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Winston Churchill: A Life (Penguin Lives) [Paperback]

John Keegan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 30, 2007 Penguin Lives
One of the greatest historians writing today gives us a defining portrait of the incomparable Winston Churchill

In his landmark biography of Winston Churchill, acclaimed historian John Keegan offers a very human portrait of one of the twentieth century's enduring symbols of heroic defiance. From Churchill's youth as a poor student to his leadership during World War II, Keegan reveals a man whose own idea of an English past—eloquently embodied in his speeches—allowed him to exhort a nation to unprecedented levels of sacrifice. The result is a uniquely discerning look at one of the most fascinating personalities in history.

“The best military historian of our generation.” –Tom Clancy

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Editorial Reviews Review

He was something of a bully, something of a blowhard, without friends and always in search of a sympathetic audience for his monologues. Yet, writes John Keegan in this slender but thorough portrait, Winston Churchill was unquestionably the right man for the time.

Few biographers are better equipped than Keegan, the eminent military historian, to write of Churchill as a wartime leader. Indeed, Keegan suggests, Churchill was never more at ease than when confronting some fierce enemy, whether across the English Channel or a range of Afghan hills; it was from the saddle that he developed his "vision of how an enlightened empire might transform the future of mankind." The rise of other, less enlightened empires helped put an end to his own, but Churchill steadfastly insisted on a strong role for Great Britain in the postwar world--in which he succeeded, even if voters turned him out of office almost as soon as the war ended.

Keegan's respectful portrait assesses Churchill's many accomplishments (and a few noteworthy failures) as he sought, in Churchill's ringing words, to "resist oppression, to protect the weak, to vindicate the profound but unwritten Law of Nations." Admirers of Churchill and students of his time will find much of value in these pages. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Old Testament and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire were the most important influences on one of the 20th century's great wartime leaders. These books essentially created the man, argues renowned military historian Keegan (The First World War), and Churchill's own words would, in turn, be the key to his greatness: "In the end the personality of Churchill and the prose that inspired his being so interpenetrated each other as to be indistinguishable and mutually inextricable." This is somewhat ironic, Keegan shows in his concise, elegant biography, as Churchill (1874-1965) was a middling student who barely passed the entrance exam for military college. But his one love was history from his voracious, lifelong reading he gained a profound belief in Britain's glorious destiny. Keegan traces the familiar formative events in the future prime minister's life. During the Boer War, he was taken prisoner and his daring escape made him a national hero. After winning election to Parliament (as a Conservative) in 1900, Churchill began his political career championing social reforms that would help the working class. Indeed, his views were so pro-worker that he temporarily switched to the Labour Party. As Hitler rose to power, Churchill began a long, frustrating campaign calling for military preparedness in order to meet the growing fascist threat. Churchill's genius, Keegan stresses, was in his ability to communicate his vision of Britain as a glorious nation with a great civilizing mission, and the book does an excellent job describing his subject's rhetorical power. This is a pithy, highly accessible biography that can be enjoyed over a couple of sittings.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Lives
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112643
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143112648
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
61 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Where lies the right?" November 17, 2002
This is one of several volumes in the Penguin Lives Series, each of which written by a distinguished author in her or his own right. Each provides a concise but remarkably comprehensive biography of its subject in combination with a penetrating analysis of the significance of that subject's life and career. I think this is a brilliant concept. My only complaint (albeit a quibble) is that even an abbreviated index is not provided. Those who wish to learn more about the given subject are directed to other sources.
When preparing to review various volumes in this series, I have struggled with determining what would be of greatest interest and assistance to those who read my reviews. Finally I decided that a few brief excerpts and then some concluding comments of my own would be appropriate.
On Churchill's values: "His beliefs had very simple origins, in the piety and goodness of his beloved nanny, Mrs. Everest; in the code of schoolboy fair play; in the ethic of manliness learned at the Royal Military College (RMC) at Sandhurst and in his regiment; in the strictures of the Commandments, preached in the Old Testament language that was to be one of the strongest of influences on his own, in Harrow School chapel. From all of those sources Churchill derived an undoubted sense of sin; his horror of wrongdoing was to inform his political life, particularly as it brought him eventually to confront the crimes of the dictators." (page 11)
On Sir John ("Jackie") Fisher, as First Sea Lord, an early supporter of Churchill's career: "Fisher was that rare but valuable bird, a creative eccentric. Brave beyond question, a seadog to his fingertips, he had no truck with the settled order of things and was forever in search for a better way, a faster ship, a deadlier weapon....
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great subject, great author, weak effort February 3, 2003
By Alcuin
This ought to be a terrific book. Winston Churchill led a fascinating life and shaped the history of a time with many lessons for our own. John Keegan is a wonderful military historian whose book "In the Face of Battle" I still assign to students. Moreover, there is a real need for a biography of Churchill with a military emphasis. I plunged into this book with enthusiasm after having waded through the parliamentary detail of Roy Jenkins's Churchill biography. But this is very ordinary. It provides a competent sketch of well-known information, and would not make a bad introduction for someone unfamiliar with the man or the time. That merits several stars. But it does not go beyond that; tracing the intricate interweaving of the political, moral, and military strands that enabled this leader to stand almost alone against tyranny and to hold his country with him remains a challenge to future biographers. Part of the problem may be that Keegan's greatest strength as a writer is his ability to recreate small moments of history in amazingly vivid detail. Perhaps a series of vignettes of crucial moments in Churchill's career would have suited Keegan's talents better.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet - as only Keegan could write it January 6, 2005
John Keegan has a flair for bringing order from apparent chaos, for finding unifying themes through events separated vastly in time. Thus, he is a good choice to write this short biography of Churchill. One might legitimately ask, "How can you condense the life of Churchill into such a slim (200 pages) volume?" The answer is here for everyone to see.

