London mayor Johnson (Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World, 2012, etc.) takes a look at the quintessential British leader and his massively widespread influence on global affairs.
The author studies how this one incredible man played some role in every war from the Boer War to the Cold War. Young Churchill was effectively ignored by his aristocratic father and received little attention from his American-born mother. Nonetheless, he developed an incredible ego and belief in his own prowess. Of course, he wasn’t actually perfect and made plenty of mistakes, many of which Johnson covers in a delightful chapter called “Winston Churchill and the Art of Surviving the Cataclysmic Cock-Up.” The author attempts to explore the personality of Churchill and how he reacted to situations. Though his drinking was legion, Johnson points out that, on the other hand, Hitler was a teetotaler, “a deformity that accounts for much misery.” Churchill possessed a gambler’s temperament, fearing no risk, and he was also a weathervane for political thought. From his father, who was unrepentantly disloyal, he inherited his disdain of party loyalty, and he made it his life’s work to make his name one of the most significant in political and diplomatic history. In his dealings with Hitler, Johnson refers to him as “the crowbar of destiny,” since “[i]f he hadn’t…put up resistance, that Nazi train would have carried right on.” As the author demonstrates, Churchill still affects us all, from the makeup of the Middle East (he coined the phrase) to the Cold War and the European Union—not to mention the prodigious amount of writing he left behind.
Despite the author’s drifts into hagiography and occasionally contrived prose (“his dentition was assisted by artifice”), reading about Churchill is always a delight, and Johnson is an accomplished, accessible writer.