I don't think it would be possible for Sir Martin to write other than a superb book about Churchill if he tried. And this latest volume is no exception. The only thing better than reading it is to hear the author, as I did recently at the National Archives, speak about the book and take questions. One of the most remarkable things about Gilbert is that despite the fact he has written so extensively on WC, he still manages to add something new or a novel perspective.
I think if a single theme dominates the book, it is that WC fought a life-long battle against British anti-Americanism. In the mid-1930's, WC began using the expression "English-speaking Peoples," which was another device to build unity between the two countries. I had assumed the book would begin with WWI, but I was very wrong in that regard. Rather, Gilbert begins by looking at WC's parents, and particularly the American connections of his mother, Jenny Jerome. WC makes his first visit to America in 1895. Each visit thereafter (some 17 or so) is discussed, and an important bonus feature is an appendix containing maps of WC's various U.S. travels.
But the book is about far more than visits. It is about the manifold way WC interacted with Americans over nearly 70 years, sometimes to his benefit, other times resulting in frustration. For example, WC always maintained that the U.S. refusal to enter the League of Nations played a major role in the rise of Nazism and the need to fight a second great war. There were also constant negotiations during and after both wars relative to British debt and the means of repayment. Gilbert is particularly effective in discussing the 1930's period when the European war was about to commence and how WC interacted with FDR in trying to secure necessary materials and induce the U.S. to join in the battle. The discussion of the "special link" between FDR and WC is acutely perceptive and much attention is devoted to it. A relationship full of affection and joint success, but also marred by fundamental disagreements, such as the priority of the cross-Channel invasion and whether Ike should race to beat the Russians to Berlin.
The points of increasing stress between WC and the U.S. are interesting to say the least. Among the most pressing issues were: (a) how to treat Stalin; (b) intervening in Greece; (c) the puzzle of Poland; and (d) the priority of taking Prague. Always, there are disputes about the enormous wartime and postwar British debt and whether the Americans were trying to "skin" the Brits. There is no doubt that Churchill paid a steep price at home for his heavy reliance upon the "special relationship," and he also exasperated subsequent presidents Truman and Ike. Nonetheless, this is almost a love story--Churchill and his dedication to Anglo-American interests and dominance.
Winston Churchill was a remarkable man and Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer, has spent at least thirty-six years chronicling the great man's life.
Recounting the connection(s) between a British citizen and the United States might make thin gruel for anyone other than Churchill. But it was Churchill's perceptions and obvious love for America that may have saved the world or at least Europe from generations of tyranny.
Churchill's first visit to the United States occurred in 1895. Even at 21, because of his family, Churchill was introduced to the powerful of the day. Five years later Churchill was being handsomely compensated for lecturing across the United States. In an era before broadcast radio and television, Churchill was a celebrity known for his reporting and heroism.
A few years later, Churchill was a member of the British government, working closely with his American counterparts on aspects of strategy against the common WWI enemy.
America, always America. Churchill correctly foresaw and understood the growing power and influence of the United States in the world. He cultivated his relationships with powerful Americans and was a frequent visitor to the US. During the 1930s, Churchill was one of the few who saw the need to confront Hitler, a stance that left him a political outcast until the opportunity for peace had passed by and Churchill became a wartime Prime Minister.
It is during this period that the fullness of Churchill's love for the United States and his belief in its power and capabililities becomes clear. Churchill knew that Britain could not survive without US involvement in the European war. America, at the time, manifested the same political blindness it would evidence again over Vietnam and Iraq: a refusal to confront evil. Churchill's popularity in America, built over the previous four decades; his writings; his outright appeals to the decency of the American people and, of course, his capacity for establishing productive relationships with Americans such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch. Gen. George Marshall all helped to bring the United States around to Churchill's thinking.
Churchill was far more than a merely decent man. He believed in freedom, though his idea of freedom had more than a bit to do withd nationality: some people simply weren't fully ready for freedom in Churchill's eyes. But America and the United Kingdom shared a special relationship and should, because of their common beliefs, essentially rule the world in order to make it a better place for all. Churchill was an idealist and this shows in his voluminous correspondence with various Americans.
There is a huge amount of detail in this volume. In lesser hands than Gilbert's, there might be a risk of boredom or lost direction. But Gilbert never fails. He paints what is a love story between Churchill and America, of a man whose love for freedom had him standing against legions of detractors. To read Churchill's correspondence with Americans and his discussions about America and Americans is moving. Fortunately we have a few politicians who, not as literate as Churchill, still walk in his footsteps, though they are mere shadows of the man.
