on October 31, 2012
I have been nervously awaiting this book for years. My first encounter with Manchester came when volume one first came out. I was a child, and I went to visit my grandmother (who was in London during the Blitz); she held the book up to show me what she was reading. "The man." she said. "The great, great man."
Years later, I read the first two volumes almost in one sitting - couldn't put them down - and have reread large parts of them over the years (every time I looked some piece up I'd find myself sitting down for an hour or two because I couldn't stop). I remember when Finest Hour reported that the trilogy would never be finished: it was like a punch in the stomach.
I had my doubts about the ability of another author to write worthily of Manchester, and I was afraid this volume wouldn't measure up. No need to worry: this is every bit as much a page-turner as the last two volumes. It's not QUITE Manchester - I thought I could feel a bit of a difference in style, somehow - and yet it IS extremely good, much better than I had expected.
Like the first two volumes, we begin with a preamble ("The Lion Hunted") in which we are (re-)acquainted with the book's subject. There is a certain amount of repetition of material from the two earlier preambles, but much good new material as well. I've read thousands of pages on Churchill, but even I found some good new anecdotes and quotations here. After that we're hurled right into the middle of the most dramatic days of World War Two. The unexpected, catastrophic defeats; the incompetence and perfidy of the people in charge of France - it doesn't take much from a writer to make this an exciting story, and yet I don't think it has ever been told better than this. Really, just what I had hoped for from Manchester himself. If the later parts of the book don't quite keep the same level of excitement, neither do the events they recount.
My only complaint is the ending: really, the book just stops. Read the end of volume II: I would have expected Manchester himself to end with a climactic summary, perhaps returning to his major insight from the start: the central significance of Churchill in history is that he was a product of the late nineteenth century who was able to bring the virtues of the era of his formative years to life again at a time when they were needed, and when the British people were not yet too far from them. Actually, I do have one other complaint, and it's with the publisher: the dust jacket doesn't match the first edition dust jackets of the first two volumes. Doesn't look as good on the shelf as I would have liked.
All in all, this is a worthy final volume. Manchester himself would be proud, and there can be no doubt that this trilogy would be Churchill's favourite biography. Highly recommended, to fans of the first two volumes and newcomers alike.
on September 28, 2002
There are many good biographies out there, but a great one is rare. This is one of the great ones; William Manchester has taken the art of biography to a new level. Most biographies are merely "interesting," rarely making any effort to give the reader a sense of what it would have been like to be or know the subject. Manchester does just that. Rather than write a narrative story of Winston Churchill's life, he has chosen instead to give us a rich tapestry of Chrchill's life as it was woven. Many biographers are simply idolizers of their subjects; this is not so with Manchester. He reserves no harsh judgment, just as he reserves no due praise; when he is reporting something negative that Winston did he says it was negative, and explains why.
But The Last Lion is more than just a biography. In attempting to capture the essence of Churchill Manchester has written some of the best material about World War I and the appeasement crisis. It is rare that historical events can be made to feel like the present, but Manchester has done this.
Both volumes of this work are well worth your money, your time, and your attention. Indeed, the only bad part of Manchester's biography is that he will not be able to finish it. It is not known how much of the third volume he was able to put together before Alzheimer's made work impossible for him, but it can be hoped that whatever he was able to do will someday be published, no matter how unpolished it may be.
"Defender of the Realm, 1940 -- 1965" is the final volume of William Manchester's massive three-volume biography, "The Last Lion", of Winston Churchill (1874 -- 1965). The first volume, published in 1983, titled "Visions of Glory", covered Churchill's life from 1874 -- 1932, while the second volume, published in 1988, titled simply "Alone, covered the years 1932 -- 1940. This new sweeping third volume covers Churchill's life beginning with his ascension to the office of Prime Minister in 1940. It focuses upon the WW II years, follows Churchill during the years between 1945 and his second period as Prime Minister from 1951 -- 1955, and concludes with Churchill's years of comparative retirement up to his death. The biography was a near lifetime project for Manchester (1922 -- 2004). Manchester had researched the third volume of the trilogy, prepared well-organized and voluminous notes, and done some of the writing. Near the end of his life, however, Manchester realized he would be unable to complete the third volume. He selected journalist Paul Reid to complete the work.
