Curiously organized but highly readable biography of Winston Churchill (1874–1965), closely focusing on his youth and family life.
Biographies of the cigar-chewing, pugnacious British leader abound, but the Lees offer an intriguing addition. Drawing on little-visited archives, the authors reveal much news—though some is delivered in a long author’s note at the end of the book rather than being fully revealed in chronological order throughout the narrative. One of the revelations is that Lord Randolph Churchill almost certainly did not die of syphilis, a charge that was first leveled in Frank Harris’s semi-pornographic memoir My Life and Loves (1922) and that Churchill’s many political enemies exploited to no end, shaming young Winston in the process. It would be unsporting to reveal more here, but suffice it to say that several other of the Lees’ talking points will force a revision of the received picture of the Churchills, assuming they survive the scrutiny of other historians. The bulk of the book is a conventional, well-written narrative that chronicles Churchill’s complex relationship with his brother, his equally complex relationship with money, his accomplishments and failures as a soldier and military leader, his unflagging work ethic and his sometimes thin-skinned approach to the world. Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mother, comes off a touch worse for the wear, but she emerges as a thoroughly modern woman who might have been more at home today than in the Victorian and Edwardian eras—yet one who was also devoted to her sons, for all her faults.
Admirers of Churchill and collectors of the considerable literature surrounding his life will find plenty to chew on in this all-too-lively life.