Solid biography covering the first four decades of Winston Churchill’s life, marked by both ambition and heartbreak.
The heartbreak comes early and late in Shelden’s (English/Indiana State Univ.; Mark Twain: Man in White, 2010, etc.) account—early with rejection by a young woman for whom Churchill had conceived an unreturned love, late with rejection by his political colleagues at the height of World War I. The ambition is constant: When Churchill, having escaped from a Boer jail in part, one suspects, to impress his intended, gets shoved under the tram of love, he dusts himself off, makes a tidy sum writing his memoir, and wins elective office and ever-growing fame; when he suffers rejection by the elected and the electorate, he changes gears and parties and earns still more influence. Shelden opens with a longish episode that finds Churchill in the United States and Canada on a generally unsatisfying lecture tour about his adventures in the Boer War. He closes with a disgraced Churchill briefly exiting the political stage to fight in the trenches of France: “Like a Byronic figure in a novel that he might have written about his own political adventures, he was suddenly confronted with the possibility that he had reached the last chapter, and must now fight or die.” In between, Shelden offers an unadorned account of Churchill’s dogged pursuit to build his legacy against some long odds (including marked antipathy, it seems, on the part of his elders, family and foe alike). The author might, in fact, have offered more analysis in the place of plain narration, but there are plenty of other books on Churchill that do that.
Indeed, there are plenty of books about Churchill, period. Shelden isn’t of the first rank, but the book holds up well against the competition.