Winston Churchill Paperback – Mar 1 2010
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About the Author
John Perry graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University, with additional studies at University College, Oxford, England. Before beginning his career as an author in 1997, he was an award-winning advertising copywriter and radio producer. John has published 21 books as an author, collaborator, or ghostwriter. He is the biographer of Sgt. Alvin York, Mary Custis Lee (wife of Robert E. Lee and great granddaughter of Martha Washington), and George Washington Carver. Among other books, he has also written about the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial (Monkey Business, with Marvin Olasky, B&H Publishing, 2005) and contemporary prison reform (God Behind Bars, Thomas Nelson, 2006). He is a two-time Gold Medallion finalist and Lincoln Prize nominee. He lives in Nashville.
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Top Customer Reviews
Having been publicly educated (and not having read extensively on Churchill's life, I hoped that he might have held a faith that I was unaware of. This doesn't seem to be the case. Though John Perry does try to make a case for the man's spiritual beliefs, these quite clearly do not fall in line with depending upon the person of Jesus Christ as savior. Rather, by his own admission, he rejected Christianity, and held a belief system that can be more accurately classified as agnostic ' believing in some greater 'universal' power at work but refusing to truly worship it, or become specific.
Though Perry quotes extensively from Churchill's own letters we never see evidence of a walk with Christ. In his public speeches God is given due place, but we find this in any Christian countries when politicians speak ' regardless of their own personal faith. Clearly Churchill's God is not truly the Judeo-Christian God, creator of the universe, but rather a creation of Churchill's own ' one who plays by Churchill's rules and expectations, and not by His own. We can only judge Churchill to be a Christian if we adopt a very, very liberal point of view that accepts anyone who even vaguely believes in a higher power as Christian, and that we cannot do if we wish to hold to the biblical gospel.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The religious beliefs of Winston Churchill would be a fascinating topic of a full length investigation by an academic historian. In the "Christian Encounters," version authored by John Perry (less than 200 pages), pronouncements on religious themes, no matter how incidental, are seized upon to present the subject as devout - an assumption that is then just assumed throughout the book to anchor various elements of his life. The problems with this approach are obvious: How serious should we take references to God in poltical speeches and events meant to motivate Britain in a time of crisis? Do these reflect serious belief or just an appeal to British tradition? Politicians often make appeals to Christian values when they haven't attended church regularly in decades.
This is not to say Churchill had no religious feeling but that he kept his beliefs close to the vest and would hardly fall into the expressive form of many contemporary Christians - particularly in America. Part of this is no doubt cultural: understatement was a virtue for British gentlemen of his time. His private statements on religion seem often full of contradictions but with someone who experienced such highs and lows in both his private and public life, one might expect such changes of heart with respect to divine providence.
Despite these misgivings about the book, it is worth reading - but with a cautious eye. More interesting than the insights it presents on his personal faith are those reflecting the battle within himself between two facets of his personality: his desire for stability and love of tradition with his own inherent rebellious and questioning nature. It might be asked if his attachments to relgion were because of personal faith or seeing it as reflective of the best in British tradition.
Overall, it remains an open question whether the Christian faith had a deep hold on Churchill or was mere convetion. I suspect both have elements of truth mixed with the wishes of identifying a great man with their cause by both sides of the question. This liitle booklet is a very interesting read but, given the reasons noted above, remains problematic.
I think Thomas Nelson included Churchill in the series because of his comments during WWII. During the early days of WWII when the outcome was in doubt, Winston rallied Britain and the world around his cause by declaring that Britain was fighting for the survival of Christian civilization. These statements worked and fortunately, nazism was defeated.
However, after reading this excellent overview of his life, I came away believing that this book did not belong in this series. Winston Churchill was an interesting person but his life was certainly not an important life in the history of the Christian Church.
He thought that God would cut him some slack because he said that God would subscribe to English common law and consider him innocent until proven guilty. When considering his readiness to meet his God he said he was less sure of God's readiness to meet him.
Readers can take up Perry's book without fear that they will be gripped by a proselytizer. If they want the central details of Churchill's life, with quotes from the major speeches, this is an excellent place to start and the modest price and handy mini- trade paperback format make the book `comfortable'. Slip it into your purse or jacket pocket and read it whenever you have the time.
