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Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life [Kindle Edition]

Gretchen Rubin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.61
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Warrior and writer, genius and crank, rider in the British cavalry’s last great charge and inventor of the tank—Winston Churchill led Britain to fight alone against Nazi Germany in the fateful year of 1940 and set the standard for leading a democracy at war.

Like no other portrait of its famous subject, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill is a dazzling display of facts more improbable than fiction, and an investigation of the contradictions and complexities that haunt biography. Gretchen Craft Rubin gives readers, in a single volume, the kind of rounded view usually gained only by reading dozens of conventional biographies.

With penetrating insight and vivid anecdotes, Rubin makes Churchill accessible and meaningful to twenty-first-century readers with forty contrasting views of the man: he was an alcoholic, he was not; he was an anachronism, he was a visionary; he was a racist, he was a humanitarian; he was the most quotable man in the history of the English language, he was a bore.

In crisp, energetic language, Rubin creates a new form for presenting a great figure of history—and brings to full realization the depiction of a man too fabulous for any novelist to construct, too complicated for even the longest narrative to describe, and too valuable ever to be forgotten.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eschewing the linear, chronological approach of most biographies, Yale Law School professor and Churchill devotee Rubin (Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide) has written 40 brief chapters looking at the British prime minister from multiple angles: Churchill as son, father, husband, orator, painter, historian, enemy of Hitler and many other roles. Rubin's unique approach works surprisingly well, bringing fresh insight to an exhaustively covered subject. Writing on Churchill as son, for instance, Rubin hammers home the point that he spent his life trying to measure up to an imagined, idealized father. Churchill's real father, Rubin makes clear, thought his son was destined for mediocrity and told him so. When she discusses Churchill's famous gifts as an orator, Rubin contends that his speeches were sometimes overblown, overly heroic and often ignored. She agrees with David Cannadine (In Churchill's Shadow) that Churchill's oratory was most effective when matched by times that required heroic action, such as the spring and summer of 1940. In a chapter devoted to Churchill's legendary drinking, Rubin provocatively presents arguments from both sides: that the drinking was harmless and that it was a major problem. In the end, Rubin sees "her" Churchill as a tragic hero. His life's goal was to preserve the British Empire, yet his greatest achievement, the defeat of Hitler, hastened the empire's end. While Rubin's account clearly isn't comprehensive and belabors a rather obvious point-that different, even opposing, perspectives on one life are possible-it is an excellent introduction to one of the most written about men in history. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-In this fast-paced, fragmented account, each of the 40 short chapters examines one topic: Churchill as leader, father, in tears, etc. Some are no more than lists, one is a simple chronology, and another a compilation of quotes. But taken together, they capture some truths about him, chiefly the many contradictions and complexities of his life and career. Moreover, there are valuable lessons here concerning the difficulties of examining the great lives of history. Rubin has almost as much to say about biography as a subject as she has about Churchill-a good thing for readers relatively new to the genre. And a further lesson lies in her extensive notes and bibliography. It is instructive to witness how much research is necessary to support even a brief account of a long life. Average-quality, black-and-white photos have been thoughtfully chosen. Rubin has much to offer teens, especially those with only vague notions of the great man.
Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2095 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0812971442
  • Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (May 11, 2004)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1N1I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #165,102 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intellectually clever, but an unsatisfying biography December 12, 2003
I don't have anything against attorneys as a group of people, but as I read this book, the phrase that kept returning to me was "clever lawyer's trick." Though Gretchen Rubin continually describes this as "a personal look" at "*my* Churchill," it seems as much a demonstration of the talented lawyer's ability to passionately argue both sides of a question while never making more than an intellectual commitment to either. On the whole, this is a book that's as much about the author as it is the subject.

