Accomplished biographer Leaming (Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman, 2006, etc.) tracks Winston Churchill’s masterful postwar comeback.
Voted from power just as he was implementing the Allied peace terms at Potsdam and warning of Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe, Churchill was blindsided but determined to continue to lead his Conservative party. The author provides a lively chronicle of his incremental rehabilitation. Churchill’s career might have been heretofore defined by “unsquashable resilience,” but he was “absorbed by the idea that a comeback was impossible.” His warning of pernicious goings-on behind “the iron curtain” was out of sync with the popular mood of triumphant celebration in August 1945. Yet despite being in his 70s and having suffered several strokes, he spent the next five years speechifying, preparing his memoirs, painting and traveling. He refused to retire, believing that he still had a mission to accomplish. Moreover, he maintained that his heir apparent, Anthony Eden, was not ready to inherit the mantle. As Truman and the West were catching on to the Soviet threat, Churchill redoubled his “usual blood-and-thunder anti-socialism” message. He used the occasion of the publication of The Gathering Storm (1947) to remind readers of his initial warnings to the Allies about allowing the Russians to take Berlin first, a decision defended vehemently by Eisenhower his memoir published the same year, Crusade in Europe. The Conservatives were voted back in by October 1951, and Churchill immediately pushed for a summit with Stalin but was put off by the American presidential election. Stalin’s subsequent death, Eden’s ill health, Churchill’s own faltering strength and the necessity of negotiating the atomic debates and Indo-China machinations led to final debilitation, and he was squeezed out shortly after his 80th birthday. Using a variety of material, Leaming executes a smooth, succinct narrative.
Tight, polished and effectively focused on the lesser-known end of Churchill’s career.