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Churchill: A Biography [Hardcover]

Roy Jenkins
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 15 2001
A brilliant new life of Britain's greatest modern prime minister

Winston Churchill is an icon of modern history, but even though he was at the forefront of the political scene for almost sixty years, he might be remembered only as a minor player in the drama of British government had it not been for World War II. In this magesterial book, Roy Jenkin's unparalleled command of the political history of Britain and his own high-level experience combine in a narrative account of Churchill's astounding career that is unmatched in its shrewd insights, its unforgettable anecdotes, the clarity of its overarching themes, and the author's nuanced appreciation of his extraordinary subject.

From a very young age, Churchill believed he was destined to play a great role in the life of his nation, and he determined to prepare himself. Jenkins shows in fascinating detail how Churchill educated himself for greatness, how he worked out his livelihood (writing) as well as his professional life (politics), how he situated himself at every major site or moment in British imperial and governmental life. His parliamentary career was like no other - with its changes of allegiance (from the Conservative to the Liberal and back to the Conservative Party), its troughs and humiliations, its triumphs and peaks - and for decades almost no one besides his wife discerned the greatness to come. Jenkins effortlessly evokes the spirit of Westminster through all these decades, especially the crisis years of the late 1930s and the terrifying 1940s, when at last it was clear how vital Churchill was to the very survival of England. He evaluates Churchill's other accomplishments, his writings, with equal authority.

Exceptional in its breadth of knowledge and distinguished in its stylish wit and penetrating intelligence, this is one of the finest political biographies of our time.

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From Amazon

Winston Churchill was querulous, childish, self-indulgent, and difficult, writes English historian Roy Jenkins. But he was also brilliant, tenacious, and capable--in short, "the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street." Jenkins's book stands as the best single-volume biography of Churchill in recent years.

Marked by the author's wide experience writing on British leaders such as Balfour and Gladstone and his tenure as a member of Parliament, his book adds much to the vast library of works on Churchill. While acknowledging his subject's prickly nature, Jenkins credits Churchill for, among other things, recognizing far earlier than his peers the dangers of Hitler's regime. He praises Churchill for his leadership during the war years, especially at the outset, when England stood alone and in imminent danger of defeat. He also examines Churchill's struggle to forge political consensus to meet that desperate crisis, and he sheds new light on Churchill's postwar decline. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Gladstone (1997), Jenkins offers a bloated yet idiosyncratic and accessible life of England's greatest modern prime minister. Jenkins's wry wit and judgments of great men, untainted by awe, partly offset the fact that, as he admits, he has few new facts to add to an already exhaustively recorded life. Jenkins has a propensity for unnecessary French and curious adverbs (unfriendlily), adjectives (spistolatory) and nouns (peripherist) and is at his best exploring Churchill's three out-of-office "wilderness" periods and his writing jobs (requiring a staff of loyal, ill-paid researchers and secretaries to take his clangorous dictation), which helped support his expensive lifestyle. ("I lived in fact from mouth to hand," Churchill confessed.) But as the statesman's many decades wind down, the biographer himself seems to tire, resorting to a litany of itineraries. American audiences may be drawn to Jenkins's revisionist views of Churchill's relationships with Roosevelt, with whom he sees "more a partnership of circumstance and convenience than a friendship of individuals," and with Eisenhower, a "political general" who was "always a little cold for Churchill's taste, with the famous smile barely skin-deep." Jenkins is hard on Churchill for being soft on alleged mountebanks like Lord Beaverbrook. He dwells only briefly on Churchill's family affairs, aside from expressing skepticism about his reputedly warm marriage to Clementine; she often advised her husband wisely, but "managed to be absent at nearly all the most important moments of Churchill's life." Jenkins's judgments and the fact that he has boiled this eventful life down to a single volume will attract many readers to this entertaining, though often exasperating study. 32 pages of photos and maps not seen by PW. (Nov.)Forecast: A main selection of both BOMC and the History Book Club, with a respected author, who will tour New York and Washington, D.C., and an iconic subject, the biography is guaranteed media attention and sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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CHURCHILL'S PROVENANCE WAS aristocratic, indeed ducal, and some have seen this as the most important key to his whole career. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Man in the World June 26 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Roy Jenkins gives us an exhaustively-researched biography of Winston Churchill. It is a complete treatment which deals with Churchill’s early years, family life, writing projects, and political machinations as well as his high-profile WWII and post-war leadership. Reading it (or listening to the audio book) is a significant time commitment.

I won’t try to summarize Churchill’s life briefly, accepting the author’s implied judgment that this is not possible. Instead, I will share two impressions of him that came from reading this book. The first is that Winston is, with all due respect, a bit of a pompous ass. He was certainly courageous, brilliant, resilient, charming, and loyal. But he also insisted on his comforts, indulged in petty jealousies, exaggerated his accomplishments, and loved the sound of his own thundering voice. These qualities are manifest throughout his life—and account for some of his public successes. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed his company. I hope I would have seen the value of enduring it.

Churchill is revered as a wartime leader, responsible for thwarting Hitler’s designs on Great Britain and pushing the German armies back from conquered Europe. This book highlights Churchill’s political and interpersonal skills. His military background contributed to Britain’s early French and Norwegian operations—which were largely unsuccessful. His greater contribution was fostering relationships among the maneuvering politicians, exiled monarchs, competing general officers, and demoralized refugees that were necessary to Allied victory. He spent much of the war meeting and organizing summits between key players.
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This is a biography by a writer who admires Churchill, yet it notes many critical points in Churchill's career. It is also a biography by a politician-scholar, a man who always has a deep grasp of his subject (he has written about twenty books, many of them notable biographies) and of the inside details of political life, something absent in some biographers, particularly William Manchester's.

