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Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill [Hardcover]

Michael Shelden
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 12 2013
In modern memory, Winston Churchill remains the man with the cigar and the equanimity among the ruins. Few can remember that at the age of 40, he was considered washed up, his best days behind him. In Young Titan, historian Michael Shelden has produced the first biography focused on Churchill’s early career, the years between 1901 and 1915 that both nearly undid him but also forged the character that would later triumph in the Second World War.

Between his rise and his fall, Churchill built a modern navy, experimented with radical social reforms, survived various threats on his life, made powerful enemies and a few good friends, annoyed and delighted two British monarchs, became a husband and father, took the measure of the German military machine, authorized executions of notorious murderers, and faced deadly artillery barrages on the Western front. Along the way, he learned how to outwit more experienced rivals, how to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, how to question the assumptions of his upbringing, how to be patient and avoid overconfidence, and how to value loyalty.

He also learned how to fall in love. Shelden gives us a portrait of Churchill as the dashing young suitor who pursued three great beauties of British society with his witty repartee, political f lair, and poetic letters. In one of many never-before-told episodes, Churchill is seen racing to a Scottish castle to prepare the heartbroken daughter of the prime minister for his impending marriage.

This was a time of high drama, intrigue, personal courage, and grave miscalculations. But as Shelden shows in this fresh and revealing biography, Churchill’s later success was predicated on his struggles to redeem the promise of his youth.

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“Perceptive and entertaining.” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post)

"A vivid portrait of a young man on the make, as ambitious as he was gifted. . . Enthralling." ( [Newsweek digital edition])

“Entertaining and erudite…. Shelden is full of sharp literary insights about Churchill, as one would expect from a literary biographer of his rank.” (Wall Street Journal)

“[As this] glowing portrait makes clear, the young Churchill was as beloved as he was despised: his intelligence, industry, and wit made him a darling of the press, and he was often seen as a future Prime Minister.” (The New Yorker)

“Much has been written about Winston Churchill, but there is still much to learn, especially about those early years when he seemed destined for greatness. Michael Shelden now thoughtfully explores those years in Young Titan….An engaging as well as perceptive take on the man who believed that while we are all worms ‘he was a glowworm’ — a belief history would splendidly vindicate.” (Richmond Times Dispatch)

“Just when you think there can be nothing fresh to be said about the long life of Winston Churchill, along comes biographer Michael Shelden's page-turner about Churchill from age 26 to 40….Churchill's life is the gift that keeps on giving, and many readers who assume they've read it all will find Mr. Shelden's lively account a must-add for their groaning shelves.” (Washington Times)

“Swiftly narrated…. Shelden, a noted biographer whose 1992 Orwell was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, explores the young titan in entertaining depth, with deep regard for Churchill's achievements and no end of colorful detail.” (USA Today)

“Michael Shelden has done the nigh-impossible: he has found original things to say about the man Isaiah Berlin called ‘the largest human being of our time’—Winston Churchill. In this entertaining and deeply researched book, Shelden paints a memorable portrait of the young Churchill’s life and loves.” (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion)

“Young Titan gives us an exciting, needed look at Winston Churchill in his years as a Liberal. Breaking with the Conservatives, he battled for better working conditions, for unemployment insurance, for improvements in education. He waged a two-front war: against the Tories on the right, the socialists on the left. It is the young Churchill at his best, a great foretelling of what was to come when Britain and the world needed him most.” (Chris Matthews, author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero and anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball)

“For history buffs, Winston Churchill is the gift that keeps on giving, and in Young Titan Michael Shelden has given us the gift of Churchill’s fascinating formative years. It’s all here—the boy wonder, adventurer, romantic, orator, and eloquent man in the arena. I didn't want it to end.” (Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation)

“A biographer of note, [Shelden] actually found a fresh angle on England's man with the big cigar that should appeal to avid history fans.” (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

"In sparkling prose, Shelden explores the tendentious world of high-level Edwardian politics as Churchill worked with and competed against the likes of Herbert H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, and other notables." (Library Journal)

“A fluid and informative examination of the early career of one of modern Britain’s most outstanding political leaders.” (Publishers Weekly)

“[A] charming new biography….Shelden has capitalized on an understudied period of an iconic life and proved that such a study can still surprise.” (New Criterion)

