From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Not a conventional biography, this is a probing and thoroughly enjoyable life focusing on the contradictions and dilemmas of Churchill's imperialism. British historian Toye (Lloyd George and Churchill: Rivals for Greatness) stresses that Churchill (1874–1965), a Victorian aristocrat, assumed white superiority but regularly proclaimed that nonwhites deserved equal rights and, eventually, independence once they discarded their primitive ways and achieved European levels of culture. Few British politicians disagreed, but whites in the colonies furiously defended their superior status; Churchill did not always sympathize but avoided making waves. By the 1930s, his imperialism was no longer mainstream. When Parliament debated Indian self-government, his violent objections angered party leaders as much as his attacks on appeasement of Germany before WWII. He was the apostle of freedom during the war, yet he exempted British colonies from that right, which caused persistent friction with Roosevelt, disorder throughout India, and failed to influence postwar leaders who lacked Churchill's romantic attachment to empire and disposed of it with only modest complaints from the electorate. Even veterans of Churchilliana will find plenty of fresh material, recounted with wit and insight into a man whose values were shaped by an age that no longer existed.
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Churchill is widely hailed as one of the greatest men of the twentieth century, but it is a historical irony that he was very much a product and representative of the nineteenth century. As this excellent analysis illustrates, Churchill’s attitudes and beliefs are particularly evident in his actions, writings, and offhand comments regarding the sprawling British Empire. Churchill was no armchair imperialist; his military experiences in India, the Sudan, and South Africa were formative episodes in his youth. Toye offers a nuanced portrait of Churchill as an imperialist that contradicts some of the simplistic views of him as a reactionary, Colonel Blimp–type character. It is true that he viewed the empire as a great promoter of world progress, and his racially tinged comments about Anglo-Saxon superiority and the barbarism of some native cultures remain offensive. Yet Churchill often showed admiration and respect for the nonwhite citizens of the empire, and he strongly protested against some of the brutalities carried out by colonial administrators. This work is a valuable contribution to greater understanding of a historical icon. --Jay Freeman