Just when you thought there could not be another angle to this endlessly fascinating character, here’s a serious, thorough look at Winston Churchill’s lifelong struggle to pay the bills.
Writing for hire allowed Churchill to keep the bank at bay over many decades, as noted scrupulously by English financial officer Lough, who asserts that, during his long career advising families about their finances, he has “never encountered risk-taking on Churchill’s scale.” Hailing from a family of spendthrifts, especially his American-born mother, Churchill recognized early on in his political career that he would have to supplement his official government salary by writing journalism, giving lectures, buying polo ponies, and speculating in the stock market, thanks to his financial guru brother, Jack. Like his mother, Churchill patronized only the best suppliers, and he was often scrambling to pay the bills, borrowing hugely to cover amounts owed to wine, cigar, shirt, and saddle merchants. His marriage to Clementine Hozier did not greatly add to his wealth, though his elevation to First Lord of the Admiralty in 1909 allowed him use of the HMS Enchantress and a fine Admiralty House in central London. While World War I impoverished a generation of Edwardian aristocracy, transforming them into a “new class of entrepreneurs,” Churchill managed to inherit a tidy sum from a distant cousin in 1921, quickly depleted by the purchase of a country seat and the birth of his fifth child and prompting stock market speculation. (Miraculously, he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer in 1925.) The U.S. stock market crash wiped out Churchill’s “new world fortune” (for each chapter, Lough offers a contemporary exchange rate and inflation multiples) without dampening his enthusiasm for America’s “vitality…[to] help shape his wartime strategy a decade later.” Chockablock with credits, debits, taxes, and inheritances, the book is nothing if not meticulous.
Moving in a stringent chronology, the author’s impressive nuts-and-bolts account finds Churchill’s golden years crowned by selling his memoirs and film rights.