on November 20, 2008
A retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, Carlo D'Este has had a second career as a historian. Using his military background, he has picked a narrow topic: the U.S. Army in the European theater of World War II and written some of the most informative and readable accounts of the war in print. His biography of General George S. Patton, Jr. is a work that anyone thinking of taking up this art form should read as an example of how to do it right.
With "Warlord," D'Este has moved into new territory, British military history. The readers should know that the story that unfolds on these pages is primarily European in nature. Although over half of this book is about World War II, the author is examining the British experience and that is a different topic from what he has done in the past. Pearl Harbor does not take place until page 556 (out of 700 of text) and even then, only as a dependent clause.
D'Este's research is extensive and creative. He has looked at Churchill's student records at Harrow and examined the papers of Lord Moran, the Prime Minister's personal physician. In between, he hits all the important archives.
The quality of coverage that comes from this exploration of the historical record is uneven, though, ranging from brilliant to merely adequate. The book is extremely weak on the World War I years. Serious Churchill buffs/fans/students will be disappointed. With that point made, most Americans know little of World War I and the discussion of the Great War should be more than adequate for general readers. D'Este also builds on this material. The book is much stronger when it gets to the World War II years, and the author connects much of what Churchill did in the 1940s back to the events of the 1910s, something that is uncommon in American writing on the Prime Minister.
A trait in D'Este biographies is that key figures other the principal subject have their moment to walk across the pages and voice their opinions and criticisms. The same is true here. General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, the head of the British Army for most of the war, often clashed with Churchill. D'Este pulls no punches and avoids the mistake of many biographers in siding with his subject, but he is better at narration than analysis in these moments. A number of other British generals, many of whom have ended up as forgotten figures, also get their moments and a generally sympathetic hearing from Churchill's biographer.
A clear strength is D'Este's efforts to develop Churchill's personality. He makes some keen observations, and the reader gets a good idea why Brooke found the man at times so infuriating and at others so inspirational.
Finally--and this is no little thing--this book is an easy, easy read.
on November 27, 2008
Carlo D' Este states clearly that his purpose in writing this biography is to explore Churchill the warrior. The book, he says, "is less about events and more about Churchill the man -- his leadership, his triumphs, and his failures." D'Este succeeds in this goal.
D'Este describes Churchill as in company with men "born for war," such Frederick the Great, Oliver Cromwell and his own famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill, D'Este maintains, cannot be understood if one approaches him as a politician or statesman who was destined to conduct a war but rather must be understood as a warrior who realized that politics forms a part of the conduct of war.
Men "born for war," including Patton, the subject of another excellent D'Este biography, never lose their romantic and self-centered approach to war--even after confronting its most horrible conditions. Most men who experience war hate it. Men like Patton and Churchill never lose their love for it. D'Este shows that Churchill was deeply conflicted about his feelings for war. Having experienced the horrors of war first hand, he empathized deeply with the soldiers and sailors (and their families) who bear the full brunt of the horrors of war. Yet because he personally loved the danger and fighting, he wondered if he could ever forgive himself for his love of war.
D'Este goes into great detail about Churchill's relationships with his generals and admirals in WWII. Churchill tended to try to micromanage his military leaders. Sometimes that was helpful, but with a good commander it made relationships very rocky.
This book is best read together with another biography of Churchill such as William Manchester's opus on Winston Churchill (two volumes, he was regrettably unable to complete the third volume before his death). Manchester's magnificent biography sets Churchill in his life and times. D'Este explores Churchill the warrior.
D'Este explores in greater detail than most biographies Churchill's aptitude for war demonstrated in his childhood play with toy soldiers, his time at Sandhurst, his polo playing, and his fighting in India, Egypt and South Africa. WWI and WWII are similarly well covered.
We also see Churchill with all his flaws: egotistical and self-centered. Yet we begin to see that what we consider as flaws are simply part and parcel of the indomitable personality that made Churchill great at both war and statesmanship.
Churchill's first great romantic love was Pamela Plowden, later the Countess of Lytton. Though never marrying (her father refused to give her hand to Churchill), they remained lifelong friends and D'Este reveals that their correspondence was auctioned by Christie's in 2003 for nearly 300,000 pounds. She said of Churchill many years later, "The first time you meet Winston, you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues."
I heartily recommend this biography for understanding a side of Winston Churchill that has not been explored by other biographers with such great depth and appreciation for his formation as a warrior and military leader.
As D'Este states in his introduction: "This is the story of the military life of Winston Churchill--the descendant of Marlborough who, despite never having risen above the rank of lieutenant colonel, came eventually to direct the military compaigns of his nation and, more than any other man, to save Britain from tyranny during his and his nation's finest hour."
on November 16, 2008
Martin Gilbert and William Manchester have written muti-volume biographies of the long and fascinating life of Winston Churchill. They cover his fighting life from India and South Africa to the World Wars, his political life from party-switching to Prime Minister, and his personal life from his successful marriage to his career as a painter and writer. Mr. D'este has a narrow focus of exploring his military life through a half century of war, first as a participant and then as a decision maker. This book is a long (over 800 pages) but a nice introduction to his life of Winston Churchill. It picks its stories well (for Churchill had lots of stories) and tells them well. However for the reader who is familiar with the outline of Churchill's career, this book will be a review.
on April 21, 2009
There is no shortage of books on Churchill, and I seem to get them all.
