CHURCHILL by Robert Blake


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 Expert essays on a fascinating subject, edited by Blake (A History of Rhodesia, 1978, etc.) and Louis (English History and Culture/Univ. of Texas). The editors have rounded up 29 specialists who distill their expertise into brief pieces that summarize many aspects of Churchill (``perhaps the great figure in 20th-century history,'' suggest Blake and Louis). The text glitters with gems like Russian diplomat Ivan Maisky's prophecy (quoted in an essay by Robin Edmond) that Churchill would come to power ``when the critical moment...arrives...because he is a major and forceful figure, whereas the other members of the cabinet are colorless mediocrities.'' As George Addison explains elsewhere, Churchill, even in his early career, was not only a writer/journalist but a hard fighter for humane social reform, ``a founder of the welfare state.'' David Cannadine tackles Churchill's family, the Marlboroughs, a conniving, dishonest, nearly perfect disgrace to the very idea of aristocracy--but the future politician was loyal to them, Cannadine says, and it cost him dearly. David Craig's piece on Churchill and Germany follows, illustrating the British leader's limitations (no grasp of German language, literature, or music) but also his lack of rancor and a view of Versailles that was both shrewd and enlightened. ``Churchill and Stalin,'' by Robin Edmonds, reveals Churchill's lifelong antipathy to Russia; to understand the WW II rapprochement between Churchill and Stalin, it's necessary to read other essays that stress the Britisher's practicality and absolute willingness to sacrifice anything, including his own obsessions, for his country. Churchill's old- fashioned sense of the world surfaces repeatedly in relation to ideas and people (notably, De Gaulle, in a piece by Douglas Johnson), but the point emerges throughout that with Churchill's stubborn mind-set came a realistic, flexible acceptance of life that stood England in good stead. Lacking an essay on Churchill the writer; still, a solid bet for anyone concerned with 20th-century history.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03409-7
Page count: 517pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993


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by Peter Clarke