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Churchill: A Biography Hardcover – November 15, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Winston Churchill was querulous, childish, self-indulgent, and difficult, writes English historian Roy Jenkins. But he was also brilliant, tenacious, and capable--in short, "the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street." Jenkins's book stands as the best single-volume biography of Churchill in recent years.

Marked by the author's wide experience writing on British leaders such as Balfour and Gladstone and his tenure as a member of Parliament, his book adds much to the vast library of works on Churchill. While acknowledging his subject's prickly nature, Jenkins credits Churchill for, among other things, recognizing far earlier than his peers the dangers of Hitler's regime. He praises Churchill for his leadership during the war years, especially at the outset, when England stood alone and in imminent danger of defeat. He also examines Churchill's struggle to forge political consensus to meet that desperate crisis, and he sheds new light on Churchill's postwar decline. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Gladstone (1997), Jenkins offers a bloated yet idiosyncratic and accessible life of England's greatest modern prime minister. Jenkins's wry wit and judgments of great men, untainted by awe, partly offset the fact that, as he admits, he has few new facts to add to an already exhaustively recorded life. Jenkins has a propensity for unnecessary French and curious adverbs (unfriendlily), adjectives (spistolatory) and nouns (peripherist) and is at his best exploring Churchill's three out-of-office "wilderness" periods and his writing jobs (requiring a staff of loyal, ill-paid researchers and secretaries to take his clangorous dictation), which helped support his expensive lifestyle. ("I lived in fact from mouth to hand," Churchill confessed.) But as the statesman's many decades wind down, the biographer himself seems to tire, resorting to a litany of itineraries. American audiences may be drawn to Jenkins's revisionist views of Churchill's relationships with Roosevelt, with whom he sees "more a partnership of circumstance and convenience than a friendship of individuals," and with Eisenhower, a "political general" who was "always a little cold for Churchill's taste, with the famous smile barely skin-deep." Jenkins is hard on Churchill for being soft on alleged mountebanks like Lord Beaverbrook. He dwells only briefly on Churchill's family affairs, aside from expressing skepticism about his reputedly warm marriage to Clementine; she often advised her husband wisely, but "managed to be absent at nearly all the most important moments of Churchill's life." Jenkins's judgments and the fact that he has boiled this eventful life down to a single volume will attract many readers to this entertaining, though often exasperating study. 32 pages of photos and maps not seen by PW. (Nov.)Forecast: A main selection of both BOMC and the History Book Club, with a respected author, who will tour New York and Washington, D.C., and an iconic subject, the biography is guaranteed media attention and sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1002 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux; 1st edition (November 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374123543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374123543
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Prior to the appearance of this biography, by Whitbread Award winning author Roy Jenkins, the only single volume work that I would have recommended to people would have been Sir Martin Gilbert's one volume biography. Gilbert has spent the better part of his life creating the definitive biography originally started by Churchill's son Randolph, and he continues to add 1,000 page companion volumes of documents that supplement the massive primary work.
If a reader were to select this work by Jenkins they would not gain a complete insight into the legendary figure that Sir Winston Spencer Churchill is. That a new biography approaching 1,000 pages made the NYT Bestseller's List is a testimony to Churchill's place in history. I doubt there is a politician that is more quoted than Sir Winston. The primary differences between the two books I mention are of style and completeness. Martin Gilbert in an accomplished historian, while Mr. Jenkins writes from a perspective of a man who sat in the House of Commons, witnessed Churchill in action, and documents his life primarily as a politician. There are formative episodes that are not included at all, which in the end prevents this very fine work from being a well-rounded documentary. A young Churchill spent time in Ireland, but this was never mentioned. The downfall of his father was much more complicated than the space allotted in this work, and his mother too is not represented enough.
The book also lacks extended time with the Churchill who was an amazing raconteur at dining tables from a very young age. Many of the great quotes from Churchill are not in this book, and many others are given short shrift. Mr. Jenkins style also takes a bit more effort than many may choose to expend. William F. Buckley Jr.
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Format: Hardcover
What most reviews don't tell you is that Roy Jenkins, himself a politician, has created an almost purely political biography of Churchill. Even more narrowly, it is a focused on the House of Commons and Churchill's role in it over a span of some 50 years.
In more than 900 pages, Jenkins barely touches on Churchill's personal life, his relationship with "Clemmie," his children or with anyone outside the closeted world of British politics. The little details of daily life, which provide density and color -- what brand of cigars he smoked, what books he read for pleasure, what he ate for breakfast -- are almost entirely missing.
A greater fault, in my view, is that Jenkins fails to adequately explore and explain Churchill's place in the decline and fall of the British Empire, which took place in great part during Churchill's watches. This is a story, as Jenkins tells it, mostly of the Old Boy's club, of Asquith and Lloyd George and Chamberlain and all the rest. Reading Jenkins, you would hardly know that during the course of Churchill's life one of the world's greatest powers and greatest empires became an also ran on the world's stage.
Granted, Jenkins is a masterful writer with a great grasp of the politics of 20th century Britain. If politics, in great detail, is all you demand of a biography, then Roy Jenkins' Churchill will suit you very adequately.
--Lan Sluder
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Format: Hardcover
Jenkins, a history professor and Member of Parliament himself as well as the author of an acclaimed bio of Gladstone, presents a fine biography of Britain's greatest 20th century figure.
His own experiences uniquely qualify him to describe Churchill's political fortunes and maneuverings, although the American reader may find the Teens and Twenties either slow going or not sufficiently illuminating of Britain's odd political system, wherein politicians regularly shopped around for a district to represent, even after being defeated in another.
This is a fairly traditional public and political bio, not a psychoanalysis (not to imply that Churchill HAD much of a personal life to expose), and moves along at a surprisingly good clip despite its 900-plus pages.
Jenkins fully reminds us that Churchill basically earned his living as a writer -- the contracts, writing schedules, and royalties are carefully recorded -- though politics was his avocation.
The author writes cleanly and engagingly, though he seems inordinately fond of unnecessarily unusual words like "psephological" and "rumbustious." On the other hand, his wit is dry and regularly in evidence.
The U.S. hardcover edition by Farrar, Straus & Giroux is clean until about the halfway point, whereupon one begins to encounter "Feburary" (436), "replies hardly every being allowed" (553) "shore up the the" (706), "dimayed" (721), "The opposition could chose when to relax" (837-8), and similar infelicities.
All in all, Jenkins seems to strike a nice balance between a healthy respect for his subject and a clear eye for Churchill's weaknesses, changes of direction, and occasional seizures of dishonesty.
Well illustrated with more than 90 b&w photos.
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Format: Hardcover
Every decade or so a new biography emerges on Winston Churchill, usually not of quality, or containing new substance. I am a big fan of William Manchester's multivolume 'Last Lion' study, and was happily surprised to find new and interesting content presented here in a very readable manner. Roy Jenkins has incorporated some revisionist views, and wonderful prose in what may be the most accessible single volume biography of Britain's most often quoted politician. It is a magnificent piece of work and is highly recommended.
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