Gilbert's "Churchill And America" is indispensable for any admirer of Churchill, student of history, those we want to know we have arrived where we are --- or those who simply want to read of an important aspect in the live of one of the greatest men to have ever walked the face of the Earth.
on October 18, 2005
Martin Gilbert narrates with panache the ups and downs in the relationship of Winston S. Churchill with the United States, the country of birth of his mother. Gilbert uses Churchill's own words and those of his contemporaries as much as possible. Gilbert weaves these words into his narrative without ever boring his audience. Thanks to this judicious use of quotes, readers get an in-depth account and understanding of the unique place that the United States occupied in the heart of Churchill over much of his seventy adult years.
Churchill's cornerstone foreign policy was to avoid estrangement with the United States, even when its leaders sometimes disappointed him much. Churchill understood early that Britain, an imperial power at its apex, would have to build and maintain a special relationship with the emerging superpower as a key ally in both war and peace. Churchill's many-sided personality never left his audience, hostile or not, indifferent to his message.
Gilbert shows with much conviction how skillful Churchill was at mobilizing the English language and sending it into battle as President John F. Kennedy nicely put it. Successfully, Churchill went to great lengths to drag in the United States into different wars on the side of Britain and its allies when the fate of civilization was at stake.
Churchill's enduring legacy is reflected in the special relationship that Britain and the United States still enjoy with one another. Predictably, Churchill was the only one made an honorary citizen of the United States during his lifetime in recognition of his lifelong links and friendship with America and the Americans.
on October 21, 2005
President John F. Kennedy once famously lauded Winston Churchill as the man who "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."
That deed is the central idea that leaps from the pages of Martin Gilbert's CHURCHILL AND AMERICA, a documentary study of Churchill's lifelong involvement with the homeland of his own mother, the wealthy and well-connected Jennie Jerome of New York City.
Gilbert, who was appointed Churchill's "official biographer" (by whom appointed is not specified) has written or edited at least seven volumes on Churchill himself as well as a number of others on related aspects of World War II. Judging by the large number of source-note citations in this book, he has recycled a fair amount of material from his earlier output. Can Gilbert finally have reached the point where there is nothing new left to say about the great English wartime leader?
The core of Gilbert's story, of course, is the close wartime collaboration between Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a partnership that, it could be plausibly argued, saved the west from Nazi conquest. The documents that Gilbert reprints show that, beneath the public surface of mutual admiration and close cooperation between the two, there lay a substratum of suspicion, doubt and wily tactical maneuvering.
They genuinely liked each other, but beyond that each man was looking out for his own country's interests first. During the dark days when Britain fought the Nazis alone while powerful interests in the US fought against American involvement, Churchill told his son forcefully, "I shall drag the United States in." An aide once recorded him saying that "no lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt."
This whole wartime story has been told often before, of course. Gilbert's method relies heavily on documents --- telegrams, diplomatic dispatches, diaries, memoirs. This gives his book a certain stenographic quality, but the central drama remains as vivid as ever.
The book is also filled with examples of Churchill's masterly prose style, which could make the most routine of matters readable and interesting. When he and FDR disagreed over the length of one of their wartime meetings, Churchill told him that five or six days was too short a time --- "even the Almighty took seven."
The reader is also reminded of Churchill's remarkable prescience --- his ignored early warnings about both the Hitler menace and the Communist threat, his feeling that rejection by the US of participation in the League of Nations after World War I was a catastrophic mistake that led inevitably to World War II.
During his long life Churchill visited the US a total of 16 times, first as a 20-year-old lecturer, lastly as an out-of-office 85-year-old. From the very beginning he saw America with a clear, discerning eye and a sharp pen, producing shrewd character sketches of those he met, marveling at what this country had become yet distressed by its brashness. He was appalled by the length and superficiality of American elections, announcing once with typical wit that "for the next nine months the Americans will be amused by their election campaign." One wonders what he might say on that subject today.
Despite his reservations, one of his great lifelong passions was for close cultural -- but not, of course, political -- union of the two nations, whose common destiny he saw as nothing less than a mission to preserve civilization.
It really does not matter how much scissors-and-paste Martin Gilbert used to assemble this book. It is still a grand and historically compelling story. It is here told without much literary flair --- but when you have Winston Churchill as your co-author, even 40 years dead, you need not worry too much about that.
--- Reviewed by Robert Finn [...]
on August 10, 2006
This is a brilliant book!
I love well-written history, especially about Winston Churchill, one of history's great and truly interesting figures.
In "Churchill and America" Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer, proves himself, once again, a tremendously talented historian and writer. He describes Churchill and the British leader's love affair with America with passion and skill. He highlights Churchill's American roots (his mother was American) and his growing affection with the United States over the course of a life time.