The result of Manchester's and Reid's efforts is a detailed, dense study of 1200 pages. The book offers a thorough, multi-faceted look at the complex statesman that was Winston Churchill, in his determination, devotion to Great Britain and to civilization, brilliance, and frequent pettiness. Because Churchill's personal life was inextricably intertwined with his public life, this book goes far beyond biography. It is a masterful political and military history of the WW II years and, to a lesser extent, of the years following.
Churchill the man is most in focus in the 50-page "Preamble" to the book. Manchester and Reid offer a summation of Churchill's personality, leadership style, political, religious, and social beliefs, family and more. The Preamble offers an excellent overview to the momentous events described in the lengthy remainder of the volume.
The volume consists of eight large parts, the first of which begins in May 1940 and follows Churchill and WW II through December, 1940. Part two covers 1941, culminating in the United States' entry into the war and on Churchill's extensive efforts to get the United States involved. Part three covers military action in 1942, focusing on the alliance between Churchill and Roosevelt. Part four covers the period November 1942 -- December 1943, as plans for the invasion of France are discussed at length and ultimately agreed to. The readers sees a great deal of Churchill, Roosevelt and his aides, and Stalin. There is extended description of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Part five covers the period between December, 1943 and the Normandy invasion in June 1944. Part six takes the narrative from Normandy to the German and Japanese surrenders. Part seven, less detailed than the earlier parts, covers the years between 1945- 1955, including Churchill's famed "iron curtain" speech in March,1946, in Fulton, Missouri, and his election as Prime Minister. The final brief part of the book covers the final ten years, 1955 -- 1965, of Churchill's long life.
There is a great deal to be learned about Churchill, about leadership, and heroism from this book. The most eloquent, moving sections of the work are sections covering early 1940 --1941, following the evacuation at Dunkirk. Great Britain truly stood alone for more than one year and was widely expected to fall to Hitler. That it did not was due in large measure to Churchill's fortitude and strength and to the respect in which he was held by the subjects of Great Britain. The reader sees different aspects of Churchill as the war proceeds and the political and military situation develops. Manchester and Reid spend much time on the land, sea, and air wars, the different fronts in the Soviet Union, France, the Balkans, and Italy, and in the War with Japan. The book offers both a political and a military education about the events of the war years. The authors develop well the tension between the British, Churchillian view of the aims of the war and the views of President Roosevelt and the United States. The authors emphasize Churchillian's devotion to the British Empire as contrasted with the American commitment to end colonialism. Hence to overall title of the Trilogy and characterization of Churchill as "The Last Lion".
The book is lucidly written although in its length it flags in places. In its history, it taught me much about the world in which I have lived. I also learned a great deal about the dauntless figure of Winston Churchill. The authors portray him, and properly so, as the seminal figure of the 20th Century. This lengthy, thoughtful book will be worth the attention of readers who wish to understand the 20th Century and one of the few true 20th Century heroes.
"The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932," is the first of William Manchester's projected three-volume biography of Winston Spencer Churchill. I found it a superbly crafted, supremely well researched account of the first 58 years of the life of the 20th century's greatest statesman. With wit and candor, Manchester chronicles Churchill from his earliest days as the neglected and troublesome first child of Lord Randolph Churchill and his American-born wife, Jennie, to his entry into the political "wilderness" over home rule in India in 1932. Manchester's portrait of his subject is balanced and objective; we see Churchill at his finest: a courageous (almost to the point of foolhardiness) army officer, and later a gifted Member of Parliament who became one of the youngest Cabinet ministers in British history. We also see him at his worst: a Cabinet minister with appalling political judgment at times, quick to meddle in other ministers' affairs while neglecting his own, and with an uncanny ability to alienate not only his political foes, but almost all his political allies as well.
In addition to a wonderfully written chronology of Churchill's life, Manchester provides an overview of the times in which Churchill lived. I was fascinated by the author's account of Victorian England -- its culture, its mores, and its view of itself in the world. The sections which describe Churchill's times make highly entertaining and absorbing reading by themselves.
"The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932," clearly shows why William Manchester is one of the pre-eminent biographers at work today. The book is written with obviously meticulous scholarship, insightful analysis, and crisp, sparkling prose; I have yet to find a better account of Churchill's life.
