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Mr. Churchill's Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book That Defined the "Special Relationship" Hardcover – May 22 2012
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“[A] delightful, informative, and worthy addition to the groaning shelf of Churchill biography” ―Globe and Mail (Canada)
“In Mr. Churchill's Profession, an account of his career as an author, Peter Clarke argues that writing was not merely Churchill's vocation but the very center of his working life…” ―Maya Jasonoff, Wall Street Journal
“Detailing Churchill's writing aids of whiskey and stenographers as well as his income, Clarke will interest many in Churchill's authorial career.” ―Gilbert Taylor, Booklist
“Original, gap-filling, engagingly presented scholarship.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Clarke enhances his distinguished reputation as a scholar of modern Britain … with this original perspective on Winston Churchill.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Peter Clarke's many books include Keynes: The Rise, Fall, and Return of the 20th Century's Most Influential Economist; The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire; The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924-1936; and the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory, Britain 1900-2000.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Of all the many books already written on every aspect of this man, any potential reader would ask why another? There are several good reasons, several very strong points of the book, and yet, for me, a flawed premise.
The author begins with one of the finest summaries of WSC growing up the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jenny Jerome. Lord Randoloph was a brilliant politician in most respects, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Salisbury but it was short lived in that he submitted his resignation prior to submitting even his first budget and Salisbury took it and went on. WSC was neglected by both parents and yet idolized both. His father, quite simply, was an ass. Randolph died at an early age and what little there was in pensions or annuities was constantly devoured by his mother as quickly as it came due, so while WSC may have been of the upper crust, he, like many, were not endowed with cash, which may have been on his father's mind when he married Jenny Jerome, a daughter of a successful investment broker from New York.
Early on, in spite of the lack of a formal education (his father had no intention of spending the money required for a first rate education), WSC went to Sandhurst, was a calvary officer at a young age and devoured books while on duty in India. It was early in life that he started with magazine and newspaper articles and learned quickly that good writing would make good money.
One of the most important events in his early writing career was when he was captured in November 1899 by a Boer guerilla force and imprisoned for two months before he escaped and made a most interesting journey of good luck and daring back to British allies at Mozambique. This action and the subsequent story of his exploits made him renowned with the public and publishers. From there a long progression of politics and publishing helped him sustain an expensive lifestyle that was hardly augmented by his parents, who were hedonists and spent it faster than it came in.I was surprised that the author moved through this quickly and kept at the "Book That Defined the Special Relationship". There is a great deal of information about the genesis of this book and the final publication long years after the initial idea, but most students of Churchill will tell you that A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (The Birth of Britain / The New World / The Age of Revolution / The Great Democracies)is not his greatest work and somewhat his history of the things he wants to cover (which is very much like WSC). Much of the research was done by others, which WSC sorted through to tell his story, and indeed, it is a good story, but not anything like a comprehensive work. In fact, if there was a special relationship with America it was brought about because England was trying to survive a another world war, and the relationship was a trying one indeed. The British felt the Americans too steely in their demands for the rust bucket destroyers of Lend Lease and later in the war, there were great variances in military strategy, and finally, WSC in the later part of the war had to realize that the US and USSR were calling the shots, but all of this is not covered in the book and probably should have had an honorable mention if nothing else. But in returning to the book, it was not mentioned by the committee as the reason for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 as I always thought, but considering his world fame, accomplished leadership during the war, and his massive list of publications long prior to this event, the award may reflect more on the man than on the work. The chicken, in effect, arrived long before the egg, much to the chagrin of Ernest Hemingway who was also a contender for the prize that year.
Regardless of this criticism there is a wealth of information here. The author shows how WSC was constantly leveraged, trying to keep up Chartwell, which appears to have been a money pit (that Clementine detested) pay for his wine and spirits expenses (he and guests could go through cases of expensive champagne during and after dinner),
cover his taxes, and try to come up with the next book deal that would bring a fat advance and/or royalties. He indeed was a word factory and Clarke shows how it was not only writing but production of words on a daily basis.
I would recommend the book and the insights it provides.
I bought this volume as an ebook from amazon.com and read it in the Kindle app on my iPad.