Unfortunately, there is no index. There are also some errors, nothing cataclysmic, but errors nonetheless. For example, Perry writes (pp. 150-51) that Churchill won the Nobel prize for history (for his account of the Second World War). He actually won the Nobel prize for literature, "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values."
Perry also describes Churchill's `Iron Curtain' speech at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, saying that one of the reasons for the location (p. 145) "was that at Fulton there was a chapel that had once stood in London." The speech was in 1946, as Perry notes, but the Wren church (not chapel), St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, was not dismantled in London and shipped, stone by stone, to Fulton and Westminster College until the mid 1960's.
Having made that mistake, Perry redeems himself by quoting (pp. 157-58) the lovely words of Lady Soames at her Crosby Kemper lecture at Westminster in 1991. Note to Churchill admirers: the Church at Westminster College sits atop the National Churchill Museum there and is absolutely not to be missed. The Church has strong associations with both Milton and Shakespeare as well. The Museum has recently undergone a multimillion dollar restoration and contains more material than there is, for example, at Chartwell.
As for myself, I must say that I really enjoyed this book. Nice and short, it gives the reader a good overview of the great man's life without becoming bogged down in minutiae. I found it to be interesting and informative, and I really enjoyed the time I spent reading it.
Unfortunately, that proves tricky. Winston Churchill was a mass of contradictions and his piety was almost the least of these. He certainly believed that religion had its place, not least as a source of comfort and inspiration. But he almost never went to church. He memorized whole passages of the Bible, yet quite clearly declared he didn't believe in its truth. Given the way he himself played fast and loose with the facts in his own written histories, this adds another layer to the irony.
One problem with the book is, frankly, its size. Winston Churchill led an extremely full and complex life. This biography of him has less than 175 pages, including a bibliography. Hardly enough to do the subject anything like justice! Still, the author tries. What follows is a quick precis of a long life, with lots of perfectly fascinating (if incomplete and somewhat slanted) details about background and childhood. Yet at the same time, much of Churchill's life simply does not lend itself to such simplicity. The length of the book simply precludes discussion of complexity. Churchill's depression gets a few paragraphs, roughly a third assigned that to Churchill's marriage and about the same as to the lives of his children (their deaths--including one suicide--are mentioned in passing).
Quite a lot gets left out. How could it not? One thing sacrificed is nuance. Another, frankly, is anything like a real understanding of what was going on involving the momentous events through which Churchill lived. Two immediate problems present themselves.
First is that Churchill's faith (at least in the sense of religion) was but one minor facet of a vastly complex personality and life. The author notes some influences upon Churchill as a child and young man, but also cherry picks quotes extensively to give an impression of more-or-less intense if unstated religious belief. It never seems to occur to the author that Churchill's oratory in public (emphasis mine) might represent anything but his own totally candid views. Invoking vastly popular sentiments is the bread and butter of politicians, yet nowhere is this awareness shown--just a taking at face value of any quote than can be interpreted as referred to a theistic idea. Given the (literally) voluminous quantity of Churchill's writing and speaking, one feels a clearer expression of the words Mr. Perry tries to put in his subject's mouth would have been available.
Second, given the focus of this biography, it is remarkably how little serious discussion is given religion, faith or Christianity--much less other religions and their adherents who form part of the narrative of Churchill's life. Other than a vague question of life-after-death and a belief in destiny (the latter pretty clearly an expression of a brilliant man's ego) the ideas of Christianity are left essentially unmentioned. The conflict between Protestants and Catholicism Ireland is touched upon, but nothing more.
The Muslims Churchill condemned in his early writing as a journalist get more wordage, but (as per usual) their role as an "enemy" and "savage" is never questioned, just as General "Chinese" Gordon's virtue is presumed because he had been a missionary. His death is battle is openly called a murder while the desecration of a Muslim leader's grave is dubbed bad form. If the author meant to simply convey the ideas prevalent at the time, he failed. Too little of that era is brought to life, merely dry if well-composed explanations of a certain surface details. Gandhi and India virtually go unmentioned. Ditto the Holocaust!
Granted, trying to tell a life like that of Winston Churchill in under 175 pages is balking task. Also, I understand the author was using a specific approach to the subject matter. But at the end of the book, I'm left with no more insight--however small--than I had before. Not about faith, about Christianity, nor about Churchill himself.
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