A slender volume on that most unslender of subjects, Winston Churchill.
Memoirist, historian, journalist, soldier, traveler and leader, Churchill committed millions of words to print and generated millions more by other hands. Indeed, writes prolific historian Johnson (Heroes: From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and de Gaulle, 2007, etc.), “I calculate his total of words in print, including published speeches, to be between 8 and 10 million words.” So slim a treatment of the portly prose master would seem unusual, but Johnson seemingly has a purpose in mind—to use Churchill’s life as a kind of self-improvement scheme for the rest of us, who have not the opportunity to go steaming off to Gallipoli or escape from the Boers. The author measures Churchill’s successes on a broad beam—whence his observation that while Churchill drank like a sailor on shore leave for most of his life, “his liver, inspected after his death, was found to be as perfect as a young child’s.” Johnson approvingly notes Churchill’s habit of casting about widely for learned opinion but keeping his own counsel, making difficult decisions and accepting responsibility for failures as well as successes. Johnson presents a fully rounded character who used the F-word from time to time, though never to Nixonian excess, who learned as he went and who managed to retain principle while acting as a practical politician. The author closes with a list of ten big lessons that Churchill can teach, some very specific (use airpower whenever possible) and some more applicable to ordinary lives (work hard, forge alliances, get your priorities straight).
Personal reflections meet large-scale history, most satisfyingly.