“[A] solid biography covering the first four decades of Winston Churchill’s life, marked by both ambition and heartbreak….Shelden offers an unadorned account of Churchill’s dogged pursuit to build his legacy against some long odds.” (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Michael Shelden is the author of four previous biographies. For twelve years he was a features writer for The Daily Telegraph (London) and a fiction critic for The Baltimore Sun. He is currently a professor at Indiana State University.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Incisive Analysis from an Expert July 29 2013
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
American biographer Michael Shelden has written a very informative and lively account of Winston Churchill's early days in politics. Though some would consider him to be from the privileged order of British society - from a long line of illustrious Churchills and the House of Marlborough - there weren't many prominent Brits of the day eager to open doors for him. His parents, the failed Lord Randolph and his vivacious though scatter-brained Jennie, had never quite delivered on the promised good times for the young Winston. As Shelden points out in a number of places in the book, Churchill would have to make his own way in the world. He would need, however, some help along the way, which he found in the strangest of places. First, he was eager to jump at the opportunity to do some serious world travel at a time when the British Empire was going through a major resettling process with having to contend with rising American interests in the Pacific and the growing need to settle the frontier lands of Africa and Asia. Churchill, with his unquenchable thirst for adventure and danger, undertook this saga into places like Cuba, the United States and, finally, South Africa in order to broaden his understanding of where Britain stood in relation to the rest of the world. Always an imperialist and a militarist, Churchill quickly shed his journalistic assignment of reporting on the Boer War and entered the fray as a wool-and-dyed son of the Empire called on to defend Queen and country. His yen for writing, as forged in the field, would later serve him well in the many books he would write about great people in history, be they generals, politicians, or monarchs. Churchill could never be accused of setting his sights low in launching his career. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars Churchill`s Political Development Aug. 21 2013
By Patrick Sullivan TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I agree with the above review. I will try not to repeat the same points.

I found the book divided along two areas. One was in regards to Churchill`s social life. This aspect of the book, I found to be rather uninteresting. In my opinion, Sheldon over analysed Churchill`s love life. I realize other readers, will enjoy reading about Churchill`s attempt at courtship.

Then there was all the details, regarding Churchill`s political life. This part of the book was quite fascinating. The reader will also be able to identify, the differences in Parliamentary customs. Early in his career, the backbencher Churchill actually spoke out against his own party. In the modern House of Commons, the Party Whip would never allow such dissent. Churchill was the young rising star in British politics. He later suffers, what looks to be a career ending setback. Churchill is scapegoated, as the man in charge of the Gallipoli Campaign. The book coverage ends with Churchill`s WWI experience.

The reader soon realizes, that Churchill has been transformed. The young MP has suffered many setbacks. His youthful enthusiasm has gone. What remains is a battle hardened political veteran. These were the years, that shaped and formed the great Winston Churchill.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, interesting and excellent history March 16 2013
By EWebb - Published on
Mr. Shelden has written a biography that I'm glad to have on my bookshelf. This tells the story of Churchill's young adult life and how this shaped Churchill as a world leader in later life.

Many historians and biographers can study papers and letters and give us the story of a person. However, this goes a step further as Shelden takes a 15 year period in Churchill's life and shows us how it led to the Churchill we all know and has been examined extensively.

If you have read The Last Lion series this is an excellent addition to that as we see this period of his life from another angle and helps to understand this period in a better way. This is definitely great background if you have only read those biographies which focus on Churchills story during WWII and his time as prime minister.

The book also introduces to many of Churchills romantic and friendly acquaintances during this period as well. These people and some of those stories are told in a most entertaining way and add color to the life of a great man. The anecdotes make a good book really great.

Shelden has done an excellent job here and for fans of history and Churchill this is just a wonderful book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Surprise April 23 2013
By Paul - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book pleasantly surprised me. Having read a great deal on Churchill, I initially thought that this would be one of those "slice of life" books that rehashed everything said before, but with my interest in WSC and his having such a large life, allowing for many "slices" I bought it and thought i would skip through it and put it on the shelf. Silly me.

