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Churchill: The Unexpected Hero Paperback – July 13, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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To distinguish his Churchill biography from the many others, historian Addison focuses on Churchill's critics. Whether contemporaries or historians, they are numerous and caustic, calling Churchill an opportunist and a warmonger. Against that stands Churchill's leadership in World War II, which inescapably shadows his prior record in British politics. To his account of the pre-WWII career, Addison appends telling insights on Churchill's character traits, prime among them a profoundly juvenile egotism. Brilliantly intuitive though he was, Churchill, impatient and impulsive, took little account of others' feelings; hence, his acquisition of political enemies over time. Narrating the indictments they leveled at him (twice switching parties, the Dardanelles disaster of WWI), Addison paradoxically humanizes Churchill, for he is a far more iconic figure for Americans than for the British. Nevertheless, Addison makes the case for why Churchill should be iconic, disputing a revisionist school that negatively deconstructs Churchill's actions in WWII. Astute in its interpretations, Addison's work makes for swift reading and is a practical alternative to the monuments by William Manchester and Martin Gilbert. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


`Review from previous edition the best short book on Britain's wartime PM' Daily Express

`This is a highly readable short biography of a hero with feet of clay' Lloyd's List

`gloriously readable style and lightly-worn scholarship' Scotsman

`short but masterly book . . . intriguing, penetrating and thoughtful' Mail on Sunday

`a considerable achievement . . . could be read with profit and enjoyment by anyone interested in modern history' Independent

`a treat . . . full of arresting insights . . . scrupulously accurate in areas where other biographers frequently trip' Finest Hour: Journal of the Churchill Centre and Societies

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Oup Oxford; Revised ed. edition (July 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199297436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199297436
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By MarkK VINE VOICE on January 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though Winston Churchill has never wanted for biographers, over the past few years the publication of brief studies of his life have come into vogue. Written by some of the leading historians of the period - John Keegan, Geoffrey Best, Stuart Ball - they offer an accessible (if condensed) examination of one of the dominant figures of the twentieth century. Paul Addison's book is the latest addition to their ranks, and one that deserves to be ranked as among the best of these efforts.

Addison argues that the heroic status that Churchill enjoys today belies much of his career. Considered an irresponsible genius by his contemporaries, he was a polarizing figure who was never completely trusted by any side of the political divide. Yet as prime minister during the Second World War he went on to become "the embodiment of national unity," a symbol of Britain's determination to defeat Nazi Germany. Addison provides a more nuanced view of Churchill's career, noting his ideological consistency in a politically turbulent age. When war came, the man and the moment were ideally matched; indeed, many of the traits that his opponents deplored - his enthusiasm for war, his advocacy of impossible ideas, even the fact that he was half American - became assets in the conflict and were keys to his successful leadership.

Developed from his entry on Churchill for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Addison succeeds in providing an insightful introduction to the life of one of the dominant figures of the twentieth century. Though hardly a hagiographical account - he freely acknowledges such faults as Churchill's massive egotism - his portrait is a sympathetic one, depicting the prime minister as "a hero with feet of clay." The result is a good read and a great starting point for anyone seeking to learn more about this fascinating figure.
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Format: Hardcover
Addison knows that Churchill's life has received almost as many words as Churchill wrote himself, as one of the most prodigous authors of the twentieth century, known and admired by many as the greatest figure of his time, "saving the world" from Nazi Germany, the right man at the right place at the right time.

But Addison is not so sure. Churchill was maddeningly erratic, not only changing political parties twice but also inflaming deep hatred during his long, varied career as a military figure, prison escapee, politician, cabinet member, and prime minister. Much of the peculiarities about Winston we can attribute to his relationship with his parents, an American debutant and a half-crazed father who died young. Lacking their affections, and wanting to make a name for himself, Churchill took on risks and positions with abandon.

Addison has done a thorough study, more remarkable for its brevity when describing a man whose life has been chronicled many times before in thousands of pages. While leading England during World War II, Winston came to symbolize the twentieth century but he was in many ways a man of the nineteenth or even eighteenth century, believing in the Empire and being more of an egoist than an egotist. Yes, he was a racist in today's terms, with his contempt for what we would today call "developing countries" and their peoples, but for his time Churchill was not out of step. He was, at times, indecisive and, yes, out of step with popular feelings. His writings were often efforts to cast himself in the best possible light. This was especially true when he wrote his memoirs of World War II, right after he was thrown from office at his moment of triumph.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Short lives of Winston Churchill abound, including volumes by well known popular historians such as John Keegan and Paul Johnson. Paul Addison's volume for Oxford Press's Lives and Legacies series, however, is well deserving of its status as the connoisseur's choice for an introduction to Churchill.

Addison succeeds because he does more than summarize Churchill's life. He frames the essential question regarding Churchill in the right way, and the story therefore becomes much more interesting as a result. The subtitle of the book "The Unexpected Hero" summarizes his thesis nicely. Churchill's career until the 1930s was a checkered one, and virtually no one would have expected him to become the towering figure of the 20th century at that point. How Churchill went from being nearly spent as a political force in the 1930s is therefore the story Addison seeks to tell in 254 pages.

The Unexpected Hero manages to touch every significant aspect of Churchill's life and career (as well as can be done in under 300 pages), but more importantly Addison is present throughout as a sure footed guide. His judgments on Churchill's actions are sound and serve the reader well, which is important because many of them are the subjects of entire books in and of themselves. Addison's scholarly and sober judgment leaves the reader feeling that he has been told the salient facts by an expert without an axe to grind.

Addison also nicely summarizes the state of play when it comes to contemporary disputes among historians on Churchill's legacy, and sums up barrels of ink nicely in his post script. Because of this, Addison's volume is not only a strong candidate for the best place to start with Churchill, but also a nice sounding board for those who have read so much Churchill they feel they have begun to lose their bearings as well.

Highly recommended.
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