Chief of Men

Of the making of books about Churchill there is no end.  The latest is the best to date.  Andrew Roberts reduces Churchill’s epic life to some 1,100 pages, offering a précis of the great events in which he was involved while drawing on 40 new sources.  These include the private diaries of King George VI and the unpublished memoirs of major figures.  Roberts has mastered the archives, and provides an enthralling, intimate picture of Churchill that reads as if it were a novel, with something piquant on every page as the author forges ahead at a level pace, never allowing the flow of the narrative to flag.  We can sometimes forget that Churchill was a very funny man, and Roberts constantly finds room for the jokes with which Churchill enlivened his company at all levels, including Parliament, Roosevelt, and even Stalin.  His domestic life, including his relations with his wife, Clementine, is fully treated.  However, I shall confine myself to one aspect of Churchill’s legacy: war.

Churchill became, in A.J.P. Taylor’s term, a war lord.  That does not mean that he was a warmonger, a charge often thrown at him.  He had seen enough of war to know what it meant.  He rode in the cavalry charge at Omdurman in 1898 under Sir Herbert Kitchener, and he served in the trenches in 1916.  But he certainly revelled in war, once it was upon him, and he...

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