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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
5.0 out of 5 stars A great and insightful study March 18 2003
After Martin Gilbert's exhaustive study of Churchill's life, it would be difficult to imagine anyone being able to contribute anything new or revealing about the great man and his life...until Jenkins procuced this work.
The late Roy Jenkins was uniquely placed to write this book. It is not a biogrpahy in the ordinary sense - it is actually a biographical commentary. Rather than attempting to painstakingly delve into the minutiae of Churchill's life, Jenkins set out to look at his life from a Parliamentary viewpoint. This inevitably means glossing over come of the more personal aspects, but delivers a telling and erudite study of a life which was more Parliamentary than anything else, and which produced one whom Jenkins described as the greatest man to inhabit No 10 Downing Street.
Jenkins' work is unique becasue he approaches the Parliamentary side of Churchill's life as one who has been there, and knew many of the characters that flitted through Churchill's life. Moreover, he has a towering understanding of British politics - the theory and praxis - that is impossible to achieve without having actually been in it.
This is a great an insightful study. It is not the complete Chruchill biography, but it may well be close to the best.
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3.0 out of 5 stars great information; difficult read March 2 2003
Prior to embarking on Jenkins' biography of Churchill, I knew little about the most accomplished Prime Minsiter in the 20th Century. After reading this enormous work, I believe I have a better understanding of this great 20th Centruy figure, but believe I may have been better served by reading a different biography on Churchill; I just found Manchester's work more daunting.
The trouble with the book, in my opinion, was not the depth and knowledge that Jenkins shows on Churchill, but the writing style in which it is presented. What comes out in this 900 page (soft cover)work is that you need to have a better understanding of the parlimentary system in Britan to get the full flavor of Jenkins' insider information. While Jenkins provides some parlimentary terms in the begining of the book, they fall far short of the necessary tools to enjoy this work to its fullest extent. Further, I found myself reading Jenkins' Churchill alongside a dictionary, looking up several words in a chapter. I enjoy learning new words I may use someday, but some of the English did not even appear in my dictionary!!
Despite this, it was an enjoyable, one volume work on an extremely brilliant and fearless leader who I admire for his courage and tenancity. In WWII, Churchill, was, without question, based on Jenkins' work as well as other accounts, the primary reason Europe did not fall to Hitler and Mussolini. When the chips were down (particularly in those difficult, almost amazingly depressing, "twenty-one days in May"), it was amazing, based on Jenkins' stoy, how Churchill could keep so upbeat and positive that things would ultimatley turn out well.
Churchill's relationship with Stalin and Roosevelt was, I thought, well presented in Jenkins' book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Where was the editor? Jan. 31 2003
I have a long-standing interest in history with a particular interest in american military history and FDR. I've read extensively and was interested in a biography of Churchill to dove-tail with my prior reading. As an american reader I find that at least a quarter of the book could have been deleted as it contains asides wherein Jenkins discusses other British historical figures and makes comparisons of Churchill's political positions with prior British parlimentary figures. Some of that is somewhat interesting as it points out how interrelated the members of the British ruling class were up until WWII but the information is not particularly relevant to understanding Churchill. I have no quarrel with Jenkin's comments and insights into Churchill, the author's political background I think is helpful and important in his analysis of Churchill. For a British reading public the British minutia may be interesting, for me it made reading the book more of a chore than it needed to be. Fortunately most of the trivia is in the chapters about Chrchill's earlier life. I'll have to read Manchester.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Biased and an incredibly boring read. Jan. 22 2003
I bought this book after finishing the first two volumes of William Manchester's biography on Churchill and discovering that the concluding third would not likely be finished. This book had received all sorts of praise from national reviewers and magazines so I gave it a shot. I was/am incredibly disappointed.
Firstly, for a nearly one thousand page book Mr. Jenkins glosses over huge parts of Churchill's life. You don't get the taste of personality that you do from Mr. Manchester. Secondly, Mr. Jenkins knew Mr. Churchill, was a Peer and obviously harbors strong personal feelings for good old Winston, and not the overly flattering kind. There are far to many uses of the first person and too many instances of "In spite of" or "I think" and of course "In my experience."
If you read Manchester and then Jenkins it's almost like reading about two seperate personalities. Do yourself a favor and stay away from this book.
We need heroes in our history and Mr. Jenkins seems intent on depriving us of them.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Man in the World
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,... Read more
Published 16 months ago by John M. Ford
This is a biography by a writer who admires Churchill, yet it notes many critical points in Churchill's career. Read more
Published 21 months ago by John W. Chuckman
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
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