Keegan gives a good flavour for the man, touching on his important speeches, his bullying of subordinates, his painting, his variable health. He leaves out what is not important in understanding the man: his membership in the bricklayers' guild is not mentioned, for example. Clearly, Keegan the military historian is mostly interested in Churchill's wartime leadership - in both World Wars. He also makes sure to point out some of Churchill's other policy issues - his support of the working man (Churchill is often, wrongly, believed to be anti-working class) is the most interesting because it's often lost in the detail of larger tomes.

It's ironic that Churchill himself was incapable of writing a history like this - his "biography" of Marlborough was several volumes long. Can the life of a man like Churchill be condensed into 200 pages? Probably not, but Keegan's attempt is very readable and enjoyable, and is recommended even to those that have read heftier biographies. The exercise of working within space constraints forces the writer to get to the core of the subject, and this is what Keegan does in this biography.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional Biography by an Exceptional Scholar March 5, 2004
John Keegan is one of the most distinguished military historians of our day. He was an excellent choice to pen this biography of Winston Churchill. Like the other Penguin Lives books, this volume presents an excellent, brief introduction to the life of Britain's WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Keegan begins by telling of his own "immunity" to the Churchillian legend and how that was transmuted into an admiration upon listening to an album of Churchill's war speeches.
Keegan describes Churchill's exploits as a young soldier, his writing life, his days as a Member of Parliament, and his years as Prime Minister. Brief, to the point, this is a very nice introduction to Churchill.
This is a great book for a layman. To those who have already read lengthier biographies of Churchill, this may be a nice review. Popular, not academic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for Some
I prefer history with extensive footnotes and citations so I can conduct follow-up reading. This was not a bad read, but very short and left me aggravated at the lack of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by 1
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A great read indeed. very insightful and informative.
Published 1 month ago by MAI
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
very good
Published 1 month ago by DOUGLAS RUDIG
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
This book was recommended by a history prof and I totally enjoyed it. It's a quick read and very interesting
Published 1 month ago by Josefer
3.0 out of 5 stars well written, not objective
Keegan, of course writes well, so the book is interesting. It is short and required little research, so I speculate it was authored for the money. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Richard manning
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill, in a few words...
John Keegan's brutally short but wonderfully readable biography of Winston Churchill is just the thing for those readers unwilling to take on any of the much longer conventional... Read more
Published 3 months ago by D. S. Thurlow
3.0 out of 5 stars OK Bio
This was rated the second best bio on Churchill. It isn't really that good. The author misses asking the obvious questions. It is written as though it is nothing but a bullet list. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Joseph L. Moore
2.0 out of 5 stars CHURCHILL THE MAN
This is a delightful book. It is easy reading and fills in the cracks in what you know about WC. Very worthwhile if you want to know the read man.
Published 10 months ago by S. S. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars Great but short
Its a great fast summary of Churchill's life, i would totally recommend this book to any one. I really enjoyed reading it.
Published 10 months ago by guipatury
3.0 out of 5 stars Churchill Lite
Have you had the experience of reading Dickens's Oliver Twist and then watching a two-hour theater production of it? Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ken
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