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Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book One Paperback – September, 2002

4.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science." - Leo Strauss, University of Chicago "Rarely in the history of historical writing have author and subject seemed so made for each other." - Henry Steele Commager

From the Inside Flap

"It is my hope to recall this great shade from the past, and not only invest him with his panoply, but make him living and intimate to modern eyes."—from the preface to Volume One

John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough (1644-1722), was one of the greatest military commanders and statesmen in the history of England. Victorious in the Battles of Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), and countless other campaigns, Marlborough, whose political intrigues were almost as legendary as his military skill, never fought a battle he didn't win. Although he helped James II crush the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth, Marlborough later supported William of Orange against James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and brilliantly managed England's diplomatic triumphs during the War of the Spanish Succession. Marlborough also bequeathed the world another great British military strategist and diplomat—his descendant, Winston S. Churchill, who wrote this book to redeem Marlborough's reputation from Macaulay's smears.

One million words long and ten years in the making, Churchill's Marlborough stands as both a literary and historical masterpiece, giving us unique insights into the Churchill of World War II, for just as Churchill's literary skill helps us understand the complexities of Marlborough's life, so too did his writing of Marlborough help Churchill master the arts of military strategy and diplomacy. This two-volume edition includes the entire text and almost all the original maps.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1050 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (September 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226106330
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226106335
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Winston Spencer Churchill's biography of his ancestor, John Churchill First Duke of Marlborough, stands out as a restoration of Marlborough's reputation, an account of England under the reigns of Charles II, James II, William III and Queen Anne, and an in-depth military and political history of the War of Spanish Succession.

WSC gives us a picture of the whole man, including his faults. One of WSC's purposes is to rescue Marlborough's reputation from the attacks of generations of historians. The book becomes a brilliant defense and of course it cannot be unbiased. WSC is Marlborough's defense attorney, not his judge.

By the 1920s, Marlborough had been called miserly, greedy, ambitious, duplicitous, disloyal and treacherous. As he recounts Marlborough's life, WSC continually picks up an episode that seemingly illustrates one of these traits, but turns it around.

Where unsympathetic historians saw miserly habits, WSC saw thrift and WSC goes further. Marlborough was miserly when it came to his own needs, such as when he insisted surgeons cut his stocking along the seem so that it could be resown. Yet he paid his army's bills and wages on time; apparently this was unusual in those days. He paid, from his own discretionary funds, which other generals often pocketed as a matter of course, for military intelligence that proved crucial to securing many of his victories.

Where accusers saw ambition needlessly prolonging a difficult war, WSC presents Marlborough has being bound by duty to achieve the best results possible, and to reject a timid peace, which would have left Europe in the hands of a despot.
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Winston Churchill, in a relatively well-known bad patch during the 1930s, began to write this history of his famous and much maligned ancestor. The first volume contains the first two books of the original four book set. The life of John Churchill, Duke of Malborough, is both a fascinating look at an historical era as well as a personal portrait of a great military general. Book One consists of a large chunk of history, spanning the downfall of Charles I through Cromwell, to the Restoration of Charles II, through the overthrowing of his brother, the Catholic James II by William of Orange married to James II's daughter, Mary, to the crowning of Queen Anne. The second Book of Volume one concentrates on a mere 3 years of Anne's rule.

I will not reiterate what other reviewers have already said. However, I would add that in the writing of this book, Winston Churchill prepared himself to become even greater than his general ancestor. It can hardly be surprising that as this history was being written, events were conspiring to lead Winston Churchill into the biggest world confrontation ever. After studying the campaigns in Europe of Lord Malborough, it can hardly be surprising that Churchill fully suspected the coming of the war long before his fellow MPs.

This is a scholarly work and shouldn't be undertaken without serious patience. Each of the two volumes are in themselves close to 1,000 pages long. The history is written from the point of view of a defender, though Winston Churchill is careful not to gloss over details that might cast an unfavorable opinion of his ancestor. Well worth the effort.


Since I reviewed Book One, I felt it was important to follow up with a review of Book Two of this work.
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Winston Churchill was a man who rarely met a topic upon which he didn't harbor a strong opinion that he was willing to share. The Duke of Marlborough is no different. Churchill is clearly enamoured with this relative of his and lets it show. That said, Churchill plainly states that there are two camps on Marlborough and tells the world which camp he falls into. By doing so, he opens up the reader to get a feel not just for Marlborough and his times, but also for the debate by historians that rages around a polarizing historic figure like Marlborough. (Sound familiar to anyone else?) The result is a richly layered work.

Winston Churchill viewed history as something that was alive and tangible and his historic writings capture that feeling for readers. Marlborough's battles - both military and political - come to life in the hands of Churchill. We get to see one of the great military minds of the 18th century push military science closer and closer to its modern form. We also see him perform less well on the political front against his foes there.

Through the entire book, we get to listen to Winston Churchill in his element, telling us a story about a topic he feels passionately about. So many of the trials, trevails, and reactions that Churchill ascribes to Marlborough are so obviously parallels to Churchill's life and his reactions that the book has a clear autobiographical tone to it as well.

Highly recommended for history buffs and for people who want to understand Churchill more deeply.
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