An intriguing new look into both imperialism and a fascinating historical figure.
Prolific historian James (Aristocrats: Power, Grace and Decadence—Britain's Great Ruling Classes from 1066 to the Present, 2009, etc.) homes in on the tumultuous years between 1898 and 1955—the span of time in which Winston Churchill (1874-1965) started as a staff officer and finished his last day of his second term on Downing Street. The author filters a vast amount of information into a brisk narrative of volatile geopolitics, and he punctuates it with anecdotes and personal moments from Churchill’s life. While examining the Dardanelles campaign, James pauses to consider Churchill’s nightly routine, “during which, fuelled by champagne and brandy, he expounded his views on the war and his vital part in its direction.” Just as the histories of the colonies are enlivened by Churchill’s quick wit and powerful persona, the motivations behind his political agendas and battle strategies take on interesting new dimensions through this colonial lens. James eschews a traditional biography, referencing Churchill’s upbringing and past only when necessary. What he does highlight is the man’s antiquated belief in “empires as the engines of progress that were adding to the sum of human happiness.” James deftly sprints through the long list of battles during Churchill’s career, focusing particularly on his struggles in Palestine, India and the complex aftermath of both world wars, when he found himself “trapped between his instinctive urge to hammer the enemies of the Empire into submission and the need to uphold its moral character.” This results in a book that is more analytic than informative, more likely to question grand notions of liberty and duty than to inform readers on the basics of the two historical forces in its title.
Exciting but very specific, this work will appeal most to those already knowledgeable about the subjects and looking for fresh insights.