- Paperback: 818 pages
- Publisher: Lyons Press; 1st edition (August 1, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1585745081
- ISBN-13: 978-1585745081
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #909,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Fringes of Power: The Incredible Inside Story of Winston Churchill During WW II 1st Edition
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-Drew Middleton, The New York Times Book Review
"An unending feast of opinions, revelations, and mementos of some of England's finest (and less than fine) days."
From the Back Cover
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Notably, the title of this book, "The Fringes of Power", is an apt description for this work; and that title should be taken at face value. This book is very much about the people who worked at the fringes of power; not those who truly wielded it. To paraphrase a famous American television hamburger commercial: "Where's the beef?" Colville gives us a "fluffy bun", but precious little beef.
First of all, this diary is not written by Churchill, but by someone who worked with and for Churchill. We are promised "the incredible inside story of Winston Churchill", yet we get the John Colville story instead. Indeed, we are reading Colville's diary; not Churchill's. These are Colville's thoughts, his impressions, and most notably, the minutiae of his daily life -- where he ate dinner, with whom, and even what the weather was like on a given day. In some passages, this reads more like introspective poetry rather than solid insights into Churchill the man.
Secondly, there are a great many names of people and players who are identified in this diary, some of them quite obscure. But unless you are a Churchill historian, they will likely mean little to the average reader. Indeed, there are esoteric qualities about Colville's writing which seem impenetrable unless you are British, and a scholar of British politics during the run up to and during the World War II era.
Moreover, Colville's recollections of his life as a soldier add little but distraction. His recollections of his work for Neville Chamberlain is of doubtful utility, unless of course Neville Chamberlain is someone you wish to study. On that point, count me out. So, buyer beware: this is not truly a book about Churchill as the dust jacket cover suggests.
Finally, this book did little to satisfy my curiousity about Churchill. Were this Churchill's diary, I would be thrilled. But alas, it was written by a man who was acquainted with and for a time worked with Churchill. But there are many others who worked for and with Churchill who offer much better insights to the man.
As mentioned earlier, if you are a serious historian, intimately familiar with the entire cast of characters in the British political scene during Churchill's tenure in parliament and as Prime Minister, you may find this book interesting and enlightening. But if you are like many of us who want to know Churchill and care little about fringe minutiae, I would respectfully submit that there are much better offerings, including of course, the fine work of Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer.
Post Script: Please note that nowhere on the cover of this book is there any reference to it being a diary of a secretary.
As in all subjective accounts (and a diary is by its nature subjective), what's unsaid and unremarked upon is as telling as what's said and noted. Thus for instance there's little mention of the Soviet Union's contribution to the defeat of Germany, or of Churchill's colleague Atlee, or of the war in the Far East. Churchill's own history of the war shows the same biases. The availability to the upper classes of huge quantities of food and alcohol (despite rationing) is mostly taken for granted, likewise the fact that government officials slept in their own deep shelters but discouraged the public from sheltering in tube stations.
Basically this is an interesting and gossipy account from a bystander who had intimate knowledge of the personalities involved, but remained unaware of bigger issues (for instance, he never knew about the Enigma intercepts or the atomic bomb, and makes no further mention of Hess after the first shock of his arrival). However, given these limitations, this book does illuminate the bigger picture as portrayed by hisorians like Martin Gilbert (pro-Churchill), Clive Ponting (anti), and Churchill himself.