Since the publication of "The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932" 30 years ago, several excellent books about Winston Churchill have been written, including "Warlord" by Carlo d'Este (2008) and "Winston's War" by Max Hastings (2011). As good as these works are (and they are very good indeed), William Manchester's "The Last Lion" remains the finest multi-volume biography of Churchill available today. It is a "must read" for anyone interested in the life of Winston Churchill; Highly recommended!
AFTERWORD: William Manchester died in 2004 before he could complete the third and final volume of his great triptych on the life of Winston Churchill. Manchester had apparently completed well over one-half of the manuscript for his final volume, which he had tentatively entitled "The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965." He had selected Paul Reid, an excellent writer and close friend, to carry on and complete his work after his death. In November 2012, this 1,200-page volume was published by Little, Brown and Company, the same publisher of the first two "Last Lion" volumes. As of this writing, "The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965" has garnered overwhelmingly positive professional and consumer reviews, much to the satisfaction of those of us who waited patiently for nearly three decades for its release.
on July 14, 2002
William Manchester's first Churchill volume covers the first fifty eight years of Winston's life. His second, "Alone," covers just eight. Assuming that there will be a third, it will cover the final quarter century, including most of World War II and Churchill's two spells as Prime Minister. To the elementary observer, these divisions seem somewhat out of sorts.
It's only by reading that middle volume that we understand just how critical those eight years were. Above all, "Alone" is a morality play -- the best one I know -- about what happens when democracies fail to confront aggression. At no other time in the 20th Century were so many people so wrong about a matter as grave as the Nazi buildup in the 1930s. Only Winston Churchill and a few of his cohorts disagreed at the time.
Early in the book, Manchester briefly lays out a powerful case for Britain's aversion to confronting Germany. Britain sensed the unfairness of the Versailles "diktat," and reacted strongly against it. To a great degree, London was fed up with France's insolence after the war, both in its lust for revenge against Germany, and in the flaccid disillusionment of Paris intellectuals. At the same time, Great Britain was a nation cornered by two bloodthirsty wolves -- Nazism and Bolshevism. In order to defeat the other, one would have to be appeased. Being a country dominated by aristocrats, Britain chose to enlist Hitler as a bulwark against Communism. In doing so, they ignored the basic fact of geopolitical proximity: only Germany, abutting France and a few hundred miles away from Britain's shores, had the capacity to strike at the West. Britain's aristocrats bet wrong, and Churchill, ever the "traitor to his class" immediately recognized it.
Churchill's story also holds valuable lessons for us today. By nature, Churchill was naturally aggressive, and as such, Manchester writes that he saw exactly what Hitler was up to. Pacifists often distrust such assertiveness, even in a democracy. In fact, assertiveness in defense of democratic values is almost always the right foreign policy. One can have assertiveness for good, or assertiveness for evil, and one must choose it for good. In this way, Churchill's "black and white" Manichean worldview has truly stood the test of time.
"The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940," the second of William Manchester's projected three-volume biography of Winston Spencer Churchill, continues telling the story of the life of the 20th century's greatest statesman. This volume covers the eight-year period from the beginning of Churchill's longest period in the political "wilderness," to his rise to power as Prime Minister of Great Britain at the beginning of World War II. I think this book is even better than the first volume, "The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932." Manchester contends that the inter-war years, and not his years as Prime Minister, were Churchill's personal "finest hour." Politically ostracized by two successive Prime Ministers - Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, the main architects of Britain's policy of appeasing Nazi Germany - Churchill was one of only a handful of men in Britain to speak out in favor of increased military preparedness as a means of countering the growing Nazi threat in Europe. Only when it became obvious in the late 1930s that the appeasement of Hitler had failed, did the British nation turn to the one man who had consistently advocated standing up to the Nazi dictator: Winston Spencer Churchill
As he did in the first volume of Churchill's life, Manchester provides an insightful historical overview of the times in which Churchill lived. Especially fascinating to me was the account of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's 1938 trip to Munich, where the most infamous act of appeasing Hitler - the sellout of Czechoslovakia - took place, and where Chamberlain believed he had achieved "peace in our times."
"The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940" once again clearly demonstrates why William Manchester is one of the pre-eminent biographers at work today. The book is written with obviously meticulous scholarship, insightful analysis, and crisp, sparkling prose; I have yet to find a better account of Churchill's life.
