William Manchester is a great popular historian who is best known for his The Death of a President, his account of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. I came to him through A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance which reminded quite of Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history A Distant Mirror. This summer has been enlivened by Manchester’s three volume biography of Winston S. Churchill, The Last Lion, which I’m now near the end of the second volume which covers Churchill’s near banishment from Parliament in the 1930s when he alone warned of the growing threat posed by the re-armament of the Third Reich as the English people and His Majesty’s Government, ravaged by the horror of World War I, embraced pacifism at all costs and derided Churchill as a Victorian war monger.
The first volume, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 was a remarkable look into the childhood and formative experiences that went into defining what would become a truly great man, one named the most important Briton of all time in a poll by the BBC a few years ago. From his birth in Blenheim Castle to an American mother and a syphilitic Engish Lord, to his wartime exploits in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, the portrait emerges of a dynamic man who loved the English language and went on to become one of the most famous, prolific, and well paid writers in the world.
The second volume, The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940, is slower going but needs to be given the tumult of the decade in Europe and the role Churchill played on the backbench of the House of Commons, denied a cabinet seat and thwarted from a role in the government after taking the blame for the the Gallipoli debacle (unfairly if you believe Manchester’s take).
More to come …..