An engaging alphabetical encyclopedia of the animals Winston Churchill loved (and hunted) and used as imagery and metaphors in his fiery prose.
It takes a devoted scholar of Churchill to be able to convey with fluent familiarity such details in the British leader’s life and extensive body of writing. British author Brendon (Eminent Elizabethans: Rupert Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher, Prince Charles & Mick Jagger, 2013, etc.)—fellow of Churchill College and of the Royal Society of Literature and the former keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre—certainly fits the bill, and he offers an unquestionably unique look at the former prime minister. As the son of an aristocrat (his American mother’s family was also wealthy) born at the splendid palace of Blenheim, Churchill was raised to revere hunting as the apotheosis of Victorian male valor and virility; at the same time, he was taught that “kindness to animals was the mark and the duty of civilization” (despite his carnivorous diet). The “inconsistencies” in Churchill’s “wit, wisdom, and wayward genius” abound, and Brendon knocks against them throughout the book. The “bestiary” starts with “albatross”—the well-read Churchill used the Ancient Mariner’s anguished response “I shot the Albatross” while expressing his frustration with Parliament’s wrangling about Indian independence—and ends with “zoos,” since one of his favorite activities was visiting them. Many of the animals in his metaphorical repertory came from the countryside, which he knew intimately as a boy. These include badgers, birds, hares, and foxes, animals he loved as a “humane sentimentalist” but also hunted for sport. Regarding lions, writes the author, “no twentieth-century leader has been more lionized or has attracted more leonine imagery than Churchill.” Dogs and horses were his favorites, but Brendon’s most touching portrait shows Churchill feeding his beloved “golden horde” of goldfish at Chartwell as a distraction from the overbearing worries of the 1940s.
An affectionate study by a respected Churchill scholar.