Since the publication of "The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940" 25 years ago, several excellent books about Winston Churchill have been written, including "Warlord" by Carlo d'Este (2008) and "Winston's War" by Max Hastings (2011). As good as these works are (and they are very good indeed), William Manchester's "The Last Lion" remains the finest multi-volume biography of Churchill available today. It is a "must read" for anyone interested in the life of Winston Churchill; Highly recommended!
AFTERWORD (November 2012): William Manchester died in 2004 before he could complete the third and final volume of his great triptych on the life of Winston Churchill. Manchester had apparently completed only a small portion of the manuscript for his final volume, which he had tentatively entitled "The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965." He had selected Paul Reid, an excellent writer and close friend, to carry on and complete his work after his death. In November 2012, this 1,200-page volume was published by Little, Brown and Company, the same publisher of the first two "Last Lion" volumes. As of this writing, "The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965" has garnered overwhelmingly positive professional and consumer reviews, much to the satisfaction of those of us who waited patiently for nearly three decades for its release.
on November 20, 2000
It is hard to tell who is the larger hero -- Churchill or Manchester. Not because the historian is bigger than history, but rather because the historian has so captured history.
Churchill aficionados don't need to read heroic prose to be attracted to all that has been written about him. But for the rest of us, Manchester has strung together the words that truly capture the place Churchill created in world history.
This volume is the first in what was obviously intended as a trilogy. Unfortunately, we have yet to see the concluding book. I hope it makes it.
Here is a challenge. Pick up the book and read the first two pages. You will find yourselve with two major problems. First, about 2000 pages (volumes one and two) of reading that you will want to complete faster than you have time for. Worse, a dull ache of longing for the third volume that may never materialize.
on September 29, 1998
As one reads William Manchester's second volume on Churchill, one is struck by Churchill's uncanny grasp of the threat of Nazi Germany, and his many attempts to warn Britain of its peril. Like Cassandra in Greek mythology, though, Churchill's predictions are not believed, and he is only included in the War Cabinet when war was inevitable. William Manchester's book is thoroughly researched, and is at least as good as that of Churchill's official biographer, Martin Gilbert, with one important difference: Manchester's book is written on a far larger canvas, and the level of detail he is able to devote to Churchill is far greater -- and the subject is more than worthy of it. Mandatory reading for anyone studying Churchill, a good prelude to read before reading Churchill's own five volume history of World War II in that it gives insight into Churchill's mind. On a personal level, I know that Mr. Manchester is advanced in years, and I cannot help thinking, in my selfishness as a historian, that I hope he completes volume III soon. It would be a tragedy if the task of completing this wonderful history proves to be too much for him.
on May 2, 2002
Most people today know Winston Churchill at the great British Prime Minister of WWII. But Churchill was 65 when he became Prime Minister and had a public career spanning more than forty years. In this excellent book which is part biography, part history, William Manchester focuses on the period of 1932-1940 when Churchill was out of power, an outcast in his own party and universally derided as a warmongering relic. Churchill referred to these years as his "wilderness years" and they are among the most fascinating of his life because the years of Churchill's political exile coincide with the rise of Hitler and the growth of Germany from defeated power to world menace. Indeed, as Manchester chronicles, Churchill's return from the wilderness was intimately connected to the rise of Hitler because Churchill's relentless public opposition to Hitlerism and British policy towards Germany throughout the thirties is what led to his continuing exile while this same stalwartness preserved him from the mark of shame that infected the rest of the British elite when the policy of appeasement collapsed in 1939.
Manchester has an unrestrained admiration for Churchill. Nevertheless, at no time in this volume does he overlook Churchill's many faults of personality. Many of these faults become clear when Manchester examines Churchill's personal life at his Chartwell estate and his relationship with his family and the servants and secretary's who worked for him. Despite these faults, however, the Churchill of this book comes across as a man touched with greatness and who is well aware of it. But this book is not merely the story of Churchill but the story of the small shabby men whose policy of appeasement in the face of absolute evil laid England low. Most of the government during the thirties fits this bill but in particular Manchester singles out the three prime ministers, Ramsey McDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and Chamberlain's foreign minister Lord Halifax.. The author's contempt for these "Men of Munich" drips on virtually every page. He contrasts their fecklessness with Churchill's steadiness. Certainly Churchill recognized from day one that Germany had been overtaken by a deranged criminal regime and that such a regime would necessarily threaten the peace of the world. The Men of Munich just could not see it. Churchill believed, without once wavering, that a foreign policy built on strength and deterrence could prevent war but that a policy of appeasement could only guarantee it. The Men of Munich believed quite the opposite. Manchester shows the motivation of the appeasers to be more complex than commonly understood. Nevertheless, since, to their mind, no rational human being could want war, any dispute with Germany could be resolved through diplomacy and negotiation. It never occurred to the Churchill's foes that Hitler was no rational human being but rather quite mad or that they were not "negotiating" with him so much as giving in and retreating.