Both Jenkins and Manchester admire Churchill, and I always favour biographers who have a positive view of their subjects. Yet differences between these two substantial biographies are remarkable. In the real world, especially in a real world arena like politics, admiring someone does not exclude criticisms and disagreements, nor should it.

Roy Jenkins' work may be viewed as almost a required antidote to William Manchester's romantic epic. There is a realism and balance in the Roy Jenkins' book missing from Manchester's. Of course, one pays a price for this pull back to realism: also missing is the vibrant sense of adventure, the Boy's Own galloping story pace, communicated by Manchester, especially in his first volume.

Here are just a few topics where Jenkins provides a counterbalancing view to Manchester. Jenkins spends little time on Churchill's childhood, a topic which engrosses Manchester and which heavily colors what follows. Jenkins agrees that Churchill's mother was a sexual adventuress, but does not accept her sleeping with the Prince of Wales and future king.

Churchill's beloved wife, Clementine, is a more forceful figure in the Jenkins' book, including her substantial and lengthy argument with her husband over his relationship with Prime Minister Asquith: she was for a far more accommodating face than Churchill was ready to show.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IF WE CAN'T HAVE MANCHESTER� Sept. 8 2003
By A Customer
Like most students of the life of Winston S. Churchill I was anxiously awaiting the third volume in the Last Lion series on Churchill's life by William Manchester. Sadly Mr. Manchester has recently announced that, due to extreme health issues, his much-anticipated book would never be written. Having read the first two books I was absolutely stunned.
After the shock wore off I immediately began the prospect of finding a biography that would complete the Churchill history and do it in a way that would complement my earlier study through the Manchester biographies.
May I recommend Churchill by Roy Jenkins. This book, written by a man who has the unique perspective of actually having served in Parliament and in a variety of other important posts in British government, masterfully fills the void. Concise and well written, Churchill by Roy Jenkins is easily the finest single-volume biography of Britain's greatest leader.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible Disappointment March 1 2003
By des
Roy Jenkins turns the life of one of history's most interesting men into one of the world's most boring biographies. He is more interested in footnotes and asides than story arcs and feelings...I barely have any idea what Churchill was like as a person from reading this artless bio. Please avoid this book at all costs.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hard Slog Nov. 9 2003
Lord Jenkins' "Churchill" is an extraordinary book. Anyone with a serious or scholarly interest in the subject simply must read it. That said, it is nonetheless the case that ordinary American readers (like me) must be prepared for considerable heavy lifting to follow Jenkins' narrative. Roy Jenkins received an excellent English education during the inter-war period, and his syntax shows it. This is not "Dick and Jane." The text itself is full of Briticisms and idiomatic formulations which the reader must hope that context will somehow unravel. A greater difficulty for Americans will be the assumptions the author makes about the reader's knowledge of British politics. (A brief "Glossary of Parliamentary Terms", added to the American edition, makes only the barest beginnings at explaining the political arcana to be found throughout the volume.) But still -- if you are enthralled by the Churchill legend, give Lord Jenkins a try. It isn't every literary season that an important politician writes the biography of a VERY important politician.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Packed With Knowledge!
Perhaps the greatest tribute to the work of author Roy Jenkins is that, at times, he seemed to know what Winston Churchill was actually thinking - and you're pretty sure he's... Read more
Published on June 9 2004 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read
First off, its important to note that this is a political biography and focuses on Churchill's career in parliament, not his family or friend relationships. Read more
Published on March 19 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Well detailed.....perhaps a bit too much so
This book, while well researched, is a tedious read. Overwhelming detail in areas of limited relevance tend to clutter excellent underlying content and compromise big picture... Read more
Published on March 19 2004 by David D.
5.0 out of 5 stars The scope of Manchester's work but more succint &
marginally better. This unabridged audio version of Jenkins book came in two parts, part one slightly longer. It takes Churchill's life to 1940. Read more
Published on March 18 2004 by JOHN GODFREY
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I found this book to be a difficult read--and even more difficult to finish. There are parts that stick out as great tales of Winston Chuchill. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2004 by Ben D. Cherniavsky
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book but Maybe a Bit Heavy Going
I do not want to get into the accuracy of this book since I am not a Churchill scholar, or comment on if it is political or fair etc. Read more
Published on Dec 30 2003 by J. E. Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Heroism in Politics
Is there any more fascinating figure than Winston Churchill? I have found him interesting since I read a children's book on him back in 1972 and continue to find him interesting to... Read more
Published on Dec 20 2003 by M. A Newman
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This book was diappointing for a number of reasons. Although well researched, Churchill amazingly remained a two-dimensional character throughout the tedious effort by Jenkins. Read more
Published on Dec 17 2003 by Mark A. Moorstein
4.0 out of 5 stars Read this only after you've read Manchester or Gilbert
If I were to choose a first Churchill bio to read, it would not be this one. The writing is very cumbersome and yes, it does assume a lot of knowledge of British affairs on the... Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2003 by DrummerGirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Best in the den with brandy and cigars
Winston Churchill is one of those great characters in history who deserves multiple first class biographies. Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2003 by Thomas J. Burns
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