D'Este's book proves that the Churchill story is still being told.
This is a good book.
D'Este has chosen Churchill's fascinating involvement with war---as a soldier and as a leader. It is a long, and remarkable story. From the charge at Omdurman to the surrender of the Germans on VE Day, the story never loses its steam. D'Este's excellent writing takes you in, and you feel like you are looking over Churchill's elbow as events unfold.
What I particularly liked was D'Este's ability to write about all sides of Churchill----the good, the great, and the occasionally misguided. He was a great man, a genius, whose many ideas never stopped flowing. Some
were ridiculous, many were brilliant. Containing Churchill was the hard part.
There were times when he went too far----but he was always there, and he held the world together when no-one else could have. For all his faults, his drive, genius, and fierce determination came through.
Another aspect of the book I appreciated was the fair treatment of Montgomery. Like many Americans, I have been well aware of Montgomery's faults. I had not been as aware of his virutes as I should have been.
D'Este has written an excellent portrait of Montgomery, and it made me understand the man better.
This book is worth the time and money. I doubt there will be many disenchanted readers. Many thanks to D'Este for his fair, balanced, and fascinating account.
This is a biography of Churchill as a soldier and war leader, and does not pretend to cover his other personas as politician and writer. It is the first book I have read that provides both the undeniable genius, and the personality flaws of the man. It balances both of these points of view. It shows Churchill as both a Victorian romantic with a "swords and bayonets" view of warfare--and as a visionary and extraordinarily powerful leader who saved Britain and perhaps the world from Hitler. As D'Este says, perhaps Churchill was the only person alive who could have kept Britain in the fight between the fall of France and the entry of America into WW II some 18 months later. This book does not pretend to cover Churchill's political career--read Roy Jenkins for that. Nor does it pretend to cover the entire life of the man--Manchester did that in his first two volumes. What the book does extraordinarily well is to show both the indispensable leader and the petulant narcissist that co-existed within Churchill.
As Bob Dylan said, "Hero's a nuisance to live with at home." Churchill was certainly that--unbelievably vain, self-centered, demanding everyone change their lives' schedules to keep up with his nocturnal habits, interfering with generals at every turn. He also insisted on finding generals who would fight, rather than just be good British club buddies--and this likely turned around the war.
D'Este often argues that Churchill was a strategic disaster. That his intense focus on the Mediterranean was strategically a mistake and led to the horrid war of attrition in Italy. There is another point of view on this matter. Having read Churchill's own 6 volume memoir of the war, I have reason to believe that rather than being a strategic disaster, Churchill was focused on what Europe would look like after Hitler's defeat, and was proposing anything he could conceive of that would prevent Stalinist Russia from dominating the Balkans and Central Europe. He was likely wrong that the war could have been won by thrusting troops towards Vienna through the Ljubljana gap--but it was not lack of strategic vision here, but of minimizing the difficulties of mountain warfare. Had the Balkan and Vienna strategy worked, there might never have been a Cold War.
I must disagree with other reviewers who found the book uneven and poorly organized. I think the scholarship here was impeccable. I have rarely read a book where the quotations from the memoirs and diaries of others were so deeply researched, and flowed so appropriately into the text. The book reads easily and engrossingly. It does what it set out to do--reviews the life of Churchill as warrior, with impressive scholarship and compelling reading. What more can one want from a book?
That said, there are a few historical errors that peeved me. It might not make a difference to persons who have not done a great deal of WW II reading. But, to me, calling the Hood and the Repulse 'battleships' rather than 'battlecruisers' grated and was inaccurate. They were more vulnerable precisely because they were never designed to take on a battleship but to be faster than any ship that they might encounter, and less heavily armored--and thus more easily sunk. Similarly, several times D'Este says that the German offensive in 1940 was a repeat of their plan in 1914, which it most adamantly was not. The whole idea was to deceive the French and British to believe they were repeating the Schlieffen plan of 1914, and then to sucker punch the French through the Ardennes, after French and British forces moved north to defend the Belgian frontier. I imagine D'Este had to make some compromises of space to cover everything he did, but these inaccuracies bothered me. Can I give it 4 and 1/2 stars?
“Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945” is one of the most recent biographies of Sir Winston Churchill to have been written over the past three decades. It's also one of the best. Authored by distinguished military historian Carlo D’Este, and published in 2008, this fine biography focuses on Churchill as a military officer and war leader, and places specific emphasis on his five years as Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II.
D’Este sets the stage for his story by covering much of his well-documented childhood and early career. The neglected son of aristocratic parents, Churchill was both troubled and troublesome. Always childish and petulant, he demanded his own way in everything, and usually got what he wanted by sheer force of determination. In a man less brilliant than he was, these traits might have consigned him to obscurity. But Churchill succeeded in spite of his many great flaws (bordering on hubris), becoming, in turn,a decorated army officer, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, Minister of State in various government ministries, and ultimately Prime Minister.
