A sprawling study of the lord of Overlord—and Gallipoli and many other imperial campaigns.
“War, disguise it as you may, is but a dirty, shoddy business, which only a fool would play at,” wrote Winston Churchill after the Battle of Omdurman, when British forces defeated an Islamist army still revered by the militant faithful. It was an ugly battle, but it would not be the ugliest Churchill witnessed. Military historian and former officer D’Este (Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, 2002, etc.) finds in the half-American British leader a profound attachment to all things martial—as a child, he writes, Churchill had a vast collection of toy soldiers and a keen sense of how to deploy them—but also a wariness of those who reveled too greatly in martial glories. As a young man, having “stumbled into adulthood from a stormy and rebellious childhood,” Churchill felt he was an avatar of an ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, born for war and equipped to understand its every aspect as both scholar and practitioner. He fought on horseback in the Sudan, Egypt, India and South Africa before ascending, perhaps improbably, to the Admiralty. There he committed well-known tactical errors in planning the campaign at Gallipoli, and effectively punished himself by resigning to serve as an officer on the Western Front. In the years after World War I he emerged as a skillful military thinker determined not to repeat the largely political errors he had made, even though, during that time, he slashed the army budget, “unusual behavior indeed for a man who had played such an important role in the defense of Britain.” Churchill did, however, advocate rearmament just in time for Hitler’s rise and skillfully managed his share in the alliance that defeated him, even if voters sick of war turned him out of office as prime minister as soon as the conflict ended.
Accomplished and comprehensive but overly long. John Keegan covered most of the bases in his 200-page Winston Churchill (2002), which nonspecialist readers will prefer.