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Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill: A Brief Account of a Long Life Paperback – May 11, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eschewing the linear, chronological approach of most biographies, Yale Law School professor and Churchill devotee Rubin (Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide) has written 40 brief chapters looking at the British prime minister from multiple angles: Churchill as son, father, husband, orator, painter, historian, enemy of Hitler and many other roles. Rubin's unique approach works surprisingly well, bringing fresh insight to an exhaustively covered subject. Writing on Churchill as son, for instance, Rubin hammers home the point that he spent his life trying to measure up to an imagined, idealized father. Churchill's real father, Rubin makes clear, thought his son was destined for mediocrity and told him so. When she discusses Churchill's famous gifts as an orator, Rubin contends that his speeches were sometimes overblown, overly heroic and often ignored. She agrees with David Cannadine (In Churchill's Shadow) that Churchill's oratory was most effective when matched by times that required heroic action, such as the spring and summer of 1940. In a chapter devoted to Churchill's legendary drinking, Rubin provocatively presents arguments from both sides: that the drinking was harmless and that it was a major problem. In the end, Rubin sees "her" Churchill as a tragic hero. His life's goal was to preserve the British Empire, yet his greatest achievement, the defeat of Hitler, hastened the empire's end. While Rubin's account clearly isn't comprehensive and belabors a rather obvious point-that different, even opposing, perspectives on one life are possible-it is an excellent introduction to one of the most written about men in history. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-In this fast-paced, fragmented account, each of the 40 short chapters examines one topic: Churchill as leader, father, in tears, etc. Some are no more than lists, one is a simple chronology, and another a compilation of quotes. But taken together, they capture some truths about him, chiefly the many contradictions and complexities of his life and career. Moreover, there are valuable lessons here concerning the difficulties of examining the great lives of history. Rubin has almost as much to say about biography as a subject as she has about Churchill-a good thing for readers relatively new to the genre. And a further lesson lies in her extensive notes and bibliography. It is instructive to witness how much research is necessary to support even a brief account of a long life. Average-quality, black-and-white photos have been thoughtfully chosen. Rubin has much to offer teens, especially those with only vague notions of the great man.
Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812971442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812971446
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #165,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on December 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I don't have anything against attorneys as a group of people, but as I read this book, the phrase that kept returning to me was "clever lawyer's trick." Though Gretchen Rubin continually describes this as "a personal look" at "*my* Churchill," it seems as much a demonstration of the talented lawyer's ability to passionately argue both sides of a question while never making more than an intellectual commitment to either. On the whole, this is a book that's as much about the author as it is the subject.

Many of the reviews on this page describe this book as a good shorter biography of Churchill, but for people looking for a brief introductory volume, I would much sooner point them to one of the excellent short bios that came out in 2002, Lukacs' Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian. or Keegan's Winston Churchill: A Penguin Life (Penguin Lives). Both of them are "conventional" narrative biographies, but each does a fine job laying out the motivations, facts, and consequences of Churchill's massive life. I think it's better to master the themes before exploring the variations, as Rubin does. And while not everyone wants to read thick tomes like Jenkins or Rose or Manchester (or still yet the official biography by Randolph Churchill and Martin Gilbert), I'm afraid anyone who relies on "Forty Ways..." as their sole source of information on, and interpretation of, the life of the Man of the (Twentieth) Century will be selling herself short.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book -- a must for Churchill fans. Many of my favorite stories about Sir Winston are here, but I also learned lots of things I didn't know. (Do you know what the Great Man's last words were? What his favorite brand of cigar was? Whether he was a hero to his valet? Read the book and find out.)
"Forty Ways" is an extraordinarily honest book: Rubin does not pretend that a biographer can know it all. She presents both sides to questions about Churchill's drinking, his "black dog" depressions, his relations with the two Randolphs in his life (his father and his son), his egotism ("I am so conceited," Churchill wrote his mother, that "I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending" as an early death). There is no effort to deceive the reader here, to trick him into embracing the author's favorite theory: Rubin candidly admits that her Churchill is a hero and a great man, but she insists that the reader must draw his own conclusions.
Rubin is splendid on Sir Winston's use of language, the blessings and burdens of his Spencer-Churchill heritage, his painting, his bulldog bellicosity, his "island nation" patriotism, his relations with Hitler, the Romantic qualities of his historical imagination, the "Dickensian aptness" of his name, his complicated relations with his wife. ("Oh my darling do not write of 'friendship' to me," Churchill told Clementine, "I love you more each month that passes and feel the need of you & all your beauty. . . . I am so devoured by egoism that I wd like to have another soul in another world & meet you in another setting, & pay you all the love and honour of the gt romances.") The end of the book is extraordinarily moving.
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Format: Hardcover
This already short book should be about 50 pages shorter yet. It is laced with repeated quotes, phrases, and facts. The first time you read that Churchill carried a lance in one of history's last cavalry charges, it's fascinating. The second time, it's a surprise to see the statement repeated almost verbatim. The third time, it's an insult.
Again and again (and again), this pattern is repeated. On one page, the same clause from a Churchill quote appears three times. Enough already. It's bad enough that the writer made this mistake, but it's unforgivable for the editor to let it pass for publication in this shape. By paring 50 pages off the manuscript, it would be just what it claims to be -- not a bad short rehash of the existing Churchill biographies.
Save your money. Get another Churchill biography.
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Format: Hardcover
We Churchill-o-files are used to voluminous works by and about Mr. Churchill, and I was looking forward to a more concise treatise on this complex man. However, Ms. Rubin's book was so engrossingly entertaining and informative that I found myself lamenting its relative brevity. The author has done the "heavy lifting" in compiling many little-known facts about one of the greatest statesmen of all time. Her personal insights, formed from what was an obviously extensively researched data base, were invaluable in helping me to understand the private side of this great leader.
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Format: Hardcover
The amazing thing about this book -- and what makes it so satisfying to read -- is that it both satisfies the craving for biography (it's crammed with fascinating facts about Churchill and different portraits of his personality) and undermines the idea that there can ever be a unitary, authoritative biography, especially of so complex a personality as Churchill's. This book is a great gift both for your husband, dad, or grandpa the history buff, and for your intellectual English major daughter, who might grow up to be the next Gretchen Rubin someday.
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