No interesting detail is overlooked. George Washington was part of Churchill's family pedigree. Three of his ancestors fought against the British in the American Revolution. And Churchill himself was an honorary American citizen, an honor of which he was immensely proud.
Churchill first visited the United States in 1895, when he was twenty-one. "What an extraordinary people the Americans are!" he wrote to his mother. During both the First and Second World Wars he worked closely and effectively with his American counterparts to defeat Germany. His love and understanding of the United States and its people helped to ensure that the Allies emerged victorious, especially in WWII. His close relationship with FDR was seminal to that victory. He sought to ensure that Great Britain and America remained friends forever and cautioned his colleagues upon his retirement as Prime Minister: "Never be separated from the Americans."
on February 24, 2011
Over one half of this book focuses on the World War II years. Martin Gilbert has a style of "only the facts". There is little probing beneath the surface as the book quotes Churchill enormously and also uses letters sent to Churchill. I was, for instance, hoping to find some enlightenment as to why Churchill did not attend Roosevelt's funeral, but found virtually none. Churchill travelled continuously during the war years - so why did he not go to the U.S. to at least meet Roosevelt's successor Truman? I did find some interesting speculation on this in Tom Meacham's "Franklin and Winston".
"Churchill and America" makes for highly interesting reading because the story in itself is great history. But there are still many things missing. Eleanor Roosevelt is absent and Clementine is rarely present.
Martin Gilbert follows the path of many historians in the assumption that Roosevelt caved in at Yalta. He does not mention the concessions that Stalin gave about the U.N. or that Poland was already a "fait accompli" for Stalin by that time (there were millions of Russian troops in Poland by January 1945).
My favourite quote (in a telegram to Truman): "An iron curtain is drawn upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind this enormous Muscovite advance into the centre of Europe which will isolate us from Poland".
on March 31, 2016
Although most Britons (and I daresay Americans) know that the late Winston Churchill's mother Jennie Jerome was American, how many were (and are) aware that he was not just a distant relative of not just President George Washington but an eighth degree removed cousin of Franklin D.Roosevelt?( a cynic might note that they note that they got on so well because at the end of the day, they were family, although it is unllikely that either man knew this at the time) In "Churchill and America", distinguished historian Martin Gilbert reveals many hitherto unknown facts about the "Greatest Englishman Of His Time" and his lifelong fascination with America , its people and their leaders, both military(such as Supreme Commander Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower who of course became President in his own right) and civilian such as FDR and his successor Harry Truman. Although he can be faulted on his dogged defence of British rule in India, he was clearly ahead of many of his fellow Britons in recognizing that American industrial and military power would be indispensable in keeping the peace(as well as waging both wars) at a time when most(even during WWII) were inclined to snicker at the "over sexed, overpaid and over here" Yanks.
Churchill(and of course FDR) were instrumental in forging the "special relationship" between the UK and the US which has lasted not during World War II but during the Cold War and up to the present day.
on October 27, 2014
Sir Martin Gilbert does a deep dive into the letters and speeches of my landsman, Winston Churchill (we’re related and share the same birthday – Nov. 30) and emerges with a fascinating book. For better or worse, the United Kingdom and United States are still living the marriage brokered by Churchill and the American presidents he dealt with. Sir Winston’s vision was generous and wide thus the marriage’s staying power.
Gilbert’s wide sweep brings the great man close to us and the reaction ought to be appreciation and desire to learn more. We get a taste of Churchill’s journalism (another thing he and I share although he was far more successful) and his early speeches that laid the groundwork for the “special relationship” including ones in 1900 in my home area of Fall River and New Bedford, Mass. (now I want to read the microfilm stories about them). Without those early contacts World War II might have turned out a lot differently.
Humor? There’s a good deal of it in “Churchill and America.” Consider:
Nancy Astor: “If you were my husband I’d put poison in your coffee.”
Sir Winston: “If you were my wife I’d drink it.”
Churchill was half Yankee thanks to his mother (Jennie Jerome) and that affinity fired his imagination to unite “the English-speaking peoples.” Officially or not, Churchill wanted the U.S. as part of the British Commonwealth, leveraging culture and language commonality for world peace. Sir Winston should not be seen as a neoconservative-type looking to jump into the cab of the biggest truck on the lot to go smashing up his perceived enemies. Bringing Russia in the from the cold to enable it to unwind communism and restoring France to its important place among the nations are areas in which Churchill got friction from the Americans yet persevered in the interests of peace and stability.
Interesting factoids abound including that the Conservative-turned-Liberal-turned-Conservative Churchill got on much better with U.S. Democrats (FDR and Truman) than Republicans (Eisenhower). Republicans had gone from prewar isolation to Cold War red-baiting hysteria and that roller-coaster was decidedly unpleasant for Churchill yet friendship and relations endured.
