CHURCHILL: Speaker of the Century by James C. Humes

CHURCHILL: Speaker of the Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From the author of Podium Humor and Instant Eloquence: an ineloquent, rudimentary run-through that reduces the rich, complex Churchill career to a series of heart-felt orations and cynical maneuvers--a sort of Dale Carnegie success story. Young Winston, believing that he had a great destiny but would die young (like tragic father Randolph), was an unprepossessing lad in a hurry who saw words as ""his escape"": ""He absorbed lines and phrases of poems and ballads as today's teenagers soak up rock and pop music lyrics."" (And ""years later Richard Burton told Johnny Carson"" of WSC's mastery of Shakespeare.) Basing his rhetoric on Gibbon and Macaulay, capitalizing on his stutter, disguising his lisp, and taking inspiration from his father and from U.S. orator Bourke Cockran (his widowed mum's lover), WSC was ready to follow up his early journalist career with politics: first as Conservative M.P., then as a renegade Liberal and disastrous WW-I Admiralty Lord (Gallipoli), then back with the Tories in fits and starts with another Admiralty blunder (a 1950 Norway landing) till. of course, he was there to replace Chamberlain and become the beloved Winnie of ""blood, toil, tears, and sweat."" Throughout, Humes oversimplifies both the man and the politics--by narrowly focusing on the oratory (when a partnership had to be forged with the loathed Russians, ""through the labors of his poetic incantation, Churchill exorcised himself of old hatreds"") and by insisting on easy U.S. equivalents for British history (equating, for instance, the Supreme Court's resistance to the New Deal with the House of Lords' opposition to Liberal legislation). Further marred by poor organization and unreliable detail (Humes mixes up Vita S.-West with Rebecca West), an okay appreciation of Churchill's speechmaking (there's a wit-and-wisdom anthology appendix) but slim and shaky as a general biography.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1980
Publisher: Stein & Day