A review of the events of the thirties shows a steady British retreat beginning with the failure to stop the re-occupation of the Rhineland then the failure to halt the annexation of Austria, the infamous betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich and finally the failure to prevent the final conquest of Czechoslovakia. Indeed, even after the invasion of Poland and declaration of War, Britain and France held back from aiding the Poles for fear Hitler would "turn west". Not until Churchill returned to power, nearly a year after the start of the war and days before the capitulation of France did the policy of appeasement truly end.
Even without the benefit of hindsight, the policy of the British government during this period defies belief. Churchill stands as starkly in contrast to these appeasers as he does to the criminal Hitler. Churchill's wilderness years contain important lessons for today's policy-makers. Appeasement of evil is not only wrong but foolish. It never preserves peace but only guarantee's war. Manchester is a great writer. His prose is lively and his storytelling ability is excellent. All lovers of history will adore this book. I highly recommend it. What a pity that there will never be a third volume chronicling the war and post war years of Churchill's 90 year life.
Many readers of Paul Reid's The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm will have a single overriding question as they crack open this enormous (1,000+ pages) book: is it worthy to sit beside its two magnificent predecessors in this three volume life and times of Sir Winston Churchill? I am happy to report that it is. Those who have waited over 20 years to see this work finally completed will be well satisfied with Reid's volume, which is nearly as long as its predecessors combined.
As it was with Manchester's volumes, Reid opens with a preamble on Churchill's personality, lifestyle, family, and work habits. Totaling nearly 50 pages, it serves as a magnificent reintroduction to Churchill and readies the reader to rejoin Churchill as he enters the most important phase of his life: preparing England to play her great role as the lonely guardian of the freedoms we too often take for granted from 1940 until Hitler invaded Russia. Reid carefully explains how Churchill accomplished this, making clear why, for all his pettiness, oddities and foibles, he is, undoubtedly one of the most remarkable people ever to have lived. For without Churchill, the English likely would not have stood against Hitler. Had the English not stood against Hitler, he may well have had the strength to conquer Russia or at least expel her from Europe. Accomplishing that would have left him and the Nazi party rulers of the continent, and perhaps more, for decades. One shudders to contemplate the consequence of such an epoch.
Reid's volume is not only a fine biography, but an extremely detailed account of World War II from the British perspective as well. Also, he decided to reverse Manchester's decision to end his work with the termination of the War, extending his coverage to include Churchill's post war career and life. As a result, the three volumes stand as a complete life and times of the Great Man. Like Manchester, Reid does not stint the little details that bring the reader into the story, making them feel as if they are weekending at Ditchley with Churchill as he works his magic on visiting American visitors to convince them of England's will or in the front bench in the House of Commons while he is delivering one of his many famous orations.
You can't write a history exceeding 1,000 pages without errors and Reid does not. For instance, Lyndon Johnson is identified as the "Majority Leader" of the House Armed Services Committee, playing a key role in Lend Lease. There is no such position nor was there any committee with that name until 1946. World War II buffs will likely raise other niggling errors that naturally arise when someone not steeped in its history attempts a retelling on this massive a scale. One also wishes for more than 100 or so pages on Churchill's 20 year post war career in a book than devotes 950 pages to 1940-1945.
But to dwell on this is pettiness, and must be seen in the light of Reid's magnificent gift to those of us who love to study Churchill. It may lack the aura of authority of Gilbert's official biography or the succinctness of Addison's brilliant short study. At the end of the day, though, Manchester/Reid's 2500+ pages will allow us to come as close as possible to being in Churchill's presence throughout his incredible life as any book can do. Accordingly, it joins its predecessors as an indispensable volume for Churchillians.