The book's greatest strength is the effort that Clarke puts into understanding Churchill's finances. It probably would not be an understatement to say that Clarke probably pays more attention to Churchill's bank balance than Churchill or his mother or his children ever did. This is an important consideration since Churchill was not aiming to change the world with his writing as to keep himself in brandy, cigars, painting supplies and groceries from Fortnum and Mason's. Clarke is really good in calculating relative value in previous times and I think I may continue to consult him when trying to make sense historical economic issues of the period. I would concur with Clarke that perhaps the two best books are Great Contemporaries and My Early Life (a book I enjoyed when I read it as a teenager). Both are really the most accessible and interesting things he ever wrote and they stand up remarkably well.
That said, I would take issue with some of the characterizations in this book. First of all Churchill's biography of his illustrious ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, follows in a certain tradition that was commonplace many years ago, during the 19th century. I do agree that the book's tendency to quote at extreme length some of the supporting documents cited (and that the more popular abridged version is more readable). Clarke really just does not understand that this rather slow paced style of narrative was very much the case in 1880s and 1890s and this convention would have influenced some of the choices that Churchill made when compiling the information.
There is also the matter of what Churchill got out of writing the biography of Marlborough. I think Churchill absorbed certain key lessons about waging the kind of coalition warfare that he would undertake during the Second World War. In a sense I think this effort provided Churchill a series of vital lessons taught by Churchill the writer. Clarke ignores all of this.
And while on the subject of the Second World War, Clarke completely skirts the issue of Churchill's war memoirs and refers the reader to another work. This is somewhat disappointing. This was the book that lead Churchill to enjoy a measure of economic security that eluded him in previous efforts. I think that in light of the attention shown to the History of the English Speaking People, that this magnum opus might have warranted more attention.
In short, this is a good work, which is worth reading, but it lacks a comprehensive command of the subject material.
Winston Churchill became a published author in 1898 and, for the rest of his life, the bulk of his income would be provided by his writing - not by the political offices to which he was elected. Even as a young army officer, Churchill considered himself as much writer as soldier, and used family influence to attach himself to several military campaigns as a war correspondent. The money he earned from newspapers and from repackaging the articles into books allowed Churchill and his widowed mother to maintain a lifestyle that would otherwise have been impossible after his father's death.
Churchill's parents enjoyed a lifestyle that always seemed just barely - if never completely - within their means of paying for it. Randolph Churchill placed his own personal pleasure above any obligation another father might feel for educating his sons for the future. So, in lieu of spending money on a better education, Randolph steered his son toward a military career and left it up to Winston to educate himself as best he could. Unfortunately, although Winston did do a remarkable job of educating himself, he also inherited the spendthrift ways of his parents.
Randolph Churchill died still a young man and, after Winston's mother largely ran through the remainder of the family fortune, he relied upon his writing income to support them until his mother remarried. But an income tax loophole and his need to publish as often as possible combined to put Churchill on a writing-treadmill that he would spend his lifetime trying to dismount. The tax code allowed taxes on book advances (which were extraordinarily large in many cases) to be deferred for three years, with one-third of the resulting tax obligation payable in each of the three years following receipt of the cash.
Churchill, barely making ends meet as it was, depended on advances for future books to pay the taxes on those already written. This trap would keep him writing at full speed for the rest of his life in order to keep himself one year ahead of the tax man. The speed at which he had to write frustrated Churchill's publishers, impacted the quality of his work, and changed his writing habits.
The "book that defined the `special relationship" between Britain and the United States is, of course, Churchill's A History of the English Speaking Peoples. Churchill originally contracted for the book in 1932, but the rise of Hitler, Churchill's duties as Prime Minister during World War II, and financial pressure to write other books first, meant that the four volumes would not be finished until the 1950s. The special relationship defined and explored in A History, although weaker now than at anytime in the last several decades, has lasted through a long succession of prime ministers and presidents.
Mr. Churchill's Profession has succeeded in showing a side of Winston Churchill not usually explored in a Churchill biography. It is a worthy edition to the Churchill story and a book that amateur historians will want to read.
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