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My Early Life: 1874-1904 Paperback – June 6, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

The voice of a vanished England speaks from the pages of Winston Churchill's evocative memoir of his first 30 years (1874-1904). The young Churchill inhabits a world in which men fight like hell in meaningless colonial wars--India, Egypt, South Africa--soldiering across the imperial map then extending the hand of friendship to their erstwhile enemy as if they were schoolmates at Harrow. Yet Churchill, born into a privileged family, was not an uncritical supporter of the Victorian status quo. He himself loathed Harrow; an especially amusing chapter skewers the school's emphasis on an irrelevant classical education and rote learning. A firm Tory, he considered himself a friend of the working class, and in 1899 campaigned for parliament with a Socialist colleague. Looking back from his vantage point of 1930, Churchill expresses the most attractive values of the English aristocracy--honor, loyalty, fair play--without giving the impression he wants to live in the past. The book's appeal also stems from its magisterial but colloquial prose. Anyone familiar with recordings of Churchill's rousing speeches during Word War II will hear in their minds' ears that growling timbre and unmistakably patrician accent as they read. Though he would have preferred the peace prize, My Early Life offers good evidence that Churchill's 1953 Nobel for literature was aptly awarded. --Wendy Smith


Narrator Frederick Davidson employs a slight Churchillian drawl, making this one of the most completely satisfying programs in years. --Library Journal --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 5.7.1996 edition edition (June 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684823454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684823454
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
I interrupted my reading of Manchester's biography of Churchill in order to read this one, hoping to gain a richer understanding of the man. I was not disappointed! It is easy to see why Churchill won the Pulitzer prize for writing. He is indeed a master. The book itself is just plain fun and good reading. But the best part is that you get a real flavor for the true personality of the man himself. He has the ability to make even the very dullest facts interesting,and even adventuresome; whether he is describing a polo match or one of him many "close calls" in war. His amazing writing abilities and style are like a refreshing drink of water compared to many of today's authors.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 21, 1998
Format: Paperback
Although most of Churchill's huge output of books were written a little too fast (apparently, he had other demands on his time) to endure as classics, in this very personal story of his boyhood and youth his prose is superb. Further, he follows the brilliant strategy of <not> looking back on his younger years with the wisdom of age. He describes the events of his childhood with exactly the same boyish emotions he felt at the time. His account of his struggles with schooling remain justly famous, and there's adventure aplenty in Afghanistan, Cuba, the Sudan, and South Africa. A great book for boys (or former boys), especially ones with large vocabularies. --- Steve Sailer
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Johnston on May 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
What surprised me most about this book was the humour. I expected the familiar story of our greatest leader's early life, I expected an insightful account of Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I expected a stirring tale of a young man who was a practical adventurer just as much as politician and author. I didn't expect to laugh out loud regularly for much of the story.

If you've seen the film "Young Winston", based on this book, you will be familiar with some of the events. Other programmes and books have adequately explained his war leadership and his contribution to many serious political issues. However, the films and documentaries I have seen fail to capture the mischievous spirit communicated through this book.

This a fascinating study of a bygone age, when Britain maintained a great empire, when most politicians took the title Lord, and when politics and army officership were sports for those of independent means. Interestingly despite his aristocratic bloodline Churchill's family was not particularly wealthy and some of the most poignant lessons stem from this.

Sometimes the sentiments in the book appear bloodthirsty or imperialistic, but you have to realise that at least part of the time Churchill is writing satirically, reflecting common values which you suspect he did not always share himself. When he is sincerely expressing his own serious ideals it is usually easy to detect.

These beliefs link both his skilful analysis of historical events, and Churchill's account of his own development. For example he explains the British government's failure to be magnanimous after the early victories of the Boer war as the reason that a relatively fast-moving and honourable conflict descended into "shocking evils" on both sides.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wittig on November 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
"My Early Life" is an excellent book. This work is the first in which Winston Churchill offers details on his escape from captivity at the hands of the Boers in 1899, some thirty years after the fact. In an earlier work, "From London to Ladysmith via Pretoria", Churchill gives a great narrative of his capture and internment during that conflict, but had to leave out many of the details of his escape because of the danger a full account would have posed to those people who had helped him in the successful attempt. "My Early Life" also takes a couple of steps back from the original journalistic accounts Churchill wrote, adds more of the background, and reveals the political and social intrigue that formed and guided British military and social circles when the British Empire was at its peak. The best part of "My Early Life", for anyone who is at all familiar with the recorded speeches of Winston Churchill, is that the writing "sounds" like the man, the sentences flowing with an air of granduer that demonstrate the superb command of the English language which Churchill possessed. This is not an easy book to read, but the persistent reader will be rewarded with some of the highest caliber prose ever put to paper by a soldier turned journalist turned politician. This book is a must read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By shufti on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Anyone who hated school may like this book very much. Churchill was a privileged aristocrat who viewed 'science' and 'democracy' as retrograde developments. And yet, any reader today would be naturally drawn towards the romantic, exciting, exotic picture of an empire that the young winston paints from someone born with common sense, good nature, pride and a hunger to play his part in glorious events.
This book was written by Churchill when he was short of cash - it had to be successful. Also it was written well before he became a world-weary statesman. By so royaly entertaining his readers he betrays himself to us as a pretty down to earth and likeable character - perhaps very different to the complex man he really was, or the very great man he was eventually to become.
One thing strikes me from the book is that Churchill was probably as unforgiving with himself as he was with other people - he comes across as someone with tremendous moral integrity and character. Yet, by the standards of many others he was seen as outspoken, bumptious, obdurate and opinionated, a war monger etc etc.
Progress was never made by reasonable people and this book is a superb way to get to know this mercurial, unorthodox, unlikely hero. It is a story of his coming of age at the turn of the 18th century and is one of those books that all bold adventurous men should perhaps read at some time during their lives.
A fantastic eye witness account of the British empire and the 'larger than life' people behind it.
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