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Churchill: The Unexpected Hero [Kindle Edition]

Paul Addison
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)

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Book Description

During the Second World War, Winston Churchill won two resounding victories. The first was a victory over Nazi Germany, the second a victory over the legion of sceptics who had derided his judgement, denied his claims to greatness, and excluded him from high office on the grounds that he was sure to be a danger to King and Country. In this incisive biography, Paul Addison examines both the life of the most iconic figure in twentieth-century British history, and also the battle over
his reputation, which continues to this day. - ;During the Second World War, Winston Churchill won two resounding victories. The first was a victory over Nazi Germany, the second a victory over the legion of sceptics who had derided his judgement, denied his claims to greatness, and excluded him from high office on the grounds that he was sure to be a danger to King and Country.

Churchill was the only British politician of the twentieth century to become an enduring national hero. The curious thing is that it happened at the age of 65, at a time when he was considered to be a spent force, with a track-record of disastrous decisions. All but the most hostile of his adversaries conceded that he possessed great abilities, remarkable eloquence, and a streak of genius. But it was almost universally agreed that he was a shameless egotist, an opportunist without principles or
convictions, an unreliable colleague, an erratic policy-maker who lacked judgement, and a reckless amateur strategist with a dangerous passion for war and bloodshed. At one time or another in his career, he had offended every party and faction in the land, yet despite this he became the embodiment
of national unity, an uncrowned king who threatened to eclipse the monarchy.

In this incisive new biography, Paul Addison tells the story of Churchill's life in parallel with the history of his reputation. He seeks to explain why Churchill was transformed into a national hero, and why his heroic status has endured ever since in spite of the attempts of iconoclasts to debunk him. He argues that we are now in a position to reach beyond the mythology - both positive and negative - to see the real Winston Churchill, a warrior-statesman whose qualities were remarkably
consistent through all the vicissitudes of his career. - ;...this volume is ideal as a very short introduction to a very big man. - David Reynolds, The English Historical Review;Addison's book could be read with profit and enjoyment by anyone interested in modern history - The Independent

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

To distinguish his Churchill biography from the many others, historian Addison focuses on Churchill's critics. Whether contemporaries or historians, they are numerous and caustic, calling Churchill an opportunist and a warmonger. Against that stands Churchill's leadership in World War II, which inescapably shadows his prior record in British politics. To his account of the pre-WWII career, Addison appends telling insights on Churchill's character traits, prime among them a profoundly juvenile egotism. Brilliantly intuitive though he was, Churchill, impatient and impulsive, took little account of others' feelings; hence, his acquisition of political enemies over time. Narrating the indictments they leveled at him (twice switching parties, the Dardanelles disaster of WWI), Addison paradoxically humanizes Churchill, for he is a far more iconic figure for Americans than for the British. Nevertheless, Addison makes the case for why Churchill should be iconic, disputing a revisionist school that negatively deconstructs Churchill's actions in WWII. Astute in its interpretations, Addison's work makes for swift reading and is a practical alternative to the monuments by William Manchester and Martin Gilbert. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


`This is a highly readable short biography of a hero with feet of clay.' Lloyd's List

`elegant' Observer

excellent new book

`short but masterly book' Mail on Sunday

`gloriously readable style and lightly-worn scholarship' Scotsman

`Paul Addison's Churchill: The Unexpected Hero is the best short book on Britain's wartime PM' Daily Express

`Paul Addison's biography, can stand with Geoffrey Best's highly acclaimed 2001 life.' TLS

`his impressive and expert use of quotation allows far more nuance and counter-argument than is normal in a text of only 250 pages covering ninety years of a crowded life.' TLS

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Churchill's life and career January 15, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Though Winston Churchill has never wanted for biographers, over the past few years the publication of brief studies of his life have come into vogue. Written by some of the leading historians of the period - John Keegan, Geoffrey Best, Stuart Ball - they offer an accessible (if condensed) examination of one of the dominant figures of the twentieth century. Paul Addison's book is the latest addition to their ranks, and one that deserves to be ranked as among the best of these efforts.

Addison argues that the heroic status that Churchill enjoys today belies much of his career. Considered an irresponsible genius by his contemporaries, he was a polarizing figure who was never completely trusted by any side of the political divide. Yet as prime minister during the Second World War he went on to become "the embodiment of national unity," a symbol of Britain's determination to defeat Nazi Germany. Addison provides a more nuanced view of Churchill's career, noting his ideological consistency in a politically turbulent age. When war came, the man and the moment were ideally matched; indeed, many of the traits that his opponents deplored - his enthusiasm for war, his advocacy of impossible ideas, even the fact that he was half American - became assets in the conflict and were keys to his successful leadership.