“Warlord” is a prodigious work of scholarship that clearly demonstrates D’Este’s exhaustive research and brilliant writing abilities. D’Este reveals much information about Churchill that I never knew before, even though I’ve read several other Churchill biographies. D’Este paints a portrait of Churchill that is, in equal measure, respectful and critical of its subject. Churchill is admired for his strength, stubbornness, courage, and indomitable will, and criticized for his childishness, petulance, impetuousness, and ill temper – even during his years as Prime Minister. Through it all, however, D’Este makes clear one point: without Winston Churchill, the Allies would not have been victorious in World War II.
An exceptionally well-written and fascinating book, “Warlord: The Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945” gets my highest recommendation.
on July 1, 2014
When I was growing up Churchill was this almost godlike figure who had mre or less single heandedley won the Second World war. Of course this isn't quite true but he was an extremly interesting and dynamic figure who did the best he could for his people in a tie of great crisis. One of the really interesting things that I had never really considered before was how old he was when WW2 broke out. When he should have been enjoying retirement after a long and eventfull life he was thrust into the leadership of a desperate nation. The western world owes this man for daring to stand up and be counted when so many others di not.
on January 26, 2009
This book focuses on Winston Churchill's life both as a Soldier in India and the Sudan, and as a war-time leader during both World Wars (also includes details of his participation in the Boar War as a correspondent).
This is a fascinating look at an incredibly complex man - detailing his greatest qualities to include courage during times of great despair and uncertainty as well as his many faults. It is easy to agree with the author that in spite of his many failings - the truth of the matter is that England, as well as the rest of the world would have had a much different history if he was not the leader of Great Britain during WWII - especially in the dark years of 1940 and 1941.
Just like other books that I have read by this author, it is an easily read book, that despite its size (700 pages), it flowed like a novel - it is a book you won't want to put down. Highly recommend.
on November 6, 2012
I was disappointed with this effort by Carlo D'Este. I regard his biography of Patton, "Patton: A Genius for War", to be the best military biography I've read, so I set the bar fairly high when I open up an entry by D'Este - while this one fell short of my expectations, it's still a worthwhile read that I'd recommend to anybody looking for a survey-course examination of Churchill. I should add that I think this book DOES deliver what it promises - it is by no means an in-depth Churchill biography, and the product description and cover panels say as much.
Where this book fell short for me was it's rather monochromatic portrayal of Churchill. Whereas D'Este spent the entirety of "Patton" intimately juxtaposing the Patton of myth/legend/film with the true Patton - who was dyslexic, insecure, and deeply flawed - the Churchill that emerges from this book is fairly straightforward; by D'Este's estimation, Churchill was a man-child. Whether it was his naively romantic view of war, his insistent-bordering-on-obsessive lust for power, his impatience with his generals, or simply his demand for having his way, the over-arching pattern that D'Este has portrayed of Churchill is of an unbridled, serendipitous child who was constantly reigned in by his colleagues.
I take issue with this portrayal because I ultimately found this biography to be more condemning of Churchill than endorsing. While I welcome the oft-used paradigm biographers employ of the "terribly flawed persona who succeeded because he was balanced by brilliance" (see Patton, MacArthur), this book offers far more evidence to the notion that Churchill was actually a liability who succeeded despite himself. If that is the reality, then I cannot complain, but my expectation for this book was that it'd be more balanced and fall in line with the flawed-but-brilliant narrative. My honest takeaway of Churchill was that he was an overreaching gambler who succeeded because even a broken clock is right twice a day; who took risks inordinate with their upside, and who was probably more likely to have ruined Britain if not for the intervention of cooler heads; I honestly cannot point to a saving-grace virtue of Churchill's. I have not read another major work on Churchill, but my gut tells me he was a more insightful, nuanced person.
I did find this book engrossing and entertaining - my favorite sections were those detailing Churchill's primary education and his early military exploits; the account of his escape from a POW camp during the Boer War was particularly enjoyable.
For all it's hype on Churchill as a warlord, however, this book gave absolutely zero attention to his post-War political career - including his second stint as PM - and his role as an architect of the Cold War (the man coined the term Iron Curtain for christsakes). In this book, WWII ends, 20 years pass, and Churchill dies, all in the span of about 3 pages. I think this was a cop-out by D'Este given Churchill's decidedly military aspirations in the post-WWII world.
A book focused on the warrior side, both good and bad, of the great statesman Winston Churchill. In the end this is an extended character sketch of the man who early on participated in a cavalry charge and later on rallied the British to fight in the early days of World War II.
Readers interested in Mr. Churchill's complicated political side, for example his involvement with abdication of the king or with the independence movement in India, will need to look elsewhere.
As for World War II, the author, a noted military expert, spends most of his pages on the campaigns in Norway, North Africa and Italy. The Far East is rarely visited. Nor is the vast secret work pertaining to the Manhattan Project.
(Those who would like to know how Mr. Churchill got to all those far-flung meetings in the 1940s are encouraged to read the excellent report provided by Brian Lavery in his "Churchill Goes to War.")