Two names I expected to encounter and didn’t were Sir William Stephenson and John Maynard Keynes. Stephenson – nicknamed “Intrepid” by Churchill – conducted British security coordination (secret operations) mostly from the U.S. during World War II and established the relationship with OSS (later CIA) that will be increasingly important as threats from non-state entities grow and become more complex. Lord Keynes was mid-wife to Bretton Woods, the post-war monetary alliance that should have been close to Churchill’s heart. Strange that neither man is mentioned.
Gilbert’s scholarship is first rate; so much so that we also see between the lines the difficulties created by Churchill’s courting of America. The PM took Lord Mountbatten to the woodshed for “anti-Americanism” after Mountbatten wisely wondered aloud what it would mean for Britain when the U.S. went to war (just ask Britons that lost loved ones in the 7/7 attacks of 2005 after PM Blair followed Junior Bush poodle-like into the Iraq War). Churchillian rhetoric by PM Stephen Harper following the recent shooting on Parliament Hill and a closer military alliance with the U.S. could be taking Canada down the same road.
One could cynically view Churchill’s project as passing the baton of White Man’s Burden to the U.S. (since Britain could no longer pay for it) which lead to Korea, Vietnam and other tragedies human and financial. The sad truth is that peoples have to endure phases of communism and other forms of religious extremism and an outside power trying to block that really just extends the lives of those dead-end systems. If Sir Winston knew this he didn’t communicate loudly enough to his American friends. When Churchill told Eisenhower that Britain would not go to war in Indochina he should have added “…and don’t you do a fool thing like that either!”
Also, one wonders how much Churchill was up on U.S. history. He posited that the U.S. had never used its power for territorial gain. Really? Then what was “manifest destiny” and the Mexican War about? The U.S. is the only country ever to drop atomic bombs on human beings yet Churchill seemingly never noted this. The best he did is appeal to Ike during development of the hydrogen bomb to rid the world of the “nuclear monster.” He allowed the U.S. to set up nuclear missile firing sites in East Anglia, only asking that Britain be consulted if they were ever to be used. Why can’t I picture the U.S. president putting the hot line on hold to check in with the British prime minister?
One may conclude that Churchill was slightly less than an honest scholar when it came to American history. Yet he was a great man and all men, great or not, have their faults. On balance, Churchill’s international all-in-the-family vision was a noble one and his gifts of expression and tenacity should be admired by all. Kudos to his official biographer for bringing us another great book about this great man.
on September 2, 2011
Winston Churchill's life has been examined from all possible angles yet, somehow, Martin Gilbert accomplishes something new here. "Churchill and America" is very readable and authoritative as one would expect from this author but for me, it illuminated the genesis and meaning of what has been called the "special relationship" between the United States and Britain like no other book. Today we tend to think of this as an American convenience but the well-documented story Mr. Gilbert has to tell shows that Churchill devoted his life to building such a relationship; he saw it rightly as essential to Britain's survival. In FDR he cultivated a willing partner; Wilson was much less inclined to be so entangled and Congress was a thorn in everyone's side for decades. What short-comings this book does have are derived from its laser focus. If it related to Churchill but didn't involve America, the author gives it little or no space. The reader is well served by having some knowledge of Churchill's story although that isn't essential to devour this thoroughly enjoyable book.
"Churchill and America" tells the story of a lifelong, history changing relationship between the Man and the Nation of the Twentieth Century. Churchill's relationship with America began when his father, Lord Randolph Churchill married Jennie Jerome of New York. As he commented to a Joint Session of Congress, if his father had been American and his mother British, rather than the other way around, he might have gotten there on his own. When a British officer suggested that they could make a bastard rifle, half British and half American, Churchill reminded him that he too was half British and half American. Throughout his life, Churchill would be a frequent visitor and constant observer of America.
Many think of Churchill's close collaboration with Franklin Roosevelt during World War II as the beginning and sum of Churchill's involvement with America. It was only its culmination and climax. America had long been a place of work and recreation for Churchill. His income depended heavily on lecture tours, book sales and investments in America. With American entry into World War I, Churchill would become a main liaison between the two English speaking powers. A lifetime of visits to our shores and contacts with American relatives prepared him well for his role as the chief fashioner of the Anglo- American Alliance. His close relationship with FDR would change the course of the war.
Just as Churchill's American adventure did not start with World War II, neither did it end there. Both in and out of power he would work closely with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, although not always as closely as he would have liked. Even in retirement he would make a sentimental journey to his "other country" which awarded him honorary citizenship.
This book is well written and holds the reader's interest throughout. From both the historical and literary perspectives, it merits five stars.