Before he was a statesman, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) sought adventure and fame.
As a young man, Churchill spent five years as a soldier and war correspondent, hoping to win at least one medal for valor and intent on gaining public recognition for his writing. His well-connected and indulgent mother served as literary agent and publicist. Journalist Read (Human Game: The True Story of the ‘Great Escape’ Murders and the Hunt for the Gestapo Gunmen, 2012, etc.) draws on Churchill’s newspaper pieces, books, and letters for this fast-paced biographical and historical narrative. In 1895, Churchill participated in the Cuban War of Independence; the following year, based in India, he fought in the Anglo-Afghan War. Disappointingly for him, his dispatches from Malakand, where British troops fought against the Pashtun, were published in the Daily Telegraph without his byline. Determined to make his name, he plunged into writing a book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), which earned respectful reviews. Based in Egypt in 1898, he joined the Anglo-Egyptian army, waging battle for the reconquest of Sudan, reluctantly taken on by Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, who was deeply suspicious of war correspondents and disdainful of his lieutenant’s obvious lust for glory. Nevertheless, Churchill prevailed, reporting for the Morning Post and publishing his account as The River War (1899). According to Read, the horror and slaughter that he witnessed darkened his formerly jingoist, romantic view of conflict. Nevertheless, he was drawn to a stint in the Second Boer War, arming himself with six bottles of champagne and 48 bottles of assorted other liquor. He had learned, Read writes, to look after his own comfort. Reports from South Africa to the Morning Post became his next book, London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria (1900). In 1900, the well-known journalist and veteran gained a seat in Parliament.
A richly detailed look at Churchill’s early ambitions and triumphs.