Developed from his entry on Churchill for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Addison succeeds in providing an insightful introduction to the life of one of the dominant figures of the twentieth century. Though hardly a hagiographical account - he freely acknowledges such faults as Churchill's massive egotism - his portrait is a sympathetic one, depicting the prime minister as "a hero with feet of clay." The result is a good read and a great starting point for anyone seeking to learn more about this fascinating figure.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief primer on genius "with feet of clay" December 3, 2005
Addison knows that Churchill's life has received almost as many words as Churchill wrote himself, as one of the most prodigous authors of the twentieth century, known and admired by many as the greatest figure of his time, "saving the world" from Nazi Germany, the right man at the right place at the right time.

But Addison is not so sure. Churchill was maddeningly erratic, not only changing political parties twice but also inflaming deep hatred during his long, varied career as a military figure, prison escapee, politician, cabinet member, and prime minister. Much of the peculiarities about Winston we can attribute to his relationship with his parents, an American debutant and a half-crazed father who died young. Lacking their affections, and wanting to make a name for himself, Churchill took on risks and positions with abandon.

Addison has done a thorough study, more remarkable for its brevity when describing a man whose life has been chronicled many times before in thousands of pages. While leading England during World War II, Winston came to symbolize the twentieth century but he was in many ways a man of the nineteenth or even eighteenth century, believing in the Empire and being more of an egoist than an egotist. Yes, he was a racist in today's terms, with his contempt for what we would today call "developing countries" and their peoples, but for his time Churchill was not out of step. He was, at times, indecisive and, yes, out of step with popular feelings. His writings were often efforts to cast himself in the best possible light. This was especially true when he wrote his memoirs of World War II, right after he was thrown from office at his moment of triumph.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent volume for readers of all stripes December 29, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Short lives of Winston Churchill abound, including volumes by well known popular historians such as John Keegan and Paul Johnson. Paul Addison's volume for Oxford Press's Lives and Legacies series, however, is well deserving of its status as the connoisseur's choice for an introduction to Churchill.

Addison succeeds because he does more than summarize Churchill's life. He frames the essential question regarding Churchill in the right way, and the story therefore becomes much more interesting as a result. The subtitle of the book "The Unexpected Hero" summarizes his thesis nicely. Churchill's career until the 1930s was a checkered one, and virtually no one would have expected him to become the towering figure of the 20th century at that point. How Churchill went from being nearly spent as a political force in the 1930s is therefore the story Addison seeks to tell in 254 pages.

The Unexpected Hero manages to touch every significant aspect of Churchill's life and career (as well as can be done in under 300 pages), but more importantly Addison is present throughout as a sure footed guide. His judgments on Churchill's actions are sound and serve the reader well, which is important because many of them are the subjects of entire books in and of themselves. Addison's scholarly and sober judgment leaves the reader feeling that he has been told the salient facts by an expert without an axe to grind.

Addison also nicely summarizes the state of play when it comes to contemporary disputes among historians on Churchill's legacy, and sums up barrels of ink nicely in his post script. Because of this, Addison's volume is not only a strong candidate for the best place to start with Churchill, but also a nice sounding board for those who have read so much Churchill they feel they have begun to lose their bearings as well.

Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too factual, No flow, boring!
Due to the writing style I have not finished the book. I found this book terribly lacking in any emotion. Read more
Published 5 months ago by 3bunnies
5.0 out of 5 stars New elements to Churchill story.
Everyone it seems has written a Churchill biography but this nod has passed the first test. It has new insights about the life and times of Winston Spencer Churchill. Read more
Published 6 months ago by David Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Briton
Churchill shows a steadfastness to the ultimate goal of victory over Hitler, despite crushing personal defeats in his life and House of Commons. Read more
Published 7 months ago by robert boothby
5.0 out of 5 stars A great piece .
Highly informative and instructive .it was a great refresher to my knowledge of English history ,and at the same time giving me an insight into the English political landscape .
Published 10 months ago by George Allen
4.0 out of 5 stars churchill
I am a sucker for history and especially, Churchill. He was an enigma to many, having survived more triumphs and failures than almost anyone in history I can recall. Read more
Published 10 months ago by DB
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill as a hero
He was indeed unexpected - he had not had a particularly auspicious life yet, without him at the advent of WW II, we might all be giving the Nazi salute. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Joan I. Torrey
2.0 out of 5 stars It was Boring
I love history but this book never grabbed me. I struggled through half of the book but finally gave up on it.
Published 18 months ago by Bruce A. Neill
5.0 out of 5 stars About his finest hour
Churchill was Prime Minister when I was growing (1950s in America). This book shows him as a man who despite his personal foibles and huge ego rises greatness when it is most... Read more
Published 20 months ago by JOHN
4.0 out of 5 stars Never a lasting Hero
I was born in 1932, and lived through the rise & fall of Churchill.I never knew why a war hero could fall from grace by his people so soon after being praised for saving his... Read more
Published 21 months ago by richard mayo
2.0 out of 5 stars Churchil
Several of my friends have read various books on Churchill and stated that they were excellent. This author made this book a hard and boring read. Read more
Published 22 months ago by ErmaHernandez Moreno
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