Many of the reviews on this page describe this book as a good shorter biography of Churchill, but for people looking for a brief introductory volume, I would much sooner point them to one of the excellent short bios that came out in 2002, Lukacs' Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian. or Keegan's Winston Churchill: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives). Both of them are "conventional" narrative biographies, but each does a fine job laying out the motivations, facts, and consequences of Churchill's massive life. I think it's better to master the themes before exploring the variations, as Rubin does. And while not everyone wants to read thick tomes like Jenkins or Rose or Manchester (or still yet the official biography by Randolph Churchill and Martin Gilbert), I'm afraid anyone who relies on "Forty Ways..." as their sole source of information on, and interpretation of, the life of the Man of the (Twentieth) Century will be selling herself short.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Execrable Editing November 16, 2003
This already short book should be about 50 pages shorter yet. It is laced with repeated quotes, phrases, and facts. The first time you read that Churchill carried a lance in one of history's last cavalry charges, it's fascinating. The second time, it's a surprise to see the statement repeated almost verbatim. The third time, it's an insult.
Again and again (and again), this pattern is repeated. On one page, the same clause from a Churchill quote appears three times. Enough already. It's bad enough that the writer made this mistake, but it's unforgivable for the editor to let it pass for publication in this shape. By paring 50 pages off the manuscript, it would be just what it claims to be -- not a bad short rehash of the existing Churchill biographies.
Save your money. Get another Churchill biography.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A shallow faux biography December 28, 2003
Tucked into the Select Bibliography on p. 284 is a telling detail, a confession by the author that "Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill rests on the work of more comprehensive biographers." A more honest book would have included this key piece of information up front. The author is neither a biographer nor a Churchill scholar, but someone who combines her reading of other people's work with the not-very-earth-shattering (and by the end of the book tiresome) idea that a life can be seen from a variety of perspectives, and Churchill was a complex and sometimes contradictory figure. Rubin comes across as a dilettante (complete with a self-promoting website, duly noted on the dust jacket). All in all, an irritating book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly Disappointing May 29, 2007
I bought this book while I was writing a book of my own in which Churchill is a central figure. I wanted new insights on the man, and listening to the author on a radio talk show, I thought she might be able to provide those for me. I was sadly disappointed when I started reading the book.

The title comes from the fact that Rubin offers 40 exceptionally brief chapters (3 to 5 pages in length) that offer a different "perspective" on Churchill. The idea probably sound very good and innovative as a book proposal, but it is such a shallow account that the reader can be excused for feeling deceived. Chapter three is nothing more than a listing of people Churchill met during his life. Chapter fourteen is nothing other than a listing of facts about the man in bullet format. Each chapter as three complete sentences. Another chapter is a collection of quotes from him and another about him.

I spent good hard earned money on this book, if you choose to read this book I suggest you borrow it from the library instead.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forty fresh perspectives March 9, 2004
I was recently asked which year in the 20th Century I would choose to live and why. I said "1940" with the rationale that this was the great turning point in history when the values of western civilization might've been lost. They weren't lost because a single indominable man stood firm. Had the newly installed PM, in May-June of that year, sided with Halifax and the other peace seekers, Hitler would have won. What followed would have been just mopping up.
Gretchen Rubin succinctly illuminates this great man in a new and fresh format. She writes extremely well. This is the perfect first or second book for a reader just catching the Churchill bug. (Following Manchester and Gilbert) It belongs on any short list of Churchill books. One hopes Ms. Rubin won't stop here.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars This slim book is, in a weird way, Churchillian
Forty Ways reminded me of Wallace Stevens's poem "Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird" in that it seems to be a pastiche of perspective and wasn't intended to be... Read more
Published 1 month ago by TC
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended. Some people read trashy novels at the beach
One of my all-time fav books. Read it and re-read it. Chock full of insights you can keep coming back to. Highly recommended. Read more
Published 2 months ago by G. RAMPY
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Fun read
Published 4 months ago by Steven Nix
5.0 out of 5 stars a gift
for one who loves anything military and loves to read accounts of ones life.

a good choice for a hard person to buy a gift for.
Published 5 months ago by Donna Jette
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start for those interested in learning more about Churchill
An absorbing account of Winston Churchill through 40 anecdotes ranging from memorable quotations, to his sex life (or relative lack thereof) and love for England. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Albert Brennamin
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete Biography!
Great - both sides of opinion. Notes sources, Shows several views of a complicated person. Very well written allowing for individual judgment to be made by the reader.
Published 8 months ago by Scott Belling
5.0 out of 5 stars Great look at Churchill, a quick read that covers a wide range of...
If you find Winston Churchill interesting/admiral, then you will like this book. It tries to take an objective look at the man and present the arguments for and against various... Read more
Published 12 months ago by mm
3.0 out of 5 stars A different look
It's a different approach, as the author states...haven't been all the way through it, but feel there's a lot of redundancy. Not a page turner.
Published 17 months ago by David Schnell
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book
I love Gretchen Rubin, I've read a few of her other books and thought this might make a nice gift for my husband. He's English and he hates to read. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Stacy Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars Churchill
This book gives an honest assessment and some times both sides of arguments of who Winston Churchill is. Read more
Published on November 25, 2012 by Jessica
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More About the Author

I'm the author of "Happier at Home" and "The Happiness Project," about my experiences as I test-drove the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happy, to see what really worked. Happily, both books became New York Times bestsellers.

On my blog,, I write about my daily adventures in happiness.

My previous books include a bestselling biography of Winston Churchill, "Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill," and one of John Kennedy, "Forty Ways to Look at JFK." My first book, "Power Money Fame S..: A User's Guide," is social criticism in the guise of a user's manual. "Profane Waste" was a collaboration with artist Dana Hoey. I've also written three dreadful novels that are safely locked away in a drawer.

Before turning to writing, I had a career in law. A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. I live in New York City with my husband and two daughters.

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