From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. D'Este (Patton: A Genius for War) is a master analyst of 20th-century military leadership, and this book may be his finest yet. Showing a remarkable knowledge of archival and printed sources, he tells the complex story of a statesman and warrior. As a child, Winston Churchill was headstrong, highly opinionated, and virtually impossible to control. Those traits remained throughout a life he often regretted having spent in council chambers rather than on battlefields. His experiences as a young man in India, South Africa and the Sudan left him with both an abhorrence of war and a passion for soldiering. D'Este skillfully demonstrates how these traits shaped Churchill's persistent advocacy for preparedness and negotiation as means of averting war and his determination to see war through when deterrence failed. D'Este camouflages neither personal weaknesses nor questionable policies. But his expertise as a military historian provides contexts too often lacking in evaluating Churchill's roles in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, 1940's Battle of Britain and the D-Day invasion in 1944. Elegantly written, this tour de force belongs in every library addressing the 20th century. 16 pages of b&w photos, 9 maps. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* D’Este, a biographer of Patton and Eisenhower, has long detected an absence of objectivity about Churchill’s military career. Here he astutely lauds Churchill’s soldierly courage but questions how Churchill-the-politician acted as, in effect, an operational general. A list of battles he directly affected, from Antwerp in 1914 to Anzio in 1944, amounts to a record of military disaster, but D’Este weighs in the balance Churchill’s attitudes toward waging war and the specific decisions he made in World War II that ultimately made him victorious. Churchill’s abhorrence of inaction was evident in his youth, inducing him to seek out combat experiences he was fortunate to survive and eager to publicize. He also, D’Este argues, then formed a distrust of generals and admirals, a confidence in his own military intuition, and the flaw of dismissing military factors that bored him, such as logistics. Neither idolator nor revisionist, D’Este yields an ambivalent impression of Churchill that, while no denigration of his heroic leadership of Britain in 1940, underscores his paradoxes, such as a fascination with war’s spectacle that vied with an unfeigned horror of its carnage. It is just such paradoxes that render him perennially intriguing to the reading public. --Gilbert Taylor
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