Shelden gives us a good summary of WSC's early life and his rise to power. The author's angle on this is to present information on a number of women that WSC fell in love with in his youth, some of whom did not return his affections, with the exception of two, his wife Clementine and his admirer, Violet Asquith, whose affection for Winston was not reciprocated. As for Pamela Plowden and Ethel Barrymore, I am not sure that they are important to the story, as Winston appears to have set his sights too high. The story of Muriel Wilson is more interesting but none of this compares, in my opinion, to the relationship with Violet Asquith, the daughter of the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. It is through Violet (later Violet Bonham Carter, who published her memories of WSC in 1965)that we see not only a beautiful, intelligent young woman, but one who had her father's attention and worked diligently to advance the career of young Winston. Of course, we all know he ended up enchanted with Clementine Hozier after a meeting at a dinner party and married her. I think Violet would have made the more interesting companion, but Winston did not consult me. But through all this we get a much better understanding of her father, which is an interesting story in itself.

Also of interest to me is the human side the author shows of Churchill's mother, the American Jennie Jerome Churchill. In previous readings, I always found her a hedonistic personality, only interested in the next man, the next dinner party, the next social excursion, but Shelden shows her to have much more interest in her son, and even pride in him, attending his first speech in the House of Commons and even (ineffectively) campaigning for him.

There was never any doubt that WSC was a young man on the rise, and we are presented a host of contributors, opponents and supporters along the way. We are also reminded that Churchill promoted himself, and with one early controversial move in his political career, changed from his father's party of Conservative or Tory to the Liberal party, which many never ever forgave him, but WSC wanted to be with the winning horse in the race. It helps explain why he did it one more time during his long political career.

In spite of various cabinet positions, he is more prominently remembered as First Lord of the Admiralty just prior to the Great War. He attained this lofty position shy of 37 years of age and, like everything else, threw himself into the work while he and Clemmie grew a family. As brilliant as he was, Churchill was also overbearing while in government and made many enemies. His greatest mistake was likely bringing back Jackie Fisher to work with him as the First Sea Lord in Fisher's old age. Fisher's volatile personality was as mercurial as his brillance, and ultimately it was the Darnalles that unhinged Fisher and brought Churchill down at an early age. From there, he was out of office, and for a while almost out of all influence, being in a type of political wilderness until fate called upon him again at age 65 and once again he came back to the Admiralty just before becoming Prime Minister.

The information presented is good, and the writing moves quickly through the pages, and I think that even for the reader not well schooled on Churchill, this book will provide good information to lay a foundation on his early years and rise to power.

I recommend it.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young Titan is a winner! March 12 2013
By Midwest Reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an American born in the late 50s, I only knew of Winston Churchill, the famous, beloved prime minister, and would always picture in my mind's eye the elder, portly statesman that he was during those years. Who knew he was so ambitious, daring and self-assured, and had lived such a fascinating life as a much younger (and thinner) man? A quote I read recently says, "Success always looks easy to those who weren't around when it was being earned." Reading this book by Michael Shelden draws the reader right in to the formative years of the man who is widely believed to be one of the most influential people in British history. After reading this very well written book, you will see how Churchill's early years prepared him to be the famous prime minister he became. I learned so much about British history, but this book isn't just all politics and war. Churchill was quite the character on the social scene of the day and many of those anecdotes from that part of his life are in this book too. Shelden sure knows how to tell a story!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glow worm March 26 2013
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An overview of the early adulthood of the last century's greatest man. If you have read much on Sir Winston, this book, while a good tale, will have little new material to offer you. However, for a person who has not already read a few biographies on this hero of World War II, it will provide reason for reading even more about its worthy subject.

It still astonishes one to be reminded of all the different colonial, military, and domestic policy areas where Winston Churchill was fully active and in the eye of the storm. And as Michael Shelden nicely points out in his book, this was especailly true in the years building up to and including the First World War.

I do have one minor complaint; it seems to me that too much attention is paid here to Mr. Churcill's various and harmless early love interests.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse into the young man Aug. 13 2013
By Gary Mauser - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Despite having read a few biographies of Churchill, Michael Shelden uncovered more about young Winston than I had known. I was fascinated by the author's depiction of Winston's flirtation and later friendship with Violet Asquith. A very complex and mutually invigorating life-long partnership. Shelden ignores Winston's military adventures to concentrate on Winston's personal and political life. I recommend this book as an excellent complement to the more traditional biographies.
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