A Political Biography
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 Shrewd analysis that just misses taking the full measure of the great wartime leader. ``To be a Party you must have at least one follower. You have none,'' David Lloyd-George once told Churchill. Why was someone so brilliant so often mistrusted or in the political wilderness? William Manchester's The Last Lion saw Churchill's isolation as proof of his maverick courage. Charmley (English History/Univ. of East Anglia; Chamberlain and the Lost Peace, 1989, etc.--not reviewed) finds the truth more dismaying. While he hails Churchill's energy and eloquence, he details, with perhaps more telling effect, the man's failings as politician and statesman: his egotism, insensitivity, abrupt ideological and partisan shifts that left him standing alone, and impetuosity (e.g., Churchill's advocacy as First Lord of the Admiralty of the disastrous Dardenelles and Norwegian campaigns). Charmley's reading of Churchill's fierce political jockeying is instructive, if overdetailed, and he can be waspishly funny about the great man's vanity (``Like many famous men, Churchill was fond of enlarging the obstacles which stood in the way of his success''). The author also shows how the archimperialist Churchill ironically helped ring the death knell of the British Empire by playing junior partner to the US and by not protesting the Soviet threat to Eastern Europe until it was too late. But this devil's advocate unravels his case against Churchill by comparing him with Neville Chamberlain (who, Charmley feels, has been unfairly maligned by history). While Chamberlain rightly questioned Churchill's views on India, on the attempt to invade the fledgling USSR after the Russian Revolution, and on the abdication of Edward VIII, Churchill was indisputably correct about the paramount issue of the time: the monstrous evil posed by Hitler. The case against Churchill is argued forcefully and often wittily here, but is lost in a final, too-clever summation. (First printing of 20,000)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-117881-X
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993