single-volume biography of Churchill that we have in print and a boon for any student of the statesman and his times.