Tuesday, March 03, 2015

BOOKS: The Churchill Factor

There are probably dozens of biographies of Winston Churchill, to which Boris Johnson, the colorful British politician (currently mayor of London), has added another: The Churchill Factor. While I haven't read any of the others to compare them, I certainly found Johnson's take on this amazing man to be very engaging. Perhaps unique to his offering, his book is a character inquiry rather than a conventional biography, digging in to the question of what made Churchill Churchill. He explores various angles, from his relationships with his father, mother, and wife; his schooling; his love of oratory; his experiences as a war correspondent; his fascination with airplanes; his work habits; the way he treated his staff; his inventiveness; his painting; and much more. Through these various angles of inquiry, Churchill's full story comes to life in rich detail, explored thematically rather than chronologically. Johnson is clearly a huge fan of Churchill's, and unlike more scholarly biographies, his admiration and partiality to Churchill is unabashed. He does try to give some fair due to those who would find some fault or other with Churchill, but the last word is invariably positive. (He does also take some effort to separate the witty quotes that Churchill actually said, to those which have been popularly but erroneously attributed to him.) Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, the book is quite enjoyable, and the author's enthusiasm for his hero is contagious. While I was certainly aware of Churchill's role in WWII, I have to admit I knew nothing of the rest of his very long and amazing career, having made significant contributions in the first world war as well as the second. Just a couple of the extraordinary things I learned: Prior to his political career, Churchill had impressive military experiences, personally facing enemy fire on four continents, and thus giving him unique authority during WWII to ask nothing of his fellow citizens that he wouldn't do and hadn't done himself. His political career was so long that in his last stint as Prime Minister, he had a cabinet member who had been named after him. And who knew that Churchill was personally responsible for the development of the tank in WWI? In addition to Johnson's faithful research in talking to people who knew the man and visiting key places of importance to him, I found Johnson's insight as a politician himself to add some valuable color to the book. If you have any interest England, history, politics, or even just a really good character sketch of an extraordinary man, you will enjoy this book.

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